"Mongolia is kind of close, right?" Story about an attempt to ski everywhere in the world where there's snow. And in some places where there isn't. On and off-piste skiing on all continents, skiing into craters of live volcanoes, caving, climbing, photography, and travel.
We call this the "musta joulu" or dark Christmas in Finland. No snow. But there is rain, darkness, and depression. No matter, I have found a steep, muddy hill in Kauniainen and I can go ski that. But what I really wonder is how to take good ski photos in this weather. Would rice help?
And there really is no snow anywhere. The only snowman that I was able to find was inside:
But back to skiing and photography. Maybe I can take good photos on some other day, but I was indeed able to take some photos. As snow I used rice flakes, the kind that we make Christmas porridge with. Here's recipe:
Plenty of glög (mulled wine, served for everyone involved)
"Nalle" rice flakes
Mix the flakes with air and the skier
This recipe works for powdery snow. If you want to simulate wet spring snow, you should make porridge out of the rice flakes first.
But the skiing on mud was great. Of course. But it was very difficult. The main difficulty was turning among the tiny beginnings of trees and plants. When walking, you do not necessarily even recognise that something is growing in the ground, but when you try to make a turn and your skis slide right on the ground, they will hit whatever is growing from the ground at their strongest point near the ground. Make the skis turn takes a lot of effort. I think I succeeded in making one turn after several tries. And took one fall. Once again I noticed that to ski on something else than snow, the slope needs to be very steep. On the backsides of the Kauniainen ice skating hall the hills are steep enough. But when they are steep, you also start to lose traction, and it is easy to fall.
By the way, I used a flash to take the opening picture above with rice flakes. I can also recommend using flash photography in many situations, even in children's sled rides. A flash can fire for 1/20000s, much less than usual camera shutter times. This means that it can freeze flying snow (or rice!) in a very nice way. I used to build small piles of light snow and skied or sledded through. Just 20-30 cm of snow is usually enough to make snow fly around, if you hit it at speed. Set your SLR to all manual and the the flash on a low power setting (e.g., 1/16). This allows you to use continuous shooting mode and take several shots in sequence. Here's one example of a photo taken in this manner:
But I have had enough writing for today, I want to go see something that I got for Christmas, the Pilke free skiing movie from Finland.
Accident. On my way to skiing, just 5 miles from the slopes. Accident, Maryland is a sleepy town in western Maryland. And an infinite source of sign comedy: "Welcome to Accident". "Accident Fire Department". "150 Years in Accident". You can't make this stuff up.
But back to skiing. I was returning from a business trip, and had a day of conference calls ahead before my flight would depart. But by now I had grown weary of the insides of my hotel, and wanted out. I decided to rent a car and have the calls on the way to the slopes. I only got an hour and half on the slopes, but I think the road trip was still worth it. Also, just the driving in Virginia and Maryland is interesting, once you get out of the downtown DC traffic jams. The roads go through hilly countryside and forests.
I visited Wisp, a small ski hill three hours from DC. The weather was snowy, cold and windy. The forests around Wisp had 10-20 cm of untouched, soft powder. Why is it always the case that in small hills no one skies off-piste? The base was a bit rocky, but the it was still fun. The ski area has prepared some of the forest areas for skiing; the rest of the forest was pretty thick. I particularly liked the trees around The Face, a steep run straight from the top towards the lodge. But there were also woods to the skier's left from Squirrel Cage. As you near the lodge at the bottom, however, the forest becomes impassable.
Wisp has 213 meters of vertical, and an amazing 12 chairlifts and 32 runs. Amazing, because I did not see as many runs, and only one chairlift. But in the weather it was difficult to see. And, interestingly, I didn't actually succeed skiing a single official run on my visit.
The lodge was a positive surprise for such a small ski area. There was a large cafeteria area, but also a proper restaurant with menus and waiters. And a hotel, on a small ski area! A sign outside advertised local drinks and local skiing. I can only agree to that.
Nice small ski area! Recommended. A small minus for lack of an open wireless network, however.
An interesting thing also happened during my visit that made me think about what my attitude to skiing is. I had sent an SMS "skiing is good" from the slopes to a friend who was on her way to the same flights and had joined the road trip. For some reason, maybe due to an error in international roaming, my message kept being repeated. She asked if there was ever a case that skiing would not be good. Probably not. On this blog at least I've never complained about skiing, no matter what the weather or snow or grass situation was. Skiing is always good.
Funny signs from Accident:
Ski local - drink local? Great principle!
Lighthouse somewhere in the middle of Maryland? WTF?
Dec 6th. Independence. Freedom. Important stuff. Well, freedom is still a bit difficult for us skiers, there not being enough snow yet for freeskiing in Southern Finland.
But there is enough snow so that Vihti Ski is already open! And Kauniainen has enough snow that grass slides better. The season has opened!
Vihti is properly open, the main run is in good shape. On the sides I was even able to find some untouched snow (albeit with somewhat rocky base). And it was fun skiing through the vegetation left from the summer. The early days of the season are good! And I had not seen 2-3 meter cow parsleys before! (Or were they wild angelicas? cow parsnips?) In any case, hitting these soft plants was far more fun than hitting small trees. You just need to make sure you identify the plants in time!
In Vihti we were puzzled by the ferris wheel sitting on top of the hill. WTF?
Oh, and one more thing about the freedom. Freedom is always associated with responsibility. In Kauniainen, I hiked up the frosty slope around midnight, carrying my small miniskis. But at the top I realised my foldable poles had been left out from my backpack. Doh! Careless and stupid. No matter on this small hill, but would have been a big problem on other mountain excursions. How stupid can you be? I'll be more careful in the future.
And I paid a price for the stupidity: the small skis are difficult to use on steep slopes, particularly without poles.
But the Finnish independence day also got me thinking about indepedence in general. We are of course proud of our independence. Usually one considers the national aspects, but I wanted to raise some other aspects that matter to us outdoors people. For instance, the freedom to roam or "everyman's right" as it is called in Finland. This is a law that makes it possible for anyone to move about the nature on anyone's land, as long as you are not coming too close to someone's home. This law is what makes it possible for us to spend time skiing or hiking in the nature, without worrying about trespassing someone's property. Such laws do not exist in all countries, however, and even where they exist they are occasionally challenged. I'd like to dedicate this article to defending the rights of the public for our free lives, be it about outdoors or other things. We should not need a permission, monitoring, or control.
Happy independence day!
Professionals must have professional gear. Miniskis for the coming challenges:
No plastic ski hill in Brazil for me today. My flight schedules had changed, just by a couple of hours but it foiled my plans to collect another country on my way home. Oh well, Buenos Aires is an interesting city. There is no skiing, however. And I have skied Argentina already anyway.
In thinking about what I could do instead, I realized that it is not so much skiing that I crave for on these trips. What I am more after is adventure. Not danger and adrenaline rush, but new experiences, new sights, and something to remember the trip from.
So I ended up biking to Tigre, a river delta area north of Buenos Aires, and trying out kayaking for the first time. Tigre is a great place, a cross between Venice and jungle. It is a touristy area, with many boat and other services. But it is also a large area with a lot of nature, buildings from modest cottages to palaces, and many beaches and parks. There is also water-skiing and water-boarding, but since I only had a part of the day for my adventure I did not have time to set that up.
And I did not fall over to the water! Although some of the waves from boats and ships were big enough to go over our kayak and wet me. The river delta area is generally well protected from weather, but on the biggest rivers there is a lot of traffic.
Biking in Buenos Aires city itself is tricky, as in most other large cities. But it becomes much more relaxed in the outskirts. We took our bikes on a commuter train (Mitre line), rode a few stops out of the city, and then biked to Tigre along the shores of the Rio de la Plata. There are plenty of small suburbs, shops, and coffee shops along the way. When you reach Tigre, the Fruit Port is an area with plenty of shopping, mainly crafts and souvenirs.
On my previous trip to Argentina, I had heard about Mate, a local caffeine-rich drink, but did not get an opportunity to try it out. On this trip I finally succeeded. Excellent social drink!
For biking, there are city bikes and commercial services. I hired a bike and a guide (to teach me kayaking) from Urban Biking. Much recommended!
A funny thing happened on the way out. On the Lufthansa flight, the checkin agents wanted me to pay extra for my second suitcase. At the end of the day, it was classified as a ski bag and transported for free. Of course, inside I had my dear red mini skis, so of course it was a ski bag! Rules are rules, and Lufthansa clearly states that ski bags travel free all over the world. I did not get to use the skis, but they saved 240 dollars in this incident, so now I will always travel with them, planning to ski or not!
Buenos Aires visitors know that the town is full of steak restaurants. I only ate one steak meal, and even that did not want to stay down too long… others liked the food very much, though. Finding other type of food required some search, however. I really loved the Osaka restaurant: Japanese-Peruvian that serves Tapas among other things. And the place is in the Palermo part of Buenos Aires. How cool is that? Excellent food, and a super-international setup.
Sarcophilus Satanicus. Satanic meat lover. Better know as the Tasmanian Devil. We did all we could to ski with the devil, like we did with the kangaroo, but alas, it was not to be. Turns out the devil is in trouble. The numbers of this previously common animal are down at least 80% and maybe as much as 99% from 1990s, due to a mysterious infectious cancer.
We saw devils in captivity, but despite skiing through areas where they usually would have been active, we saw none in nature.
This article is a report of my four day excursion through Tasmania's mountains with my friend Tero. Despite not seeing the devils, we succeeded in seeing red neck wallabies and opossums, hit the biggest snowfall in recent history, and skied a number of interesting routes - including a possible first descent of the Jacobs Ladder road, an infamous route to the second highest mountain in Tasmania.
I always seem to end up in places that are listed under "world's most dangerous roads". The road leading to the Tasmania's premier ski area - Ben Lomond - has steep switchbacks at the Jacobs Ladder. This section of the road first caught our attention when we tried to enter the ski area after heavy snowfall. The road was closed, and it needed to be cleared with a grader. However, the grader had lost a tire. And the tire repair truck was stuck in snow. After a couple of hours and some amount of digging and pushing the truck was where it needed to be, the grader was back in action, the switchbacks were cleared, and we could proceed.
However, the lifts were not running. Due to the amazing snow fall? It turned out not. The lift system is antiquated and mostly out of action even when the customers queue up on sunny days. What a shame. This nice ski area badly needs a ski lift update. The Facebook page for the place keeps lamenting the situation.
But no problem. Tero and I decide to skin/hike up in freezing snowstorm with zero visibility, until the GPS and altimeter say we have reached the top of Legges Tor (1570 m), the second highest mountain in Tasmania. The base of the ski area is at 1460 m. We ski down and call it a day.
Our climbing at Ben Lomond had taken a lot of time, and we were the last ones to come down Jacobs Ladder that evening. Just in time. A few more minutes, and the road would have been impassable due to too much snow. A bit earlier and it would not have had enough snow. And I needed snow, because I wanted to ski the road. The snow fall on that day was exceptional; the locals said they had not seen similar amount of snow in over a decade. I have been unable to find reports of anyone skiing the road. Though it seems easy, if the snow is there. It is possible that it has been done before. Any Tasmanians know this?
So I skied the road in heavy snowfall and darkness, with Tero following me in the car and providing light. Note that I did not ski straight down the steep face, just the road. A metal net has been laid out on top of the face to prevent rock fall. Even with the heavy snowfall, the net was still mostly visible above the uneven rock. I do ski steep runs, might even ski as steep ones as this is. But I will not ski 50+ degree metal net. Oh well, even without the metal net or with more snow, avalanche danger would have been considerable.
Ben Lomond Facilities
On a sunny day Ben Lomond is a very nice place. The views are wonderful. The mountain is wide and open for skiing in any direction, assuming you have the ability to get back on your own. I saw the kangaroos on my way down the backside, shortcutting the mountaintop and the road to Jacobs Ladder. (Tero was kind enough to drive our car down while I had my fun. Thanks Tero!)
There are several ski lifts in the area, although most are indeed very old. There is a bar and a cafeteria, and a sports shop. And plenty of accommodation and cabins. This ski area has potential once the lifts are put back into action!
Cat or opossum or something else?
The other ski area in Tasmania is Mt. Mawson, located within the Mount Field national park. Mt. Mawson is a ski-club operated and tiny. To get to it one must hike 200 meters higher from the parking lot to the base of the ski area. This takes good 45 minutes, even if the wiki says 20 minutes. And more if you choose the longer route by accident (as we did).
We got to the area late in the day, just as the lifts were closing. The nature around is amazing, but we did not get to do the actual ski runs. However, just returning back to the parking lot from the base was a nice ski experience.
The national park would have been a good place to spot some devils, but we did not see any. The park has also been the last place where a thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) has been spotted in the wild. Now they are extinct.
With the lifts closed, we had no energy or daylight left to try to the official ski runs by climbing. Here is one of the main slopes (with more behind the ridge at the top):
Hiking to the ski area:
Road to the ski area:
Our base for Ben Lomond was Launceston. The city has a good number of restaurants and some bars, but has a sleepy feeling to it.
Oh, and about Launceston Before-ski: The place to acquire chains is autObarn. It usually makes sense to buy rather than rent, particularly if you are not returning to the same point after the end of journey.
Our base for Mount Field was at Hobart. This is the biggest city in Tasmania and has extensive night life. Most of the bars right next to each other on Salamanca Pl near the waterfront. Much recommended!
Kangaroos (or really, red necked wallabies):
Soup at Ben Lomond:
Me installing chains (with an instruction manual in hand):
More about the devils:
For the Swedish authorities: you need to go search for the Pirate Bay from Tasmania:
Photo and video credits (c) 2013 by Jari Arkko and Tero Kivinen