Sunday, February 19, 2017

Backpacks are DEATH

"It is not about your experience with backpacks, it is about PEOPLE DYING". The ski patrol's inexplicable rule prohibits me to take my backpack to the ski hill in New York.

This is my first visit to U.S. after Trump took office, and my first ever problem with taking backpacks to a ski slope. Coincidence? Maybe not. Just think about it: travel ban - backpack ban. And considering what happened yesterday in Sweden, it actually makes a lot of sense.

Seriously though, the people at Thunder Ridge, NY, were nice. Even the ski patrol people. Particularly the ski patrol people. I was able to negotiate an exception to their rule, given that I was a blogger needing to carry a camera. After all, the ski patrol did believe in the importance of journalism, and obviously lame ski bloggers are at the centre of journalism's important role in bringing out the facts. The only problem was that I had to re-negotiate like ten times when running into different lifts and lifties. But it was all good.

And the facts are: none of my U.S. friends believed there could be skiing so close to New York City; they thought the story of a ski hill an hour north was fake news. Well, it wasn't. It is very real, while not big it is important for the kids, near for the city dwellers, and an overall fun place with varying terrain. the mid-week special tickets cost only 25$ for a day.

And it really is just one hour from the city, although you have to add another hour to get 5 miles out of JFK in the traffic that was standing still :-)

Unfortunately, I was only able to enjoy this playground for half an hour. While I had a ten hour layover in JFK, it took a while to rent a car... the airlines were unwilling to deliver my luggage to a layover point, so I had to get rentals... and I had an important work conference right when I arrived at the ski area. But no matter, call completed, the open parts of the ski area all explored, and I even made it to my next flight in time.

As a side note, I spend a lot of time on conference calls. And when I travel, I don't just look at convenient flight times, I schedule layovers so that I can take calls. Can't just travel from California to home, need to stop Wednesday morning for that call. So the layover was a necessity, not a choice. It was only afterwards that I started investigating what to do in New York. There's plenty to do of course, but I've done many of the sporty things (like skating or climbing) already, so I wanted to find something new. Thunder Ridge was a surprise find for me as well. My previous New York ski trips have been like four hour drives.

I should also say that going to ski lifts with backpacks CAN be dangerous. Be careful out there,  and take off the backpack before going to a chair lift at least -- getting the backpack tangled with the chair could be bad. As we saw recently in the story about the miraculous save of an unconscious man hanging from the Arapahoe Basin chairlift.

Photos and videos (c) 2017 Jari Arkko. This blog is also available at the TGR site. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta.

Friday, February 17, 2017


We took an airplane. A train. And hiked. For this? A kid slope half the size of my home slope in Grani. But it turns out we got to ski a route down liike no other: down the railroad tracks. And collect seven more ski areas.

We are in Obergom, Switzerland. The map showed a ski area. The web site said it is open. But maybe it is somewhere else, or really closed or we are confused. But no matter. Everything in Switzerland is always behind the church and a 10-minute walk. So was the kids slope that the ticket sales agent at the station directs us to. It. Had we asked for the way to the Matterhorn, it would probably also have been a 10 minutes walk.

It takes us 20 minutes to ski through the pictoresque village and find the lift. Seven Francs for the ticket, for the rope tow. We ski a few rounds, and then scout the areas around. There is untouched snow further away from the village and we try that, and hike back on the road.

But we look at out watch. The next train goes soon. We are almost out of time, but we decide to ski the old railroad tracks down to the station. That's a new one for us. We think there will be no trains before summer... but I keep watching to my back...

Our next stop is Realp, just on the other side of the Furka Base Tunnel. A bit bigger slope, but still small. Behind the church, 10-minute walk. Of course. We ski the flattish side area, with untouched snow, although it is closed due to avalanche danger from above, though we think no longer dangerous.

We also skied in Andermatt's Gemsstock and Täschen, Oberalp, Sedrun, and Disentis, all along the same train line. The Matterhorn-Gotthard Bahn rocks!

The weather in Oberalp and Sedrun was too bad to say much about these places, except that the restaurant complex at the Miles in Sedrun is good. In Disentis, we much enjoyed the powder fields from the Péz Ault anchor lift. Just be careful, as there are many spots here were snow has been dug and carried elsewhere to the ski area; there are sudden drops where the snowcats have moved. Also, we were kind of wondering about the "Disentis 3000" advertising, on a ski area that runs at most to 2833 meters, on this highest lift. But the powder was good!

By the way, back to Obergom: I realised that I had been to Obergom or the Oberwald train station before. A couple of years ago I was on autopilot driving from Austria somewhere else, unaware of my surroundings and the GPS brought me here, and tod me to take a boat. A boat! It turned out that it wanted me to board the train with my car, to cross the mointains. Which I did. But I have been more careful with GPS instructions sinne then.

Photos and videos (c) 2017 by Jari Arkko. This blog is also available at the TGR site. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Der Après-ski Zug

This is a brilliant idea. The Matterhorn-Gotthard Bahn doesn't just take you to the ski slopes, it also serves beer and after-ski music on the way there. Even on the 9:30am train.

You can count on the Swiss being innovative! Almost as innovative as the Finns, who have previously invented the "Spårakoff" pub tram for the Helsinki city transport. (Sadly, in recent years innovation in Finland has declined, and we now focus mostly on building subway lines that get never completed.)

The Matterhorn-Gotthard Bahn runs as the Après-ski Zug twice a day in both directions from Andermatt to Disentis. When going from Andermatt, though, we recommend getting off at Oberalppass and skiing to Sedrun, and when coming back, getting off at Nätschen and skiing to Andermatt. Try to beat the train on the path between Nätschen and Andermatt; it is doable but you'll have to hurry. At the end there's 100-200 meters of walking or running to the station.

Photos and videos (c) 2017 by Jari Arkko. This blog is also available at the TGR site. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Test

The sky is dark, but I can see lights behind. Suddenly a small object flies through the air. A small man. I think.

I move a bit out of the way. Apparently this large mound created by by the snow guns is being used as a jump by the five year olds. I'd never do those jumps myself...

I am on the Grani ski hill, on my free hour between conference calls, trying to decide whether Salomon MTN Explore 95s would be my new skis. The nice guys at Skiservice gave me a pair to test this week. I ski maybe ten runs... on the slope, both icy and with some softer snow. I'm a bit limited in trying the skis on typical off-slope conditions, but I do try to ski on the sides and snow piles a bit.

My old skis are delimitating, badly. I may be able to recover two working skis out of the three that I have (one ski was lost in an avalanche). But in any case, I need new skis.

Verdict? These are clearly good skis for an all-mountain experience, and ride very smoothly on all types of snow. Yet... I'm wondering about their performance on icy conditions. The skis have much rocker, and they are half a centimetre wider than my previous skis. I almost fall when I hit an icy patch on my my first run in Grani. You can ski this skis on ice, but you need to use them in a different way, and when push comes to shove, they'll probably fall short of what my previous skis could do on ice.

Great skis, also very good looking, but I think I'll need to try something else. I ski too much inbounds and on very hard ice to compromise that aspect of performance. Yet, if I pick less width, I'll probably sink in soft snow outside the slopes.

What would you recommend? Are other people struggling with the same questions?

Skiservice recommends Blizzard Zero G 85s. These bright yellow skis look great, and have noticeably less rocker and are even narrower than my previous ones. They are also more lightweight than the wider skis, and feature high-tech carbon construction. Thoughts?

Photos and videos (c) 2017 by Jari Arkko. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta.

Monday, January 30, 2017


Uh... my skis are delaminating. They already were doing it a bit earlier, and that got fixed in Skiservice. But they warned that the skis are not going to last long. I'm trying to glue the skis back together, lets see if it works.

I wish I had counted the miles on these babies. A lot. And two days ago I was doing 102 km/h on them, when I loaned Ari's GPS-tracker for one run. Glad they didn't delaminate then...

Photos (c) 2017 by Jari Arkko

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Bulgarian Powder

What's it going to be, Tero? Shall we fly tomorrow morning for a day trip to Kazakhstan? Or for day and half in Bulgaria? We opted for the latter, because that Tero disliked the ten hour wait at a Moscow airport.

And it was a good choice. I didn't expect or know much, but that weekend turned out to be great for skiing Bulgaria. It had been dumping light snow for days... we arrived in the afternoon and to quickly find the local small hill. GPS gave us five options to reach Vitosha, the local hill next to Sofia, just 15 minutes from the airport. We ended up at the bottom of an ancient ski lift housed in a farmhouse. But it was still snowing, and we headed up.

The snow came thicker and thicker, and the lift kept going up and up. Two hair-rising chairlift rides later we were 850 meters above the parking lot.

And still saw no ski runs. Or other lifts. Or other skiers. Just forest and some paths. We had no idea where to go, so we hiked a bit higher to reach the nearby ridge, and started skiing down.

We decided to ski further down, along the lift track and in the forest.

If this sounds depressing, it wasn't. The half of meter of fresh snow more than made up for the lack of any official ski runs!

The forest was quite thick further down, so we had to ski carefully. In the end we had to revert to navigating with Tero's GPS, to find back to the car as the darkness was already descending on us. One run, but what a great run!

Our next stop was to take the car and ourselves to Borovets, one of the larger areas in Bulgaria. What we found was surprising. First off, it felt like a major ski destination, comparable to many places in Austria for instance. And the village... we were surprised about the number of people visiting this place. And the bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, casinos, and many other things made for the tourists. A very active small village, with several very large hotels. Much more active than most other sleepy villages in the alps!

And the skiing: even more epic than at Vitosha. In the morning, the snow had stopped falling and the sun was shining. The forests in the lower parts of the mountain were too thick to ski them, but if you took the gondola to the upper ski area, the mountain between the narrow ski runs was covered by bushes. And on top of those bushes was at least half a meter of fresh snow. Nobody seemed to be skiing these areas, so we had them just for us.

Details: we stayed at the Hotel Rila, the Casino-spa-hotel with great saunas. Cost was a bit over 100€ for the two of us, including the half-board dinner reminiscent of servings on the boats between Finland and Sweden. Much recommended, except for the food. But it also cost just a few Euros per person.

Photos and videos (c) 2017 by Jari Arkko and Tero Kivinen. This blog is also available on the TGR site. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Windscreen Wiping in Volvo

The pump in my windshield wipers failed. I drove around for a week, while periodically opening the window and spraying water to the windscreen.

Turned out the problem was burned out pump, changed only a year ago. Warranty paid for the repair, and it took only 15 minutes... and I was very happy again with the service at my repair shop (Autofit Latokaski).

Photos and videos (c) 2017 by Jari Arkko and Janne Arkko