Sunday, February 17, 2013

Raisio by Snowboard

Vuokatti, Flagstaff, and Raisio: my last three Sundays. I'm definitely on a path to visit the major cities in the world. And it is a grey, rainy day. Snow is heavy, the landscape is flat, and industrial Raisio will not be winning any beauty contests any time soon.


But this is not an opportunity to get depressed, it is an opportunity to have some fun in the snow. A little bit of scouting reveals a small hill in the woods behind the factories. I hike up and snowboard down.

Yes, snowboard. I started snowboarding last week, in preparation for a future adventure that feels more natural with a snowboard. By now I have almost three hours of experience on it. Enough to board around dense Finnish forests? For sure, as grabbing a tree helps a lot in what I miss otherwise in turn-making ability.

Snowboard and chemicals factory

At the top of the hill in Raisio
My first snowboard powder tracks, from a week ago in Kauniainen

And then I go wild. I go to the megapolis, Turku, and find an excellent hill, Samppalinnan Vuori, next to the Aurajoki river in the city center. Seriously, this is really a fun place to ski or snowboard. A steep enough cliff, and enough space between the trees to find your way down.

Samppalinnan vuori

Am I going to end up in Aurajoki?

And really, I want to be serious for a moment. If you follow this blog, you may think that I seek those wonderful places to ski at. Like Snowbowl last week. Actually, I don't. For the most part, I end up in places for other reasons. Last week it was a business trip for my new job. This week a family trip to Moominland. And often I'm at home. But my philosophy is to make best use of the circumstances. Even if it is a grey day, or even if you think you have already tried everything near your home. There is always something interesting to do, even in the most boring and explored place. Remember the president's cliff, an extreme skiing adventure in Moominland? I did that last year on the same family trip. This year it was Raisio's and Turku's turn.

I may take a long drive or even an occasional flight to get to where I can have that fun. But I believe in experiencing the environment where you are at. Look around you. Is there something new that you could do tomorrow?

They are very polite in Turku

If there are skiable hills in Turku and Raisio, there are similar places in every city in Finland. You do not have to wait for that big ski trip to enjoy them. Finland is full of hills and forests and snow. I'm surprised that people do not use them more. Case in point: I made the first tracks on that hill in Turku, a city with almost 200,000 inhabitants. People of Turku, you need to join me in my quest to find epic snow in your city center.

Moominhouse skiing

Photo and video credits (c) 2013 by Jari Arkko

Flagstaff, Arizona


Skiing and pine trees in Arizona? Oh yes. I spent the day following Ben, the ski patrol guy, and Kyle, a base jumper on his off day, through beautiful, dense forests on the steep hills of the Arizona Snowbowl ski area.

And sometimes you get lucky. My first ever day skiing in Arizona turned out to be an epic day. A day that stood out even in the minds of the locals, who had not seen such snowfall in recent years. Two to three feet of lightweight powder snow!

Me, in a happy mood!

Arizona Snowbowl

Arizona Snowbowl is located north of Flagstaff, on the road towards the Grand Canyon. This part of Arizona is on a high plane, the city itself is at 6,900 feet, and the ski area runs from 9,000 feet to 11,500 feet. Had the weather been better I could have also hiked to Agassiz Peak (12,356 feet) or to Humprey's Peak, Arizona's highest mountain (12,633 feet).


The ski area has a few beginner/intermediate lifts and runs near the base at the Hart Prairie Lodge, but for most serious skiers, it really has one lift. The Agassiz chair lift, an old chair lift that takes you from 9,500 feet to 11,500. At a very slow pace. But it does bring you to a perfect place.

Ski lift. Note the "no foul language" sign.

There are plenty of paths down, from straight down to far right and far left. Narrow trails and forest runs. The forests are very dense, so be careful when skiing through them. There are no cliffs, but be aware of "tree snakes", horizontally laying tree branches and trunks, just under the snow.

Avalanche beacon tester station

The Upper Volcano run, one of the trails from Agassiz chair lift

At the top of the ski lift there is also an option for hiking upwards and to the skier's right, to an area called the Upper Bowl. At the time that I was there, the area was closed, but was accessible if you convinced the ski patrol to join you for safety. Luckily, the ski patrol was quite enthusiastic to join us for some powder skiing. Inquire within the patrol hut.

With the ski patrol, you can break the rules

It is also possible to go further out and ski back to the road on the other side of the mountain. Doing this requires a permit from the rangers, who hang out in the bar at the base from 9:30am to 11:30am. (The rumor says that they hang out there the whole day, but I did not find them when I went looking.)

The bar at the base

Views from the lift


I did not see any other tourists, foreigners, or even out-of-state visitors on the mountain. There were plenty of students from North Arizona University at Flagstaff, however. I figured Kyle - one of the students - would know about afterski and bars in town. Funnily enough, while Kyle has been into base jumping for a couple of years, as he had turned 21 only a couple of days ago, he did not have much to say about the bar scene. Oh well, it is good that the U.S. laws keep the kid away from dangerous pastimes, like going to bars!

But I also run into the owners of Collin's Irish Pub on the ski slope, and visited their bar downtown later in the evening. This seems like the most active bar in town, and they also have some food on the menu. I recommend the Whisky-soaked bread pudding for dessert.

Avalanche safety course practice

Practical Details

The trail map for the ski area is here. A day ticket costs 55 $.

The start of the road to the ski area

On a snow day, you'll need chains or 4wd on the road to the ski area.

There is no accommodation in the ski area. You should stay in Flagstaff, 15 miles away. There are plenty of varying hotel and motel options. I stayed at the Hampton Inn, a Hilton chain hotel for 60 $ per night plus some points. Their prices include breakfast.

Arizona is my fifteenth state that I have skied in Northern America.

The ski area is between Flagstaff and Grand Canyon

Photo and video credits (c) 2013 by Jari Arkko

Saturday, February 9, 2013


Yläkatti views

This sunday's random ski trip almost went to Denmark or Hungary. But we ended up going to Vuokatti instead. I knew where I wanted to go, as soon as ski area closures, flight availability, wife's non-negotiable requirements, and teenager's changing opinions became clear :-)

So no new countries this weekend. But it was a very nice trip nevertheless, I love doing father-son trips with Janne. I had never been to Vuokatti, and it was a very nice experience. And I also met my friend Zach, Vuokatti local who showed us the secret powder routes.

Forest off-piste with tykkylumi (frozen snow in trees)

Ski Runs

Vuokatti is in middle parts of Finland, but the local scenery is right out of Lappland. Tykkylumi, frozen snow covers the trees of the mountain. The mountain itself is small - the maximum vertical difference is only 174 meters. But the ski runs offer some variation, ranging from snowboard parks to easy cruising runs to steep racing runs and twisting paths through the woods.

One of the fun parts of the area are the Himskatti, Pirskatti, and Perskatti runs in the east. Did you notice that I just sweared? While everything in Vuokatti is called something-katti, these runs also happen to be four-letter words in the Finnish language. Rather mild ones, though. Perskatti could perhaps be translated directly as "ass cat" but I'd probably just use "shit" for all of them.

Four-letter words

In any case, the four-letter word area opens typically later than the other areas. In fact, we entered it on the first day that it was open this year, so some nice fluffy stuff covered the well-prepared base.

Yläkatti and Olympiakatti are nice, racing-class runs in the main, northern area. They are steep, but still run for a pretty long distance. The western parts are all easy cruising runs.


But the real prize was a new ski run, Slopestyle. This ski run has just been constructed, so it was in use for the first time. Or, technically, it had not been opened yet. But we found some very nice skiing on it. The slope has been formed with bulldozers and rocks to have an interesting profile. As a result, it has a number of extremely steep sections, almost vertical walls. While these are not long, just 5-10 meters long they are a lot of fun. Skiing this slop in the 20-30 powder that was covering it was a lot of fun, recommended! Be careful, however. At least in its current, unopened form there are some dangers. Falls, huge blocks of ice, etc.

Vuokatti summit in the evening light

Off-Piste Opportunities

But back to Himskatti. Zach led us on his secret (until now!) run. Given that the four-letter word area often stays closed, you can take the north-side lifts but ski the closed runs anyway. There will be no ski lift back, but at the end of Himskatti, if you turn to the woods on the "Sapporo trail" (where the sign is), with minimal hiking you can actually ski through the beautiful woods and return back to the north-side lifts. Aim first for the Caravankatti lift, take it up, and ski down to the base. Recommended!

Sapporo trail entrance from the Himskatti run

Sapporo trail

There are also plenty of short forest runs near the slopes, for instance between the Yläkatti and Olympiakatti runs. Further out the forest is far too dense to be skied. But some of these shorts runs look spectacular, as long as you go slowly and navigate carefully.

In the winter, there is always dark in Vuokatti

Food and Hotels

We stayed at the Hotel Vuokatti at 89€/night. This is a very nice hotel, with a reportedly excellent restaurant run by the famous chef Hans Välimäki. Unfortunately, the personnel were sick on the day that we arrived, so the restaurant was closed. We opted to eat at the Kippo, an old style Finnish food restaurant within the Sokos Hotel Vuokatti. The food was excellent, though portions were quite small. If I'd go again, I'd probably try staying at the Sokos Hotel, it is more centrally located and has all the services. Including some incredible afterski bar that I did not have time to test this time.

Hotel Vuokatti in the night

The north-side slopes have a cafeteria and fully licensed bar, A'la Katti. Recommended. The west-side slopes have the Hesburger hamburger restaurant. Not recommended.

Slope-side cafeteria "A'la Katti"

During the high season, Ripa's Kuppila is a nice small cafeteria in an old hut. Ripa's is located near the top of the north-side lifts.

Can you spot Ripa's?

Evening lights. Actually, they are also daytime lights.

Other Practical Details

Vuokatti is a small village next to Sotkamo. They are 40 kilometers away from the nearest commercial airport in Kajaani. There are plenty of activities in Vuokatti, including cross-country skiing, spas, the world's largest Angry Birds activity park, etc.

Kajaani airport

Flybe flies to Kajaani from Helsinki

Angry Birds park advertisement on the slopes

Photo and video credits (c) 2013 by Jari Arkko

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Black in Liechtenstein

Never underestimate the value of cars as ski lifts.

Innovation. Desire to do something new is not enough, you also need an opportunity and a catalyst. This time the opportunity was returning from a ski trip in Austria, with a flight leaving late in the day. And the catalyst was finishing the excess alcohol we had in the cabin. Suddenly I found myself staring at the Google Maps screen. The route via Liechtenstein would be almost the same length as going straight back to the airport in Munich.

Why not? Ten minutes later we had changed our plans for the next day. I had a burning desire to ski in a new country, and while the skiing would not be as good as in Austria, it would be a new place. And my friend Teemu was interested in finding local geocaches. The next morning we head out. Patrik, another friend headed for the same flights joins us, trying to survive a flu in the back seat.


The day start out as a foggy one, however. Our navigator guided us through tiny, scary roads in increasingly difficult visibility and snow conditions, towards the ski area of Malbun. This is Liechtenstein's only ski area, a tiny village with only three chairlifts. The area is at 1600 meters, and the highest lift runs into 2000 meters.

Malbun trees.

And I only had an hour, as we had a flight to catch. This was enough to ski the most challenging in-bounds parts of the ski area, however. In fact, I have now skied all black runs in the entire country of Liechtenstein. Both of them. Very nice runs.

Although on my first attempt I ended up skiing outside the ski slope, not realizing that the nicely groomed run next to me was actually one of the black runs. And I had left my boots open. Perhaps a telling sign of the difficulty of these slopes.

Further out of bounds the would have very interesting opportunities. But not in this visibility.

Malbun ski run views

My favorite runs in Malbun are the ones from the Hochegg chair. The black runs are here, and in general this lift serves steeper runs than the longer Täli chair. I  did not have time to try the third, highest chair, Sareis. The piste map there looks interesting, however.

Teemu did not find the geocache in the ski area, but he found one on the way down from the mountain. As we say in Finland, "tää maa on nyt niin nähty". We've done all there is to do in this country.

Malbun views

On a ski lift in Malbun

Car Skiing

But the skiing did not end in Liechtenstein. We still had to get back to Munich for our flights. As we crossed the border to Germany, there was still a little bit of snow. While I have skied in Germany, I have only done so indoors. We decided to take the first exit. After driving around a few minutes, we found a small road to the top of a small hill with cell towers. Put the skis on, ski down, and Teemu picks me up at the bottom of the road. There. Germany, been there done that.

Germany. Been there done that.

Rally drivers

Important Parameters

We took the west route from Austria, drove a bit in Switzerland, back to Austria, and then north to Germany. This was certainly a more interesting route than the usual Innsbruck - Munich one.

Malbun is 14 kilometers from the largest town in Liechtenstein, Vaduz. However, I would recommend taking a route via Landstrasse rather than Bergstrasse, particularly if the weather is bad. There is no way to pass oncoming vehicles on the narrowest parts on the Bergstrasse.


A day ticket costs 45 CHF in Malbun. In addition to the three chairs, there are a number of beginner lifts, and a very nice children's practice area. There is also an ice tower for climbing.

Ice climbing tower.

State of the Mission

So where does this leave my mission to ski in as many countries as possible? I have now skied in 34 countries (South Africa, Lesotho, The Netherlands, Andorra, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Austria, Latvia, Norway, Poland, France, Sweden, Germany, Slovakia, Slovenia, Finland, Switzerland, Czech, Estonia, UK, Liechtenstein, USA, Canada, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, New Zealand, Indonesia, India, Japan, China, United Arab Emirates, and Hong Kong).

Innovation in progress? The evening before Liechtenstein.

For comparison, the Swedish skier Jimmy Petterson describes skiing in 47 countries in his book, "Skiing Around the World". (It is a wonderful book from a man who truly loves skiing, recommended! The book is also out of print, but I just succeeded in buying a used copy.)

But for me there are many easy countries to "collect", even before I have to start skiing in places like Iran or Kazakhstan. I just need to visit Bulgaria, Kroatia, Turkey, Russia, Iceland, and other familiar places. Just a small matter of finding time to for all these trips :-) For what it is worth, in the last year I have visited seven new countries.

Finally in Munich

Photo and video credits (c) 2013 by Jari Arkko and Teemu Rinta-aho