Monday, May 2, 2011

Skiing Kauniainen at 3AM

Kauniainen, whopping 50 meters below
May, 2011. Its 3AM and I'm about to ski the local ski hill in Kauniainen. May will be my sixth month here, as the season started in December. That's quite a season for a ski area in the most southern part of Finland.

Strangely enough, the area was closed a month ago. But not due to lack of snow. Even now there's enough snow to ski down, though the night helps by making the snow a bit more firm. Still, as I climbed up I kept sinking to my knees and occasionally deeper.

The ski hill in Kauniainen is not big, its just 50 meters high. But its close, I could walk here from my home, and if the city didn't spread sand all over the walking paths, I could probably slide back home on my skis. Skiing here for an hour in the evening does
Sky colours
not waste time for travel. My kids learned to ski here. The local ski club, GRIFK Alpine, has a ski school that lasts for the whole winter and teaches 500 kids every year. Their training program is also highly acclaimed, one of the local kids is now a world cup racer. From this hill! Though one has to wonder how six year old trainees can ski the race track day in and day out, and then spend their evening watching video recordings to make sure their knees are at exactly the right angle in the turns. In any case, an impressively well organized club!

Climbing up in darkness
But back to this night. Why am I here? Its not much of a ski run, but I wanted to say that I skied here in May and photograph what the area looked like in the middle of night. Or you could say that I'm crazy. This seems like a good point to remind all the kids that skiing in a closed ski area is dangerous and incredibly stupid. Do NOT try this at home. As I climb up I keep watching for some of the dangers, as the melting snow has uncovered junk that I did not want crash into. The slope is almost entirely covered by snow, except for a few such spots. The lift track and flat area at the bottom are free of snow and full of mud, however.

The ski area
This is a historic site, actually. This ski hill was the site of the first ski lift in Finland, in 1934. The old wire lift was still used until a few years ago, literally a pain in the ass. The ski area is owned by the city, a tiny (pop 8,000) but self-sufficient Kauniainen. In addition to the ski hill, there's a lake, the city hall, a train station, one restaurant, one movie theater, a few shops, and a school that pioneers use of open source technology in learning. All you need, that is. In the winter a green, heated grass football field provides contrast to the to the ski hill that sits next to it.

And then there's the off-piste. Before you start laughing, let me point out that with all my skiing around the world, the most dangerous event that happened to me this season was falling to a bush well in Kauniainen. For a moment I thought I would be unable to move, but luckily was able to get myself free. I knew about tree wells, but I didn't realize that snow on top of bushes can collapse under the weight of a skier.

Football and skiing
First, it should be noted that top of the ski hill is easily accessible not just by the ski lift, but also by car from the end of Jalmarinpolku. If you come by this way, make sure you do not block the access to the local houses. There's space to park one car in front of the gate, however. The most interesting off-piste route is on the skier's right, straight down the steep side. This spot is icy and steep enough to be tricky at times. Alternatively, if you ski from the back of the lift and keep turning left towards the ski area, you'll find a number of different routes through the woods.

The essential parameters for Kauniainen are as follows: the price of adult day ticket is 17 Euros and a season ticket is 150 Euros.

They do not sell real food in the cafeteria so I don't know what the Goulash index would be. However, the cafeteria is a nice place for some hot chocolate and pulla! The closest "real" food is available in the Hölmölän Burger Grill (stupid's grill), near the Bemböle School, or alternatively in the one restaurant in the center of Kauniainen.

My nightly ski run took 27 seconds, but in the winter the slalom competitions winning times are usually around ten seconds.


Photo credits (c) 2010-2011 Jari Arkko

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