From skier to skier – practical tips and advices for Rajalta Rajalle

My RR experience

In 2011, I participated RR for the first time. Being a Finn, I had skied in one-day events like Finlandia in Lahti and Tervahiihto in Oulu. I started to look something more challenging and happened to read about RR from a Finnish outdoor magazine. The event sounded just mad. 440 kilometers in 7 days. Together with my good friends Tuukka and John we decided to give it a go and enrolled.

During the first info in Oivanki Anitta told us that some people might get hooked to this event. For the scared first-timers like us the comment was a bit absurd. Only thing we were worried about was if we would survive or not. Why would someone want to do it over and over again? Well, we made it through the week. And what a great week it was. That said, after crossing the finish line in Tornio I did not plan to return.

Now, after participating the event six times in a row I can understand what Anitta meant. I got hooked, big time. And this addiction is not a bad one.

It is an unique event. During the years my RR experience changed from a physical challenge to a week of total mental relaxation. When skiing through the vast swamp areas of Ranua or on the hills of Syöte with some stunning views, you mind is at peace. On the other hand, you have time to think. RR gives you perspective.

And it is a great reason to keep yourself in good shape. After all, it is 440 kilometers. Although you should not be afraid of the distance you should respect it.

But probably best part is the RR spirit. Your age, gender, nationality, fitness level – they just don’t matter. Everybody helps each other, nobody is left behind. It is a big happy family. People in RR1 have become my good friends and coming to Oivanki feels like coming to a class reunion.

Being now a junior level RR veteran (some people have skied it 20 times…) I was thinking of writing down some practical advises for people coming to RR for the first time especially for skiers coming outside Finland.

Hopefully these will help you to make your RR experience more pleasant. These are not official instructions in any way and are based on my personal experience, so please read and follow what the RR organizers are telling you.

Have a great ski! / Hyvää hiihtoa!

Jussi

A GOOD WORD FOR THE ORGANIZERS

This event is largely based on volunteering. All the people you meet on the stops providing you juice and snacks are volunteers. The skiing and bus guides are volunteers. The ladies preparing the food for us in Hosio and Ruona are volunteers. The guys preparing the skiing tracks and following the group with snowmobiles are volunteers. Last year I had a chat with one of them. He told that he is spending his winter vacation to be able to volunteer and participate.

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Volunteering comes in many forms.

How about that. They are not getting paid, rather they participate because they want to keep the event alive and do their share for common good. That is something we all should remember and respect.

If there is one word for the atmosphere of the event, it would be “homely”. Everything works like a charm but sometimes the standards (for example sleeping arrangements in school gym floor etc) might not be what you are used to when travelling abroad. Take those moments as an experience. You can be assured that the organizers are doing everything possible that you would have a great week.

ON THE TRACKS

Before the start

First you need to make up your mind if you are in RR to compete with others or have a good and relaxing skiing holiday. Great, you chose the latter one.

Skiing should be enjoyable. This is one week in your calendar where you do not have to rush from thing to another and be constantly worried if you can get everything done. Don’t spoil it. Relax, slow down, enjoy. Ski at your own comfortable pace. You will get to the finish line every day for sure. If you run out of time during the longer days, you can hop to the bus. And there is nothing fancy in your hotel room or other accommodation. Stay outside and enjoy.

Don’t feel bad if you forget the above during the first tens of kilometers. Everybody else forgets it too, including yours truly. It will settle down.

Downhills

The terrain especially during the first three days is quite hilly. And what goes up, must come down. There are a lot of steep descents and usually only one track on a quite narrow path surrounded by trees. Remember to leave a good gap to the skier in front of you before going downhill. The person front of you might fall down.

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Starting the long downhill from the top of Syöte. The cameraman did not leave a gap…

Yes, we all fall down occasionally. When you fall down DO NOT get back on the track without looking back and then start wondering where your poles are and which way is up and which down. You might be suddenly hit by a 90 kg skier doing 50km/h. That will without a doubt lead to severe injuries to you both. I have witnessed several close calls like this as people don’t understand how fast those downhills are and that there are only seconds to maneuver.

When you fall down, take a quick look back and then move to the side of the track. Then gather your belongings, take your time, have a sigh, put your skis on, look back and ensure that nobody is coming, then continue your skiing.

Uphills

There is a really nice one during the first day after skiing a couple of kilometers, the notorious climb to Saunavaara. It is like a wall. But don’t worry too much, it is one of a kind.

Food and drinks

There are drinking stations organized by volunteers after every 10-20 km. They provide water and juice and some various snacks like chocolate, raisins, pickles etc to keep you going. Half-way stop provides a sturdier lunch, soup with bread or similar.

Almost everybody carries either a small drinking belt or a small backpack. Especially during the longer days and in bad weather you need to carry some extra snacks and drinks. You can take some provisions to your backpack from the breakfast or they are readily packed for you.

I carry a drinking belt and it has not too much extra space. That is why I have a couple of energy bars for every day, they don’t take too much space and might turn out to be a real lifesaver if you suddenly run out of energy. It is not a pleasant feeling.

Drink before you are thirsty, eat before you are hungry.

In RR you have the luxury of eating as much as you want during the dinner. You will burn it off anyway the next day. Have a good breakfast too.

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Having a breakfast at Ruona.

“The Ranua day”

Day 4 is the longest. If the conditions are good, the length will be around 85-90 kilometers. Sounds a bit rough after skiing for three long days already. Surprisingly, it is not the hardest day at all but it will take time. After the first 20 kilometers it will become flat. Really flat. Swamp after swamp. A great opportunity to reach “skiers high” where you mind is totally empty and you just ski.

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This sign really makes an impression year after year. 10 done, 80 to go.

Remember to respect the distance and do not push over your limits. Remember to drink and eat.

When I first came to RR, the distance for the 4th day in the printed leaflet was 78km. In front of the hotel in Ranua my GPS said 90km. When I asked why the distance in the leaflet was so much off, the answer was “to not to scare the first-timers away”.

Other security issues

The track is marked either by red ribbons or yellow signs. Observe them, especially when we are reaching areas where there are more tracks than the ones made just for RR (such as Ruka skiing resort in Kuusamo). 

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Take your mobile with you in case of emergency. Turn it off and keep it in a warm place next to your body to keep the battery functional (they are not made to be used in -30C). You can find the important numbers from your skiers badge.

It is advised to ski in groups, especially during the longer days.

OFF THE TRACKS

Transportation

There are two buses following us the entire journey. They will take your bags from a hotel to another in the morning. Follow the instructions from the bus guide, she/he will tell to which bus to place your bags going to hotel and to which bus to place your skiing bags and other gear.

The bus with the skiing gear will be usually available on the half-way stop, there you can change skis and clothing if necessary. Or you can hop to the bus and do just a half day if you feel like it. Remember, you are on holiday. You don’t have to ski.

If we don’t start skiing from the hotel, the buses will take us to the start.

All your bags should have a piece of red ribbon (you can get it in Oivanki) tied to them as if you forget to take your bags yourself to the bus, the bus drivers can spot them out and your belongings are not left behind.

Accommodation

In Kuusamo, Taivalkoski, Syöte, Ranua and Tornio we will be staying in nice hotels. That said, three people might be sharing two people rooms, third one sleeping on the couch or even on the floor. But nothing to get annoyed about.

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Resting in Ranua Hotel after 90km day.

Accommodation on day 5 is different. People are divided into two groups. You will stay either in Hosio school (the finish) or go by bus to Ruona “village house”. In Hosio you will be sleeping in old army style bunks. In Ruona you will be sleeping on a mattress on the floor with everyone else (ladies will have their privacy behind the curtains…).

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Waiting for lights out at Ruona.

On day 6 half of the crew stays in Honkamaa (the finish) which is pretty much like Ruona. The other half travels by bus to Jokikeskus, old hostel style accommodation by the River Kemi.

So a lot of people sleeping in same room. And guess what? People snore. Most likely you will snore too after many days of skiing. It is amazing how this comes as a total surprise to some people. They get up annoyed and go around kicking snoring people so that they could get some sleep – just to start snoring themselves. So don’t fight it – remember to bring ear plugs!

So for day 5 and 6 you will need a sleeping bag. We are staying indoors, so you do not need to take your best hard core winter expedition sleeping bag. However, if it gets really cold outside you might feel it inside too. These are old houses.

Wherever we are, we are served a good breakfast, dinner and evening snacks every day. Food is normally typical Finnish food and there is plenty of it. Especially the dinner in Hosio and Ruona is something really traditional.

Sauna and swimming

Kuusamo Spa Hotel, Taivalkoski and Tornio hotels have swimming pools so remember to take your trunks and bathing suits. Also bring your own towel for days 5 and 6.

Being in Finland, you can have a sauna everywhere. Even in an old camping trailer turned into sauna, like in Ruona.

A few words about sauna. I would call the entire thing “a Finnish paradox”. You know the stereotypical Finnish male. Does not speak, does not look into eyes, rather stands than sits next to someone on a bus, really does not want to talk about his personal matters and keeps his opinions to himself.

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Finns waiting for the bus. Real footage. We need our space.

But in sauna it is totally different. Consider a public sauna in a swimming hall. Bunch of men totally strange to each other, stripped naked, sitting next to each other in a hot and humid room, sweating like mad. And then the talk starts. Family troubles, sports, politics, ski waxing… debates, laughter, sometimes even a few tears. All this in a temperature around 90 Celsius and with people you have not met before.

Then they walk out, take a shower and go to the dressing room. Nobody talks, eye contact is avoided again.

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Anyway, a couple of tips for your sauna experience:

  • Everybody gets naked. Especially in public places like in Kuusamo Spa, swimming suites etc are actually forbidden in sauna. Why? Because they spread bacteria. Sauna is a clean place.
  • Usually there is a roll or a stack of paper seat covers (called “pefletti”)  in front of the sauna door. Use them if available.
  • Men and women go to sauna separately, even in RR.
  • You should take a shower before the sauna and after the sauna if there is one.

RR people usually like to enjoy a beer or three after the sauna (or before). In hotels, you can naturally get it from the bar. For the days 5 and 6, you might want to ask your bus guide to shop for you. There might be some beer on sale in Hosio, Ruona and Honkamaa or then not. Don’t count on it and get disappointed.

Guides

There are two guides following us the entire journey. Bus guide, who is an all-around organizer, tells you when to wake up, where the breakfast is, when to start skiing, when to stop skiing, where to eat and where to sleep. For once, you don’t have to worry about anything else than putting your skis on and going from A to B. Someone else takes care of the rest. Great, isn’t it!!

There is also a skiing guide with us who shares part of the responsibilities with the bus guide, doing evening infos etc. He/she will be skiing with us and trying of course to see that everybody is all right on the track. Usually the people advancing in the front don’t need too much help thus he/she should be focusing on the people in the back.

Evening info

Every evening after dinner you will have a short info explaining the route and arrangements for the next day.

And if you did not catch everything, ask your fellow skiers. People are happy to help you.

Ceremonies in Tornio

Once we get to Tornio we will have an evening ceremony in the hotel auditorium. As a part of that every nationality is expected to do some sort of a short performance. It can be a song, poem, a funny play or a short speech, it is up to you and your countrymen to decide. But do not stress about it.

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Team Norway and our guides doing their show.

We will be also gathering some money for the guides and bus drivers to thank them for their efforts. So be prepared with some euros.

THE GEAR

Skis, poles and boots

Personally, I bring two pairs skis and two pairs of poles to RR. One pair of waxing skis for temperatures below zero and one pair of “Zeros” for the warmer conditions. Many people use nowadays skintech skis as their primary ski. It seems like a good compromise for an all-around ski. Whatever you prefer, you might want to bring two pairs of skis and poles, just in case. I managed to broke a ski when falling down.

I have installed bigger baskets to my poles as the snow around the newly laid tracks might be quite soft.

For those long flat days I use longer poles for double poling.

As for the boots – this is not an ordinary one-day skiing event. We are doing long distances, eating and drinking (water) quite massively for a week. Thus, we are swelling a little bit. Your feet will swell up too. So do not choose your tight pro level skiing boots unless you fancy a lot of blisters, infections and loosen toenails. I tried that in 2013 and was eating antibiotics for two weeks afterwards. Now I use boots which are one size larger than usual.

A boot dryer is a really good thing to bring along. Keeping your feet dry is essential, even for a couple of hours.

Waxing

There are some waxing services (be prepared with cash) available in some locations but seems that it is not always certain. For example, we have had a good waxing service in Syöte for many years but last year they were not there, for a reason or another.

There are waxing rooms at least in Oivanki, Kuusamo, Taivalkoski, Syöte, Ranua, Ruona, Hosio and Honkamaa. So everywhere except Jokikeskus. Some of the waxing rooms are quite small so as a courtesy to others please try to be quick when waxing. Some waxing rooms have stands and irons but most of them not.

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Pro level waxing going on at Oivanki.

So to be on the safe side regarding waxing bring your own portable waxing kit (a mountable stand, iron, waxes, cork, scraper, brush). You can fit one to your skiing bag.

Might not be a bad idea to bring your own power extension cord to share the electricity in waxing rooms.

As for the grip waxing, you do not need a waxing room for putting on some grip wax. And for the glide – if you have done a proper job with your skis before leaving home they will last at least for 2-3 days. Just brush and polish them in the morning and you are good to go. Usually I wax for the first time in Syöte (before the long day).

How to wax then… In March the conditions are starting to get quite tricky. It might be -10 in the morning and in +5 in the afternoon. If it is around zero and snowing you are likely to have some problems either with grip or icing. But that is skiing!

If you are using waxing skis, take a jar of your most trusted grip wax and a cork with you to the tracks. Also carry a scraper in case of icing.

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Good grip.

Clothing

In 2013, we struggled with morning temperatures as low as -35 to -40C. In those conditions you will need some extra protection. A balaclava does not weigh much and can be really needed. Earmuffs are good too. Gloves should be thicker than usual, extra socks, double or triple underwear etc.

Gents, you don’t want to freeze your valuables. Lately, I have used windstopper underwear which works quite well and keeps the private parts secured from the freezing breeze. If you don’t have those, the old Finnish trick is to use the local newspaper in your groins if it gets too cold.

But usually the weather has been quite mild, around zero. In 2014 during the last day it went up to +10C!

There are some drying cabinets in some hotel rooms. Sometimes you just have to hang your stinky clothes here and there and hope they will dry before morning. Therefore it is useful to take a roll of clothing line or similar with you.

Sunglasses are a must. Sun and snow combined might make you snow blind.

Other useful things

Painkillers, cooling gel, blister bandages, sun protection.

Your favorite music, headphones and a good book.

Lots of good spirit and bad jokes and you are all good to go.

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