Sunday, March 2, 2014

Rajalta Rajalle Hiihto Ski Finland March 2014

Rajalta Rajalle Hiihto is an adventure on skis.  Jon and Kirti flew out on Sunday March 2nd to cross country ski across Finland. This is commonly called a border to border ski. The ski tour is 440km from the Russian border to the Swedish border. The route is near the arctic circle. They will attempt to complete the distance in 7 days. The distance each day varies from 44km to 88km. 

This is an organized ski tour. The cost of the tour includes board and lodging. The tour also transports all of their gear from the start to the finish.  They will be staying at a hotel 6 of the 8 nights. 2 nights will be in a school. There are between 2 and 7 service places beside the skiing route. You can eat and drink at these places, so you don't need to carry a lot of snacks with you. 

They are both hoping that they will be able to ski the distance each day.

They will take a SPOT messenger device with them. This will allow them to send their GPS location each day via e-mail.  This will allow us to track their progress.

Here is link to the offical web page of the border to border ski adventure that they signed up for: 

This is 20 min video that follows a british author who did the ski and documented it in a video:

The spot locations will be posted as they come in.  


Jon and Kirti made it to Helsinki along with their skis and luggage.  

They stayed the night in Helsinki and will then fly to Kuusamo where they will begin to ski. 

In regards to temperatures and waxing Jonathan said,  "I was just checking the long term forecast for Kuusamo, which is where we are starting. It doesn't look ideal right now. They have strong headwinds and temperatures right around zero degrees, with frequent light snow or rain showers for at least the first half of our tour. If we are lucky there will be enough freeze thaw for klister, but it seems more likely that it'll be a dysfunctional kick wax scenario. We may be double poling until we drop."


 Jonathan and Kirti sent a link to their location.

Jonathan also sent the following information posted below.

Flying to Kuusamo

This is Lapland where the native culture revolves around reindeer.

At least there is snow on the ground, even though it is 30 degrees warmer than normal.

Once we got to the hotel we noticed there were ski trails running right past the parking lot.  They seem to run everywhere around the greater Kuusamo area, and around Ruka to the north. It is all well signposted. We liked the little symbol they used to show whether the trail was groomed for skating or classic.
They have these maps at every trail junction. Note the lighted trails. We are where the big red dot is.

Skate or Classic
Pick a Trail, Any Trail
We Are Here
We quickly changed, unpacked the skis, corked in some kick wax, and went out to explore the ski trails. We skied for a couple of hours and covered about 17km. There is an extensive trail network, like in Norway. You definitely need to use the maps carefully. It's very well groomed and signposted. The skiing is very pleasant. The whole area is a myriad of lakes, small hills and woodland with a mix of birch and conifers. The trails twist and wind up and down lots of small but steep hills.

Finding Steep Hills to Climb
Over the River and Through the Woods

 Kirti is Happy on Skis
 Skiing into the Distance

We got back just at dusk, had a shower and then enjoyed a nice dinner. I had reindeer and mushroom pasta, which was delicious. The food has been excellent so far, about the best I have had anywhere. We noticed again how quiet and reserved the Fins are. Even though we were sharing the dining room with four families each with multiple small children we pretty much had to whisper so as not to create a disturbance. It was the same in Helsinki. In a room full of 30 people having breakfast you could have heard a pin drop. On the plane a read an article that described how to tell the difference between an introverted Fin and an extroverted Fin. Apparently the introvert looks at his feet when talking to you, whereas the extrovert looks at your feet. It's not much of an exaggeration.

We had another ski this morning. It was just 10km or so. It's proving difficult to get the kick wax right. I think we have a lot of herringbone walking and double poling ahead of us!

We checked out the Oivanki waxing room.  This is one half of the waxing room, complete with fume hoods, drop down power for irons, and plenty of ski benches, double with wax catching bags for scraping. It's a nice facility!

We just had our pre trip meeting. They said that it is going to be very difficult this year because of the weather. We have to miss a few km at the start tomorrow because a river is not frozen and part of the course has no snow. Even up here in Lapland it has been the second warmest winter in over 100 years of record keeping. Most of Finland has had no snow this winter.

The event organizers are worried that the track will be dangerously icy in places. In fact, there are a bunch of downhills that we must all walk down. This problem is exacerbated by the rain that is in the forecast on day 3 because the temperatures are dropping below freezing after it, so the track may be solid ice. Also, there are very strong headwinds forecast for the entire week, some up to 20 knots.

We were told that the most important thing is to remain positive ... because that way you will die happy!


3-6-14   Day 1


                                  Kirti reading the race manual at 6.30am in our room at Oivanki.

On the bus to the start, which was moved to Sourajarvi, due to the warm temperatures which have left rivers flowing, which in turn has closed part of our route early one day 1. The ski trail normally leaves the Russian border along a river valley, on top of a frozen and snowed over river. This year we would need canoes, so we started almost 20 km in, making our first day only 42 km which is the shortest day of the tour.

Getting ready to start at Sourajarvi. There were two bus loads, for a total of 98 skiers in our wave, plus a couple of guides.

Heading out across and along a large lake in the first few km. The bottom of the tracks was solid ice, so it was all double poling, and quite fast.

                                                    One of many climbs along the way.

Ruka ski area in the distance. We followed some beautifully groomed trails in the Ruka trail system. This is where they host a World Cup XC skiing event early in the winter.

                                                          The lunch warming hut at Ruka.

There were many steep little kickers in the last 20 km. There were a couple of really steep, icy descents right at the end, which dropped down onto frozen lakes. We skied them all, but a couple of the definitely gave us pause for thought at the lip. They seemed to be about 45 degree slopes, and the run-out at the bottom, while flat, was solid ice, and rutted in places too. We need to be careful not to fall and hurt ourselves.

                                                                 Inside the lunch hut. 

                Trail signs at a junction about 25 km into the journey. Look at some of those distances!

                                                              Time for some refueling.

Ending point for the day 1 after skiing 43 kilometers:

We just found out at the meeting tonight that our wonderful ski guide who spent so much time warning us to be careful and encouraging us to go slow and maybe even walk some of the icy bits, fell and broke his collarbone today. The poor guy has to go to Helsinki tomorrow to have it operated on. Even so, he was there this evening giving his talk to the event participants, cracking jokes in a half dozen different languages, and explaining Finnish grammar by contrasting it with the grammar of several other languages. I was especially impressed at one point in his talk where he had translated in real time, and at full speed, from Finnish to English to German to Italian to French and to Russian, and then apologized for having struggled with his pronunciation of an obscure word in Slovenian. My god, these people put us to shame!

Now that he is out, another older Finnish lady stepped in to his role, and she was equally multilingual and even more fluent in English. She also gave us an interesting history lesson about the railroad route we will be skiing for half the day tomorrow. Apparently, it was built by enslaved prisoners of war during WWII, and there are many dead buried along it.


3-7-14   Day 2

Good British weather today with a 20 mph head wind, drizzle, and temperature a couple of degrees above zero. We used vr75 kick wax, which was ok. Actually, we started with vr55, but it didn't grip at all. We put vr75 on twice during the day.

First 10 km or so fairly straight and gentle gradient. Good for double poling., but very poor track conditions. Like back country skiing really. Route had to take a long detour due to forestry work, and once we turned off track conditions were even worse. Pretty terrible really, even for back country. Wouldn't call it groomed at all for the first 30 km.

Long hilly poorly groomed trail along power lines with some hard hills. We were starting to worry by the lunch stop around 30 km that the whole 60 km might be like that, but after lunch the trail conditions improved dramatically, and grooming was really good. Some long stretches of flat- ish road allowed for good progress, then in the last 10 km or so it got really hilly and twisty in a very pretty pine forest. The day demanded a lot of different skills.  We skied for 7 hours at a fairly brisk intensity, and came home around the middle of the field  probably in the first half.

Great lunch, with salmon and vegetable soup with rolls. Great teepee with fire.

Driving to the start.

First feed station

Power line trail.

Tricky descent.

Frozen lake track.

Lunch teepee

Ending point for day 2 after skiing 60 kilometers:

3-8-14 Day 3

Started out in stormy, rainy weather.  There was a 30 mph head wind and it was snowing and sleeting.  Eventually it started raining.  Temp was right at freezing.  Getting good kick wax was tricky.  We went with some VR 75.  Klister would have been good, but there was a lot of debris on the trails with the wind. 

We passed by  soem ski jumps at the start and skied well groomed skate and classic trails for 15 km or so.  It was pretty country with lots of hills.  Quite hilly terrain most of the day today.  We had several climbs that were several km long.

It is difficult to describe these ski days because they are so long and varied that they encompass almost a complete winter ski season of experiences in a single day.  Today we had 60 km (and the kms in Finland are really Loooong).  It took us 7 hours to complete again, just like yesterday.  We had stormy winds, snow, sleet, rain, sunshine, slush, water, corn snow, ice, icy corduroy, back country skiing, well groomed classic tracks, skate tracks, down hill areas, and even finished going up a T-bar tow to the hotel at the summit of a downhill area.   All in all, another fabulous day of skiing.  There is something indescribably awesome about skiing hard for 7 hours a day, day after day, through all kinds of terrain, and having it all be new trails you have never seen before.  I love how this just goes on and on.  It's truly remarkable.

ski jump hills
Kirti in the rain
A really soggy river crossing.   This was literally water skiing, with a bow wave off each ski tip, and water up over the toe of each boot.  We both had soaking wet feet all day today from this kind of thing.

Typical ski trail conditions early in the day.
Another small lake crossing.  The rain collects on top of the ice.  This is exceptionally warm weather for here.
Great sign posting the whole way.

Several km crossing open country early in the day.
Approaching a feed station on the shore of a lake we had to cross.
The route heading off along the lake shore.  Notice how wet it was in the first 30 km of our day today.
Eventually the sun came out.  This was the first time we had seen the sun since being in Finland.  Track conditions improved as well.  The last 30 was great.
Nice birch forests and great ski track.
We had a wonderful 5 km continuous descent on good tracks through these woods.
Visiting a historic farmhouse, which was also a feed station.
The ski trail crossed a river or lake on a bridge and I saw this guy standing out there.  
Preparing for ice fishing maybe?
 Kirti on the bridge.  Notice the water...  This is very unusual for Lapland in winter!
Beautiful hilly and sinuous ski trails in this area.  Absolutely gorgeous skiing.

Speedy descending on icy tracks.

Endless climbing to the top of a mountain at the end of 60 km

Finally made it up to the ski area after 60 km.
Had to take the T bar tow up to the hotel at the very summit.
Kirti at the hotel.


Nice sunset

A good waxing room with people starting to show up. It was packed all evening due to the 88 km day tomorrow.

At lunch, after skiing 30 km in thrashing rain, 30 mph winds, and on soggy, slushy tracks, 10 km of which were essentially back country skiing, and with river crossings like the one pictured, one of the American skiers ( who was on the University of Denver ski team) commented that he wasn't enthusiastic about continuing on having just skied in the worst conditions he had ever experienced on skis. An old British gentleman who over heard this said "In Britain we would rate that to be GOOD skiing conditions". It made me laugh for much of the rest of the day, because having lived in both countries and having grown to know the people, I knew they were both serious and in their own way, right. I guess it's all about your expectations. ;)

All in all, these have been three fantastic days so far. Tomorrow is the big one (88 km). It is pretty daunting actually. These are really long, hard, hilly km with quite a lot of difficult track conditions. If we can survive tomorrow I think we have a good chance of making it.

Ending point for day 3 after skiing 60 kilometers.


3-9-14    Day 4

  This was a long, hard day. It started early with a
7.30 am departure from the downhill area. There was a hard freeze overnight, so the track was very icy, and in places solid ice. The first 15 km were on excellent groomed trails, and with the fast tracks we flew through the rolling terrain. After that wonderful start we left the managed ski area and all hell broke lose. The snowmobile prepared track was very irregular, rutted and icy. It was quite dangerous in places and there were numerous crashes. Then we started a long, twisty downhill on narrow, rutted, and irregular icy tracks. It was so narrow that it wasn't possible to snow plow much, or stop. There were lots of falls, some broken poles, and some long stretches where we had to walk. Then we came out on a forest road that was solid ice. There were not tracks, nor any snow to ski on. We negotiated a km or two, feeling like Bambi on ice, but came to a downhill stretch of a km or so that had to be walked. Eventually we got some snow to ski, but it was really rough and rutted, with sections of grass and tundra exposed. Then we walked another km or so on gritted road to a feed zone at 26 km. from there everyone had to get on the bus because the next 18 km section across a lake a marsh area was a foot or two deep in water, and unnavigable by ski.
We started again at the next feed station (km 44). From there it was fairly flat, but more like back country skiing on icy and irregular terrain. It was gnarly. The only saving grace was that the ice was fast, and the strong wind was quartering (cross and slightly behind). In a couple of places it was almost like sailing if you could stay upright. There was almost 50 km or this.
After the last feed, which we made well before the
5 pm cut off ( in fact I think we made it by 2 pm or so) we thought we only had 12 km to go. However, the route marking was terrible and lots of people, including us, went off route and suffered a couple of hours and god knows how many extra km, on virtually unskiable Snowmobile, trails which were all churned up and required double polling up and down hill just to maintain stability. It was a slog at the end off an 80 km day. Finally we got back on route and found some set tracks to ski into town and to the hotel. 
The first 15 km of today was some of the best skiing I have experienced. Much of the remaining 70+ km was some of the worst. Still, we made it in the end after about 8 hours of hard work. I kept thinking "where are we going, and what is this ham basket for".
Many people didn't attempt all of it. Some did and didn't make it (due to getting off course and having to be picked up). Some really struggled with the track conditions, while others (such as the Norwegians and fins) hardly seemed to notice. It's a good job we did all that training this winter. You wouldn't want to go into something like this in poor condition. Our fitness, skill set and knowledge has been seeing us through fairly well. Unfortunately, Kirti seems to coming down with a cold, so that will be one more burden to shoulder. But we are still standing.

Kirti on the Norwegian train.

Already done 13 km, only 75 km to go.

Kirti still hanging on to the Norwegian train.

 Still on the Norwegian train.

Some Belgian and Danish friends at the feed station.


Now on the snowmobile groomed track, which at this stage was good fast

Still nice cruising on good classic tracks.

The trail starts to deteriorate.

Skiing on ice roads, a new and scary experience with classic skis and boots.

Still on the ice roads.

Not much snow on this bridge.

This river definitely isn't frozen ( as it should be at this time of year )

Finally back to some relatively nice skiing on semi-frozen lakes.

The fire at the feed station.

Grabbing some food at the 76 km point.

Struggling along snowmobile tracks off route at 80 km in.

Finally back to some groomed, but miserably poor, tracks into town.

 Click the link below to see where we are located.


3-10-14    Day 5

Warm weather and melting snow prevented us from starting at Ranua as planned. Instead, we travelled a few km by bus to the first feed station. We skied from there, then some people, including us, skied back to make it a 30 km day. The weather was sunny, but with a strong wind blowing from the west. It would blow us backward if we didn't have our poles planted. The lake crossings were quite challenging, even if they were flat. We had mostly flat terrain all day, but with a lot of lakes and some rocky outcroppings. It was lovely country. We hade a good ski. My triceps were sore from all the double poling the previous day, but we were skiing quite well even so. At lunch we roasted some sausages over a fire, which is a traditional Finnish thing to do.
When we got to the school where we were staying, we prepped our skis for the next days 60 km journey. The Kirti slipped on the ice in the parking lot and cut her face, just along the eyebrow. It was bleeding a lot and needed stitches. She also cut her hands. They called an ambulance to take her to a hospital. At first they said the nearest hospital was 100 km away and it would cost us a lot of money to go there by taxi. But then the organizers called a local doctor who had done the RR himself. He opened up a small clinic in the town of
Ranua, a half hour drive away, and came in to do the stitches himself. It took a couple off hours including the travel, and cost us nothing. She is all cleaned up now and ready to soldier on.

Polar bear attack!

Setting out for a sunny, flat, scenic day of skiing.

There was lots of water, barely frozen, with a heavy tannin content.

Skiing across open country.

Danger! Just before a downhill.

 nice country and nice grooming.



Roasting sausages at the lunch feed station.

Skiing along a lake shore.

A nice cabin on the lake shore.

A nice rocky outcropping.

Nice open woodland of pine and birch.

Soggy ski trails.

Kirti after the fall being attended to by the ambulance men.

Inside the ambulance on the way to Ranua.

On the operating table.

Cleaning and stitching.

The doctor doing the stitching.

All fixed.


3-11-14  Day 6

Nice skiing for the first 20 km. tracks were set by snowmobile, but quite smooth and fast. The terrain was flat. We bombed along to the first feed station. The first 20 km was completed in 1 hour 40 min. After that the track was awful. It was very bumpy, twisty, and narrow. The wet snow from the previous day had frozen hard after having been traveled by snow mobiles. It was an irregular rut of ice with small trees growing up though it. There were no tracks set and the going was very awkward and in places dangerous. Fortunately, the terrain was flat, but the localized trail conditions were corrugated, with 3 ft ridges and troughs to cross almost continuously. After seemingly endless km like this we reached a forest road which had seen recent logging activity. It was devoid of snow. Instead it was a sheet of solid ice with patches of gravel. We thought this was awful and prepared to walk, but the Norwegians just went skiing on by as if nothing had changed. We followed suit, struggling to stay upright on the rutted ice. Then the ice sheets got smelled and the gravel patches larger, until eventually we had to walk.
Reaching the last feed station on foot, we expected things to improve, but they deteriorated even further. The last 10 km was a combination of bushwhacking and icy gravel roads with no snow or tracks. Some people commented that this wasn't
We finally made it to the end of the day after 60 km. only 20 km of which was really skiing. We are fortunate to have made it through without injury. The first 20 km I would rate as quite good. The final 40 km I would rate as somewhere between really bad and absolutely horrendous.

Kirti at the first feed.

The tracks were good until this point.

The ski tracks after lunch ... Not so good.

Our Norwegian friends tackle the difficult track effortlessly.

Kirti cautiously negotiates the ice roads.

Lovely tracks.

Tracks continue to deteriorate until eventually we have to walk.

Norwegians still ski, while we walk.

Snow again, but now we start bushwhacking.

Nice birch forest.

Some pics of me.

Difficult tracks to the end. It is hard work doing 60 km on this stuff!


3-12-14  Day 7

For the final day they had to change the route completely because there was not enough snow and the rivers we had to cross were all flowing and impassable.  So instead of the normal last day they drove us to a groomed ski area and we skied 50 km, in a 25 km out and back route on beautiful groomed trails.  It was blazing fast on the way out, and part way back, but by the end the temperature was so warm (almost 50 degrees) and the snow started to get really slow.  We had a nice lunch stop half way, where they cooked us pancakes and we sat inside a cabin on reindeer skins eating them.  We did the 50 km in well under 4 hours.  

Even though the route was changed at the very beginning on day 1, and at a few short sections in the middle and for the whole last day, we still felt happy to have skied all the km that were available.  We didn't quit and we finished in style.

Where we stayed.

Kirti has socks over her snow boots for the ice.

Enjoying lunch indoors at the feed station.

Nice tracks all the way today. It was a fast 50 km.

Us near the end.

 Click the link below to see where we are located.