Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Entrance to the Cisco's

Many of my good friends work for Cisco, the networking company. But it turns out that Cisco's is also the best restaurant & after ski bar in Andorra. Cisco's Funky Bar and Restaurant is located in Arinsal, next to one of the ski lifts for Vallnord, Andorra's most challenging ski area. We were here on a weekend trip, on site less than 48 hours but still managed to ski both in Andorra, Spain, and -- accidentally -- in France. But more on those adventures later.

Cisco technology demo, hanging from the roof

It is always difficult to know beforehand where to find the best bars. Local research is more important than browsing recommendations from the Internet. Zach did the research in this case. After two interviews a pattern started to emerge, particularly when the second opinion was given by an extreme skiing competition finalist. We saw these guys do insane things on the mountain, so perhaps they have saved all their good sense for selecting the best after-ski places. We decided to start our evening with a dinner at Cisco's.

Neon sign

Sign outside

The food is tex mex, and excellent. I recommend the chicken with the secret Cisco's sauce. Afterwards you can check out the bar in the second floor. It is small, but packed and usually hosts the most interesting skiers from the slopes.

The funky bar
Chicken with Cisco's secret sauce

Important Parameters

Cisco's can be found here. Main courses are 10-20€, a full dinner with appetizers, drinks, and dessert went for about 30€. A dinner includes a free drink at the bar later. Their staff is very friendly.

The staff has the right attitude

The T-shirts were not on sale, but we got this picture.
(The waitress wanted to remain anonymous)
Cisco's entrance

Trip to Andorra

More stories will follow, including avalanche-surfing and cliff-jumping videos from the competition, revealing the best nightclub in Andorra, and off-piste route instructions for an excursion to France. Stay tuned!

I Love Cisco's

"Come in for a Stiff One!"
Cisco's after-ski

Photo credits (c) 2012 by Jari Arkko

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Two More Countries

Courmayeur, Italy

I'm heading out today for a two day trip to collect Spain and Andorra. Still, plenty of other places in Europe that I have not skied in: Turkey, UK, Iceland, Denmark, Bulgaria, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Bulgaria, ... It still feels like the planet has an unending supply of unexplored ski destinations.

I'm doing this trip because my friend Zach happened to be going that way and it is fun to ski together. And Andorra has been on my high priority list. Also, I rarely say no to an opportunity to ski. (Except when Zach pointed out that we could participate in the extreme skiing competition that happens to take place in Andorra this weekend. No thanks. I'm only partially crazy, not a total lunatic...)

It has been a good week otherwise, too. I've already skied on two evenings in Kauniainen.

Rope skiing to avoid crevasse falls, near Monte Rosa, Italy

My upcoming trips include a family trip to Åre in early April, and possibly something in France on the last days of March and something in Slovenia in mid-April. I still wish I could organize something in Russia and Estonia. I'm wondering if Estonia could be done as a day trip from Finland. How many ski areas are there? Could they be skied in a day? Any locals reading this and willing to advice or even join such an exercise?

Graphic signs in Kirkwood, California

Oh, and does anyone have after-ski recommendations for Andorra?

Christmas tree a la Veuve Clicquot in Zermatt, Switzerland 

Photo credits (c) 2010-2011 by Jari Arkko and Olli Arkko

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Peuramaa II

Peuramaa, Finland

A couple of days ago I went to Peuramaa, in Kirkkonummi, southern Finland. We often go there from the office after work, given that the place is just a few kilometers down the road. I've written about Peuramaa many times: it has what I call the playground for the skiers.

But I wanted to write about the place again, because I noticed something new.

We went in the evening. It was snowing, badly enough to make the traffic a chaos everywhere, making me arrive quite late. What strikes me about these visits is the darkness. The winter days in Finland are very short. Most of these small areas operate only in the evenings, as the skiers have school or work in daytime. Of course, the slopes are lit with powerful lights. But even in the middle of a bright ski slope you can see the darkness elsewhere. On many ski areas the lights have a yellow or orange tint. In Peuramaa some of the side ski slopes and small off piste routes are not very well lit. I think it is great. The scenery is wonderful and creates a special feeling. Very different from skiing on big mountains in bright sunshine.


The other thing was... powder. Most of the visitors in Peuramaa are focused on the jumps and other special facilities. And those facilities are mostly in one place, even though this year Peuramaa has built a new ski slope with more jumps and rails. For some reason no one else than our group seemed interested in the other slopes with fresh snow.

As is usual in Finland, the new snow cover was not too deep, maybe 10-15 centimeters. On some wind-blown place maybe to my knees. But it was fun to ski, still. And we got to ski most of it, given that everyone else stayed near the one slope with the jumps.


In the following there are a few additional low-light pictures from different ski areas:

Mt. Shasta, California

Nuuksio, Finland

Photo credits (c) 2012 by Jari Arkko

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Bad weather day in Hirvensalo

I dropped by the Hirvensalo ski area in Turku on Sunday, when the rest of my family was still visiting Moominworld. This is a small ski area run by the local ski club, Tusla or Turun Slalom. It is only four kilometers from the Turku city center, easily accessible by city bus. It is a typical southern Finland ski area, just 60 meters high. What is nice, however, is that there is more than one parallel slope and that all the slopes are steep enough to make turns fun.

Not a good first impression, where's the ski hill?

When I was in Hirvensalo it had been snowing heavily for the whole day. Many of the ski runs were covered with fresh snow.

Åbo Hors Piste

The forests next to the slopes offer some small off piste routes. I wish I had had more time to explore these. But I started late and then burned an hour trying to put my contact lenses on. (Even after a year of using them while skiing, I still have significant trouble putting them on or taking them off.)

In any case, there is a forest with some routes on skier's far left, above the children's slope. I did not explore this area, but I did check out the forest to the skier's left of the lift that starts near the cafeteria. This is a pretty dense forest, and has some cliffs that everyone seems to avoid. But it can be skied. The other forests seemed to have some summer mountain bike trail structures that might offer interesting twists to your off-piste experience. And as always, be careful when skiing near trees; bumping into them is a bad idea.

A view of the three main ski slopes

Important Parameters

On a weekend, one hour lift ticket costs 19€ and a day ticket 29€. The cafeteria is clean and modern, and offers fast food and packaged sandwiches. There was no soup on the menu, so the Goulash index can not be calculated. But the best thing is that the cafeteria offers Pepsi Max, my favorite after ski drink!

Pepsi Max after ski!


An excellent local hill with good services and steep runs.


Photo credits (c) 2012 by Jari Arkko

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Moominworld Cliffs

Skiing towards the Moominhouse

My family is very supportive of my skiing obsession hobby. I get to make many trips and spend a lot of weekends skiing. One of the things that I am doing in return is trying to accommodate whatever wishes the kids might have. Like my youngest son, who likes the Moomins so much that we spend as much as eight days per year at Moominworld, the theme park. This is not your typical commercial amusement park. No rides. Their main attraction is visiting the Moominhouse and hugging the Moomins. A unique place, the best amusement park that I can imagine for small kids. But the Moomin song ("muumihumppa") plays all over the place, the park is on a tiny island, and I know no one else who visits it more than a day per year.


We usually make four two-day trips to the park. I try to find something to do in addition to staying in the park, to get some exercise and to not get bored. In the summer renting a bike and going around the small, beautiful town of Naantali is recommended. But now we were going in the winter.

Yes, Moominworld is open in the ski vacation period, for a week every winter. This year they are open from February 18th to 26th. Their attractions include ice skating, grilling sausages, and - you guessed it - hugging the Moomins.

This time I wanted to see if I can combine this trip with some skiing.


This is a really stupid idea. The things that I describe below are dangerous and possibly illegal. The island of Kailo has no skiable terrain. Even if you find some, you'll be making at most one or two turns. More importantly, the island is full of cliffs, and venturing anywhere beyond the marked paths can very easily lead to major falls. I do not recommend this to anyone, and absolutely not to any kids.


The below map shows the four possible routes:

Moominworld ski routes

Official Moominworld pulkkamäki. You can find this next to the Moominhouse to the left (south) of the main walking path towards the house. This is the small kids' sled slide. Not for adults or for skiers, too many small kids toiling around.

Moominhouse descent

Moominhouse Descent. From the back of the Moominhouse there is a trail that passes first the Moomin boat and then climbs to the hill south of the house. The trail ends in the cafeteria area between the Moominhouse and Mamma's Kitchen. Just before getting to the cafeteria and to the official pulkkamäki you'll see the Moominhouse through an opening in the forest. This area slopes slightly towards the house, and can be skied. It is an easy path, except at the very end where you'll have to be careful to find a good way to come down to the yard.

Beginning of the Moominhouse descent run

Cliffs above the beach drop

Beach Drop. Another trail connects the cafeteria area to the Moominworld harbor. A bit before getting to the harbor the forest opens up to cliff areas. These cliffs can be skied down to the path that leds from the harbor to the sand beach. Aim ten meters left of the small hut on the border checkpoint between Moominworld and the beach. However, route finding is difficult, and cliff falls are a danger.

Tricky end of the beach drop run

Fence above president's cliff

Entrance to the president's cliff

President's Cliff. This is the grand off-piste of the island. In the summer, the trail from back of the Moominhouse leads to an observation deck at the highest point of the island. From here one can view the summer house of the president of Finland, across the sea.

A fence separates the platform from the cliffs that drop 15 meters to the sea. You can enter the area by going under the fence. However, route finding is extremely difficult and even the best route is basically a vertical cliff. FALL DANGER! GOING HERE IS NOT ADVISED!

But going down is not as difficult as coming up. Even in the winter, ice may not be strong enough right next to the island, so going back the same route is practically the only option. In the summer this route would probably be easily climbable, but on ice and snow it is dangerous. I got back up, but I really wished I had brought my crampons and ice axes.

President's Cliff

Not skiable

Going back up, because it was the only route

Important Parameters

Moominworld entrance is 23€ in the summer and 16€ in the winter.

The recommend hotel to stay in the area is the Naantali spa. If you have Diners Club points, staying in this five star hotel can be free. For dinner, I recommend Tammikellari. They serve snail appetizers, which are my favorite ski food.

Outdoors pool at the Naantali Spa

Signs leading to Moominworld

Kailo is about a kilometer walk from the parking areas


Not for skiing. This is a dangerous place. Otherwise much recommended!


Photo credits (c) 2012 by Jari Arkko and Tarja Arkko

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Out of Bounds in Les Arcs

North ridge of Aiguille Grive

I was more worried about falling on that vertical wall than the police catching me, but both were real concerns. And then I caused an avalanche. This is a story about my four day trip to Les Arcs, France. With my friend Jarmo on the trip, I knew that our days would be packed full of the most difficult skiing we could find. We ended up climbing a mountain or two every day and skipping lunches because we were too busy skiing. Just the exercise I needed!

I am an outlaw. In violation of French laws and local regulations. I have not taken the national park educational course that teaches how to avoid disturbing the local fauna. The ski patrol or the even the local police could come at any moment and throw me into jail. And apparently they are very eager to do so, because it gives them an excuse to go skiing some good powder while catching such a big criminal. Even if I know how to behave in the delicate environment.

But the police are not my main worry at this point. I'm worried about the entrance to the east face of Aiguille Rouge. The rest of the slope looks skiable, but the entrance is... tricky. The entrance is an almost vertical wall, requiring side-stepping for about ten meters before the the slope levels to a more reasonable gradient. And the entrance is narrow. I am glad I have my new, shorter skis with me.


We are somewhere between the Les Grandes Pentes off-piste and the Le Couloir du Génépy (the one closed by ministerial decree since 1991). Our local friend drops in first, making everything look easy. Then again, he spends most of his time on these slopes when he is not flying helicopters to off-shore platforms. Maybe he is more used to this than we are. We follow and eventually make it to the slope without falling, and with only mild shaking.

Climbing down, carefully

A small amount of climbing was needed to get to Les Grandes Pentes

I do not know what the scissors are doing in this sign. But just to be safe,
I'm not taking anything out of my pants to pee at this spot.

Two Kilometers of Vertical, on Every Run

Dropping on to the east side of Aiguille Rouge leads us to the open bowls of of the Reserve Naturelle des Hauts de Villaroger. There are plenty of route variations, but they all take the fall line in the beginning and later veer to the left, eventually making it to the small village, Villaroger. A few hundred meters of walking or pushing is needed before reaching Villaroger. But the payoff is huge. The vertical difference from the top of Aiguille Rouge (elev. 3226m) to Villaroger (elev. 1200m) is a whopping two kilometers. Depending on the chosen entry point into the off-piste routes, this means 1800 to 1900 meters of vertical on the out of bounds part. On one run.

Given the large space, route variations, and the location far away from the ski area, there is usually plenty of untracked snow to ski. Towards the end of the route, all paths join and become a bumpy, icy, tiresome ski run. Return to the main ski area by taking three long, slow, and very cold chair lifts (Replat, Plan des Violettes, and Droset) from Villaroger. But the upper parts of the mountain are well worth the pain. These off-piste runs are also exceptional in the sense that not much hiking is required to get to them. The Aiguille Rouge ski lift takes you to these areas, as long as you know how to switch to the other side of the ridge. Wrong route selection can lead to a bad day.

One route that I wanted to do but did not have time (or guts) is the Couloir en S. This is the most famous of the ski runs off the Aiguille Rouge. It is also 1900 meters high, but starts with a healthy 45 degree couloir for the first few hundred meters, with a need to switch between couloirs in the middle. It would have been interesting. Maybe next time.

Another entrance to this same area took us from the top of the Grand Col lift to the col, an easy climb of 100 meters. Climbing a little bit higher we can take a steeper run to the right of the col. From here we enter the Itinéraire du Grand Col, a route that takes us further into the natural reserve than what can be reached from the top of Aiguille Rouge. There is a small hut at the top of the col, as well as a possibility to stop at the Refuge de Turia. As with all the backside routes from Aiguille Rouge, route finding is difficult. You are far into the wilderness area, there are rivers to cross and forbidden areas of the natural park to avoid, and there are obviously also mountain dangers. A guide is necessary.

Views on the off-piste run from Grand Col, near the Refuge de Turia

Helicopter practice on Aiguille Grive

More helicopter practice

Aiguille Rouge Powder Fields

But the east side is not the only place on Aiguille Rouge for off-piste. The front of the mountain also offers interesting options. The most obvious route, the "Les Câbles", is straight down under the ski lift. We did not try this route, but it seems steep and interesting, though also quite quickly tracked out. The route is shown on the left on the picture below.

Aiguille Rouge routes on the front side

The route that we did try started straight down under the lift as well. After a few hundred meters we took a long traverse to the left, crossing three ridges and the Arandeliéres bowl in the middle. The route is shown on the right in the picture. The traverse is airy; the slopes underneath are rocky and steep. But at the end of the traverse there is a wide area that usually has plenty of untracked snow. Definitely worth skiing, close enough to the lifts for added safety. Avalanches and falls are a danger in this area, but it does not require quite the same self-sufficient expedition setup like the other side. Avalanche danger was only moderate or small when we were visiting Les Arcs, and having checked with the ski patrol this route was OK except for some rocks. Those rocks did some damage to my already suffering skis, however. It is hard to predict when you will hit a rock under a seemingly deep powder cover.

Off-piste under the Aiguille Rouge lift

Les Lanches

Backside of Aiguille Grive

Aiguille Grive, 2732 m, sits right next to the top of the Transarc lift. An 40-minute hike is needed to climb the 150 meters to get to the top of the main ridge of this mountain. From here you could ski back to the ski area or take one of the backside routes towards the cross country ski center in Les Lanches. The first route that we did here is shown in the picture below. We started from the top lift station (the first marker), climbed to the top of the ridge on Aiguille Grive (second marker) on the obvious route, then skied down to the bowl slightly to the right first and then down.

Aiguille Grive Off-Piste (click here for a bigger map)

When we reached the bowl, there was a couloir to the right of the beautiful peak (third marker). While skiing this couloir it is important to stay on the fall line or slightly to the right; the left side leads to impassable cliffs. At the end of the couloir, we traversed to the right, keeping roughly on the same altitude (1600 meters) until we reached Notre Dame de Vernettes, a lonely chapel built in the 1800s. This is a wonderful spot to have a lunch or break when the weather is good. We pressed on, the visibility was not good at this altitude and we had more skiing to do that day. From the chapel, keep to the right and ski upwards for twenty minutes by following the track towards the Combe ski lift (the last marker).

Climbing to the Aiguille Grive

Holy weather near the Notre Dame de Vernettes

Another run that we did here started from the top of the Grand Col chairlift. We traversed to the skier's left, skied the steep slope and crossed a bowl, and then climbed up for half an hour to reach a ridge that we followed for a while, and then skied its steep right face (the one facing Aiguille Grive). This run ends at Les Lanches.

A bus stops at Les Lanches every half an hour to take you back to the ski area. Get off at the bus stop between Peisy and La Villaret; the slow Lonzagne ski lift will transport you back to the rest of the ski areas. Like the other routes, this route is also difficult to navigate and there are dangers if you end up in wrong place. Hire a guide for this trip.

Les Lanches Off-Piste (click here for a bigger map)

The start of the Les Lanches off-piste, near the Grand Col ski lift station

Lac des Moutons, descending the west face of Commune de Haut

Views from the ridge between Combe de Commune and Combe de la Chal

Avalanche Run on Aiguille Grive

On the last day I did not have time for a major tour, so I went up on the Transarc and climbed a part of the Aiguille Grive, then traversed the face under the peak to reach the north ridge. This took about 40 minutes of climbing, and at the end I was on top of a very steep ridge. On the lowest part of the ridge there was a passage towards Vallandry. I did not take this route, but climbed a bit higher to ski back to the Grand Renard slope running towards Les Arcs 1800.

At first I had attempted to climb the rocks at the very top of the ridge, but found them too smooth to make progress with my ski boots. I reverted to walking in the snow just below the rocks, which turned out to be easy. Even if at places I felt like sinking into the snow.

Sunshine on the north ridge of Aiguille Grive

Climbing a steep ridge. The other side is a cliff.

The run from the ridge is not very high, under 100 meters. But no one had skied it before, so the snow was fresh. And the slope is steep. So steep in fact that when I skied it, the uppermost layers fell away in a series of avalanches. Small ones, I could feel them but it was clear that I was not in trouble. (And I was close enough to rescue forces should they be needed in the case of a bigger avalanche.) I was more concerned about hitting rocks under the snow which might send me cartwheeling.

Avalanche! Well, a small one.

Nevertheless, this small ridge was my best run on this trip. I wish I would have had time to do a couple more climbs. The ridge had space for dozens of attempts on fresh section of snow. In addition, I had chosen the least steep route on my first attempt, and the other ones would have been more interesting. And with some training, I could have skied at a higher speed, making the runs look better. As it was, we had an airplane to catch and had to leave.

Grand Col

Entering the Les Lanches route from Grand Col. Steep.

Important Parameters

Les Arcs can be reached by car from the Geneva airport, the drive takes about two and half hours. We stayed in the Les Arcs 1800 village. This village is recommended for its liveliest evening life. Like the other villages in this area, it was small and rather artificial, however. A cheaper option would have been to stay at Bourg Saint Maurice, the bigger town down in the valley. 

This park allows you to test your avalanche rescue gear

Vegetable soup at the Cafe Bulle on the slopes costs 3.50€, half of pizza or a sandwich costs under 6€. These prices are reasonable for a ski area in France. Dinners at Les Arcs 1800 range anywhere from 10€ to 30€, depending on the choice of the restaurant.

This exciting environment needed just ten meters of climbing to get to
(but with two meters of soft snow, those ten meters took ten minutes)

You can find more information about off-piste routes in this area from pistehors and from the book Les Clés de Paradiski by Didier Givois. The book is mostly in French but has English summaries. It is available from Amazon. There is also a small list of routes in the resort worker's guide

My camera decided to take a photo on its own

Les Arcs is certainly worth visiting for any type of skier. For the skiers that want to stay on piste, there is plenty of variation and the area in general feels more accessible and compact than, say, Les 3 Vallees. Most of the area is for actual skiing, not for long traverses to get one place to another. For the off-piste skier, there are a large number of easily accessible routes, and the number of skiers taking the advantage of these routes is small. So plenty of snow left! Recommended. But remember to do this only if you have the equipment, expertise, and guides necessary to do it safely.

I am either about to fall, or I am testing my new 3m long skis

Views from the Helsinki-Geneva flight on FlyBe

Photo and video credits (c) 2012 by Jari Arkko, Jarmo Ruuth, and Google Maps