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Unfortunately, the summer has been very busy with other projects with no time for riding during the last two months. Now, however, we are spending a few days riding in Morzine. We were told that the summer has been really wet here. Seems that we are very lucky because the first two days have been wonderful with a lot of sunshine and no rain at all. This is our second trip to Morzine this summer. During our first visit in the very early in the season many lifts were still closed so there is a lot of new trails to digest. 


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Just finished a few days of great riding in Bike Park Morzine / Les Gets.


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Monday was the second day of riding in Finale. Today's trails had more dirt and less rocks to offer. Several descents offered great views to the sea. All in all another fantastic day!


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This was a fantastic day! Based on today's experience trails of Finale are really, really good! Better than what we had expected. Surprisingly long runs, not least taking into account that starting points were no higher than 1000m above the sea. Very thick fog above 700m gave its flavour for the riding. Lot of rocks and drops. Really can feel that it was the first day of riding for this season. Looking forward to tomorrow already!


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After an excessively short night and an early wake up, a three hour flight from Helsinki brought us to Milan. After having waited for our bike bags some 45 minutes at the airport, we were sure that they have been lost. They magically, however, were delivered just when we were about to report them as lost items. After some fuzz with the rental car we finally headed towards Finale Lugure, located some 230km from Milan towards Nice. After arrival we met one of our guides, Alessandro, who briefed us about our schedule for the coming week. The day was finished with some great Italian wine and food. And Finale Ligure, a city of some 11.000 habitants, seems very beautiful and lively been at this time if the year. We spotted also a whole buch of fellow mountain bikers in the city. Really looking for the first day of riding tomorrow!
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The historically warm Scandinavian winter is now behind and the biking season has just started here. We however kick the 2014 season going in Northern Italy. This is a trip that we been really looking forward to. An early flight to Milan tomorrow morning. The first stop will be Finale Ligure. During the week, we are set to ride in five different locations. Goes without saying that our expectations are very high! Our closest point of comparison will be Malaga where we spent a few days last summer. While it (trails, accommodation) was good, it was not great. We honestly expect more from our week in Italy. 
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Our full report of riding in Les Arcs in August is now on-line.
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Exactly a year has passed since we were sitting in a lounge in Stockholm Arlanda on a way to our traditional Christmas dinner taking place in Helsinki. Looking back the riding season 2013 we can conclude that it offered several great riding trips and numerous happy moments. 

Our riding this season kicked off in Bike Park Winterberg in Germany. In the early season we also spent a few days riding in Malaga, Spain and in Åre, Sweden. Our last trip of the season was a great week in Les Arcs, France, in end-August. While the season was great, you always wish that you could have spend even more time in the saddle. 

Besides having many unfinished ideas for the 2014 season, we have already booked season's opening trip and are certainly looking forward to that. There will certainly be more to come as well. Many of those ideas will certainly be discussed over the dinner tomorrow. 

Now its time to leave the comletely empty lounge to catch the flight!

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We spent the last week of August riding in Les Arcs, France with Trail Addiction. This is a pending story of the great week of riding we had.

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We spent a few days in Malaga, Spain with Sierra Cycling on June 5-9, 2013.

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This concludes our travel report to Malaga, Spain on June 5-9, 2013.
[Part 1]
[Part 2]
[Part 3]
[Part 4]
[Part 5]

Final thoughts
Sierra Cycling has been in this business for over 20 years. Prior to our booking, Sierra answered promptly to all our question that we emailed to them. Sierra's base is located in Fuengirola, about 20 minutes from the Malaga airport. Airport transfers were included in the price of the Sierra's holiday package and they worked perfectly both upon our arrival and departure. Inconvenient transfer times at around midnight were no problem at all for Sierra to arrange.

In Fuengirola, Sierra occupies two houses some 200 meters from the beach. The beach boulevard has good selection of restaurants. Quality of Sierra's house we stayed at was decent. No luxurious but ok. We have to admit that we are relatively picky when it comes to accommodations. Yes, we can happily spend nights in a tent or in a primitive shelter when, for example, in a wilderness. However, when in western European cities, we expect a certain standard, especially in terms of cleanliness. Sierra's house was not free from marks and stains, but decent enough for us to feel ok. Our beds were not very comfortable and they were also too short for anybody longer than 185cm. Rooms were air-conditioned. According to Scandinavian standards, we would give our accommodation three stars. Quite substantial breakfast was included in the price. Beer, wine, soft drinks and juice were also freely available. Overall, the standard of living will not stop us from visiting Sierra again in the future.

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Photo: Sierra Cycling's house on the right. View towards the beach.

We were also happy with our guides who were nice, knowledgeable, helpful and familiar with the trails we rode. Uplifts with minibuses worked as well, even though we would have preferred a dedicated trailer for bikes. Instead, bike were packed to the back of vans with blankets protecting frames from scratching each other and pedals from scratching frames. This method of transporting bikes was not really an issue for us, but it appeared to be for some fellow riders.

For those wondering what bike to bring for a holiday with Sierra Cycling, we saw everything from XC hard tails and from full suspension 100mm 29er's to all-mountain rigs with 160mm of suspension. For other than pure XC riding we would suggest a 140-160mm full suspension bike with dual ply tires. During our stay there were some XC riders in a separate group guided by another Sierra Cycling's guide.

Bottom line
We were overall satisfied with our four day's of riding in Malaga. Flight schedules from Scandinavia made it possible to spend a long weekend with four full days of riding by taking only two days, Thursday and Friday, off the work. It was a small price to pay for somewhat exhausted feeling when we headed back to work early on Monday morning after having spent the night on a plane.

When it comes to riding itself, we felt that four days was quite optimal for us. There are, of course, much more trails to discover even with Sierra than what we could explore during our short stay. In that sense, we only scratched the surface of what riding in Malaga has to offer. Having said that, for a full week of riding we would prefer to look for destinations that are practically impossible to visit within a long weekend, either because of much longer airport transfers or due to bad flight schedules.

Regarding trails, the highest altitude where we started our descent was no more than 915m (at the Telecom Tower) above the sea. We regard vertical descent available in Malaga as decent but not great. Especially since other trails started at a lower altitudes. Also, almost none of the trails continued all the way down to the sea level. A typical trail involved somewhere in a range of 300-400 meters of vertical descent. Some trails had slightly more, some slightly less. Each descent was followed by a van assisted uplift. As such, riding in Malaga certainly doesn't compare to lift assisted riding in a bike park. It is different. Not necessarily better or worse. It really depends on what you like and what you are looking for.

All in all, we can recommend Malaga as a destination for those looking for a few days of nice riding in a beautiful landscape, and Sierra Cycling for those looking for a reliable organiser of all-mountain riding in Malaga. Holiday packages from Sierra Cycling are available throughout the year except in July and August when they are close due to the very warm weather.
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This is part 5 / 5 of our travel report to Malaga, Spain on June 5-9, 2013.
[Part 1]
[Part 2]
[Part 3]
[Part 4]

Day 4
This was the day many regular visitors to Malaga had been talking about. Today, we were set to head to Desfiladero de los Gaitanes, an area known for its natural beauty. With this being our last day of riding in Spain, needless to say that we were really excited about the opportunity of exploring it. This was set to be a long day considering that our flight back to Scandinavia was scheduled to departure some time after midnight. At the same time, the late flight meant that we could enjoy a full day of riding without having to stress about risking missing the flight.

Desfiladero de los Gaitanes
We arrived at Desfiladero de los Gaitanes natural area after about an hour's transfer with minibuses. We parked our vehicles at a place that appeared to be not particularly high up in the mountains considering that this was supposed to be another shuttle assisted day of riding. Indeed, according to our Suunto Ambit, it was no more than some 400m above the sea level. However, the scenery looked very satisfying already here.

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Photo: We were greeted by a beautiful scenery after unloading our bikes from minibuses.

After pushing our bikes in a difficult rocky terrain for a while, it was time for today's first single track descent. It was a relatively short (3km) trail that took us to an altitude of 260m. Keen on pedalling some uphill on this last riding day, we volunteered for a quite steep asphalt road to the next descent that started at 470m. It was a really hot day and some of our fellow riders seemed a bit skeptical whether it really was a wise decision to skip the motorised uplift. Anyways, the next descent was again no more than 2km long to an altitude of 260m. However, its profile made it deeply satisfying indeed. We decided to ride it again, but this opting for an uplift with our minibus.

The next one was the thing of today. A 4km ride on an asphalt road took us to El Chorro, a small village at an altitude of just above 200m, some 15km from a larger town Alora. Located at the heart of magnificent and infamous El Camino del Rey, El Chorro is a popular destination for climbers, hikers, mountain bikers and other outdoor enthusiast alike.

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El Camino del Rey - The walk of death
El Camino del Rey (The King's little pathway in English) is a 3km long and 1m wide walkway built on a mountain wall around 100m above the ground level. Located between villages Alora and Ardales, the path was built between 1901 and 1905 to provide workers of two hydroelectric plants, Chorro Falls and Gaitanejo Falls, with means of crossing between them, and transporting material and equipment. Camino del Rey got its name when King Alfonso XIII walked the path as he inaugurating the power stations in 1921. Nowadays, the pathway has collapsed in many places. Deemed to be too dangerous, authorities closed access to it in 2011 after several fatal accidents. However, it is still accessible for climbers. With the Spanish government planning to restore the pathway by 2015, Camino del Rey is attracting a lot of enthusiasts who want to experience it in its current, dangerous form.

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Before continuing our riding, we had a lunch in a local restaurant with some good food and magnificent views down to mountain walls on the opposite side of the water pod. We were seriously impressed by the breathtaking beauty of this area and can warmly recommend paying a visit to El Chorro.

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After the lunch, we loaded bikes to the vans for an uplift to an altitude of 600m, presumably the highest point attainable with a car. From here we had the last two descents of the day waiting for us. Both descents started at the same point but trails were partly different. We witnessed some minor crashes in certain rocky sections of these descents, but nothing more dramatic. Our riding day ended with a cold beer or two in a primitive bar at the El Chorro's small railway station. Then it was time to drive back to Sierra's Fuengirola base again.

With late flight back home, we had plenty of time to pack our bikes and joint the rest of the riding crew for a dinner before we were transported to the airport at just before the midnight.

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Photo: Malaga airport at midnight.

Statistics for the fourth riding day (measured by Suunto Ambit):

Distance 22km
Ascend 400m
Descent 1480m
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This is part 4 / 5 of our travel report to Malaga, Spain on June 5-9, 2013.
[Part 1]
[Part 2]
[Part 3]

Day 3
After yesterday's small group, minibuses were again fully loaded this morning with at least 15 guys joining for today's ride. Riding in a small group really makes a big difference. A large group most likely brings substantial differences in riding skills, resulting in more stops and waiting, also partly due to more flat tires. But hey, this is a holiday and not a competition and therefore it shouldn't be too big of an issue, especially when the sun and beautiful landscape makes any waiting certainly less disturbing.

Montes de Malaga natural park
So, we packed our vans and left the house at 10am as usual, this time heading to Montes de Malaga natural park. The park is located north from Malaga, around a 45 minute transfer from Sierra’s beach house. The park's altitude varies between 91 and 1030 metres above the sea level. Our starting point was at 840m and offered some great views to Malaga, the capital of the Costa del Sol.

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Photo: Getting ready for today's first descent at 840 meters above the sea in Montes de Malaga.

Unfortunately, the first 5km section of the descent to an altitude of 470m was on gravel roads, presumably due to lack of any off-road options. However, after a climb to 610m the really fun part started with a 5km single track descent to 140m. There, minibuses were waiting for us for the second uplift of the day.

The second descent started at an altitude of 290m. The straight forward single track down to 100m was short but still great fun, again with some great views down to the valley. We would have liked to continue this descend forever. Too bad that this trail was only 2km long. Once again, we packed our bikes to a minibus and headed for a lunch, which we enjoyed in a nice local restaurant with great views from the patio.

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Photo: Time for a lunch.

After the tasty lunch, we were transferred to the start of the third descent at an altitude of 530m. It was a 5.5km long trail and took us down to 90m. This descent was again a bit more twisty and reading from faces it made great fun. On our way towards the valley floor we encountered some animals.

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Photo: Proceeding through a herd of animals on our descent.

That was it for the riding in Montes de Malaga natural park. We liked it a lot and it was once again something different compared to what we had experienced in Mijas during the previous two days.

From here, half of our group took a van back to the beach house but we preferred to go for the last descent of the day in Mijas. Half an hour transfer took us to an altitude of 450m in the Mijas. From there, it was a 12km descending route consisting of single track, gravel roads and a final stretch on the asphalt back to the beach.

Statistics for the third riding day (based on Suunto Ambit measurements):

Distance 33km
Ascend 300m
Descent 2070m
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This is part 3 / 5 of our travel report to Malaga, Spain on June 5-9, 2013.
[Part 1]
[Part 2]

Day 2
It was again nice to smell the breakfast and fresh brewed coffee when we woke up at 8am. During the breakfast we heard that a big group of fellows who had been riding with us yesterday had decided to take a day off from biking following their in-depth research of local pubs and clubs last night. It meant that we were only three guys, including our guide, heading to mountains at 10am.

We disembarked our minibus at 430m above the sea, thereafter first pedalling and finally pushing our bikes on steep hill for a total distance of some 1.5km to begin our decent at 600m above the sea. From there, the first stage was a 5km descent to 315m was really enjoyable single track in the forest with great views down to the valley. After a coffee break and some snacks in the sun, it was time for something different. After a few kilometers on an asphalt, the rest of the day was dedicated for XC riding. Let us emphasise that our guide was very good at listening to our preferences as regards to riding. It was our unanimous choice to ride XC for the rest of the day.

All in all, we found today's riding immensely satisfying both in terms of variation and views. Our small riding group meant that everything went very smoothly. When back at the beach, we had following statistics for the day’s riding (based on Suunto Ambit measurements):

Distance 33km
Ascent 650m
Descent 1100m
Comments
Wednesday was a day off for our guides and we also decided to have some rest and enjoy a beer or two down in the valley. On Thursday, we headed up to the highest point (2700m) reachable with a lift in summer time in Les Arcs. It was another great day if riding with some magnificent views and great descents. 


Photos: Views from 2700m. 

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Yesterday was another great day of riding. For the first time, we took Vanoise Express cable car to la Plagne located in the other side of the valley. The day was characterised by numerous switchbacks, great scenery and fantastic weather. Today we enjoyed a day off from the riding, gathering strength for the rest of the week. 


Photos: Vanoise Express from Peisey-Vallandy to la Plagne runs 1800 meters some 400 meters above the valley. 

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Another great day of riding behind with 7 hours spent on our bikes for a total vertical descent of some 5500m. We are stunned about the great variety of trails that Les Arcs has to offer. In Les Arcs, if you find a trail you are allowed to ride it, i.e. there are no trails dedicated only for hikers. Unfortunately, not all hikers are aware of this despite signs at trail heads which at times is a recipe for some angry faces from hikers. 

Photo: A view from a stunning new single track that a local farmer had just finished. And by the way, the farmer doesn't ride himself!

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After a thunderstorm at night, it had ceased to rain by our 9am departure for the first uplift oh the day. And what a day it was! Great riding, great company, fantastic views and a better than expected weather! 

Photo: While clouds were still covering the mountain tops, we didn't get any rain during the day. In fact, it was a quite optimal riding weather during the afternoon. 

Photo: A cable car from 800m to 1600m followed by a chairlift took us to the highest point of today's riding at 2160m, the inception of the DH track. 

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We arrived this afternoon at Les Arcs where we will be riding over the coming week. We have heard many good things about riding here and our expectations are very high. Too bad the weather turned very unstable with rain pouring down most of today since we left the Geneva airport. According to forecasts we better be prepared for some more rain during the coming days. 

Photo: A view from our chalet at an altitude of around 1500m just before the rain started to pour again.
 
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This is part 2 / 5 of our travel report to Malaga, Spain on June 5-9, 2013.
[Part 1]

Day 1
We finished mounting our bikes just in time for the real English breakfast which, buy the way, was included in Sierra Cycling's 70 euros / day package. Included in the daily fee are naturally also accommodation, guiding and van transportats to trails, and even free beer, wine and non-alcoholic drinks at the house. Not bad at all.

After packing bikes into two mini-buses we headed to the Mijas mountain for the first time. The mountain is located just a few kilometres from the beach with peaks (in Malaga area at least) reaching about 1000m above the sea level.

The transport to the mountain top to the place where tele masts are located took us through a narrow and twisty road with some beautiful views to the white hillside town of Mijas and Fuengirola, where Sierra Cycling’s beach house is located. It was about the time for the first descent if the day.

The first uplift: Telecom Tower
Our descent started just below the telecom towers at an altitude of 915m. The first part of the descent was 3.3km and took us to 555m above the sea level. The first part was quite rocky with lot of loose stones and many switchbacks. It took a while to get accustomed to these conditions that were so different from what we typically encounter in Scandinavia. It undoubtedly was a challenge for several less experienced riders of the group as witnessed by some bleeding faces of fellow riders at our first stop.

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Photo: Our first stop at 555m above the sea. Telecom towers up on the left. Fuengirola in the middle down in the valley.

After some first aid we continued with a minor climb on an asphalt road back to an altitude of 600m. From there we continued descending on the second part of the route. It took us to 390m with a distance of 3km of this second leg. Looking at happy faces everybody were really enjoying and so were we. Up until this point, our group of around ten bikes had suffered two flat tires, indicating how sharp edged rocks the Mijas mountain had in offer. From here on it was smooth and easy descending to 120m before cruising back to the beach house on asphalt roads.

When back at the beach house, we had recorded a total distance of 19km of which the last 7km was on the asphalt.

The second uplift
After a tasty lunch on a beach restaurant it was time for the uplift of the day. With some riders willing to chill out the afternoon, we packed only one minibus and headed back to the mountain, this time to an altitude on 465m. Our second descent was 8km of undulating single track to 35m above the sea level and thereafter cruising back to the house where we arrived at 2pm. Total distance of the second ride was 17km including the asphalt section.



Back at the house it was time to share experiences and feelings of the day with a cold beer or two. While everybody were happy with the riding day, some less experienced fellow riders told that they found the first descent (telecom tower) from the mountain top within their limits but just with a narrow margin. Those staying with Sierra Cycling for the whole week usually arrive on Saturdays. Our guide told us that the telecom tower descent is saved for the mid week (we did it on Thursday) to give riders time to get accustomed with the conditions which for the most participants are quite different from what they usually experience back home.
In total, our first day of riding yielded following stats:

Distance 36km
Ascent 290m
Descent 1655m

Note: All route statistics are based in measurements done by Suunto Ambit and refer to on the bike ascent and descent.

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This is part 1 / 5 of our travel report to Malaga, Spain on June 5-9, 2013.

Arrival

We initially planned a long weekend in Malaga in mid-May but for several reasons had to postpone it until early-June. There is of course nothing wrong with this timing, other than that that we had another trip booked for the following week. It is always nicer to have more that just two or three days between the trips to sort out bikes and other gear.

There are several well established organisers of guided MTB trips in Malaga. This time we seeked single track and enduro style of riding, rather than pure DH. We contacted Alan at Sierra Cycling around one and a half months before our trip and booked four days of riding with accommodation at Sierra Cycling's house just 100m from the beach.

Our flight landed at Malaga late Wednesday night on June 5 at around midnight. As soon as we got our gear from our arrivals hall we headed to Terminal 3 departure hall where we liaised with Sierra Cycling's representative who greeted us happily despite our less than convenient arrival time. After loading bags to Sierra’s car we headed to the beach house with very convenient location of no more than some quarter of an hour from the airport. Alan welcomed us, showed facilities, guided us to our room in the third floor and told us that the breakfast will be served from half past eight in the morning. We were alone at the house, with other guests still enjoying Malaga by night. We had no difficulties catching sleep despite thoughts already in the coming day.

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What a fantastic day of XC riding in Vuokatti! Great weather, nice trails and beautiful scenery. While Finland is one of the flattest countries in Europe, there are quite decent climbs in Vuokatti, according to the Finnish standards. Our ride was 40km with some 900 meters of ascent.

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Winterberg advertises itself as the biggest and most versatile bike park in Germany. It posts 9 trails and has maximum vertical descent of around 175 meters. We spent a few days in Bike Park Winterberg on May 1-5.

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[Part 1]
[Part 2]
[Part 3]
[Part 4]

Culinary dreams
This trip was not about culinary aspects of a good life, but we still found some decent basic food in ordinary local restaurants. Upon arrival, we went to a pizzeria. Unfortunately, we don't recall the name of the restaurant but it was located next to Eiscafe Rialto on Untere Pforte. Their pizzas received our thumbs up. Actually, the same pizzeria was later on recommended to us by a fellow rider in the bike park. We also got some decent stakes at Blackwater, an Irish pub in the downtown. Naturally, we made sure not to miss daily schnizels in two restaurant in the bike park: Panorama Cafe and at Restaurant Bobhaus both of which have nice views over the valley. And of course, when in Germany you shouldn’t forget to enjoy some tasty wurst with sauerkraut and some great German beer.

What to make of it?
Overall, we feel that our trip to Winterberg was a good kick-off for this year's season. Riding in a bike park gave the maximum exposure to vertical within a given time. While we ended up riding mostly only two trails in the bike park, they were in a good condition and fun to ride. The park's bike repair shop was service minded and reasonably priced when we needed a change of brake pads. The only major negative was the riding on Saturday, when the bike park was packed and lift queues almost unbearable for our taste. Maybe it was because of the season had just started or maybe it is equally frustrating every weekend during the season, we don't know.

While happy with the trip, it is always interesting to ride in new locations. Therefore, for the season opening 2014 we will again be looking for other alternatives.

This was the final instalment of our travel report to Bike Park Winterberg.

WinterbergHouses


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[Part 1]
[Part 2]
[Part 3]

Let's go to sauna!
As a Finn, you like a sauna. In Winter because it feels great after a chilly day. And in summer... well, because it feels equally great. Even those days when it happens to be warm outside. Finns's obsession to the sauna can be described by noting that it is common that even small (50-60 m2) newly built apartments have their own electric saunas. In each and every apartment, that is. For foreigners that is quite difficult to understand. But what about the sauna at its best? A traditional sauna with a fireplace (i.e. not electric) at your own summer house next to one of Finland's 188 thousand lakes. With preferably no neighbours within a perimeter of 1km. As a comparison, in neighbouring Sweden saunas are extremely rare in apartments (except for some newly build, large, luxury ones). And in houses saunas are usually used as a storage space for crappy stuff that you want to throw away.

Acknowledging certain similarities between the Finns and Germans, we hoped to find a good sauna in even Winterberg. After some searching on the web, the most potential was at Landhotel Grimmeblick, located some 7km from our apartment. After a hard day’s riding on Friday, we took our car and headed to Grimmeblick with cautious hopes. As a pleasant surprise, Grimmeblick had both steam and Finnish (electric) saunas available for a negligible admission of EUR 10 / person for a 4 hour sauna and pool session. After some two hours, we were satisfied and ready for a dinner. We decided to came back again on Friday.

On our visit on Friday, we found and became curious about an exiting looking hut standing on Grimmeblick’s backyard, just behind the outdoor pool. Checking it out we founds some really serious stuff: a traditional Finnish sauna with a proper fireplace (not electric)! We felt ridiculously happy when we put on the fire and heated the sauna to some 80C, in the meantime enjoying a cold beer or two. Overall, we can warmly recommended a visit to Landhotel Grimmeblick for all sauna lowers when in Winterberg.

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[Part 1]
[Part 2]

May 2-4 - Riding in Bike Park Winterberg
Due to the late spring, we the season opening in Winterberg was postponed at least by two weeks. The bike park had just opened on April 27. Upon our arrival, all trails were not open.

According to Winterberg’s trail map, the bike park has a total of 9 trails. Our Suunto Ambit indicated that the vertical descent from the top to the bottom of the hill was 175m. Not huge in absolute terms but clearly more than an around 100-120m vertical in bike parks of the Southern Finland. More than the vertical, we were impressed by the good profile of the hill which did not involve flat parts as many hills in FInland, for example.

We started by riding “Giro Free Cross”, a 1300m long track with 33 banked turns (according to the trail map) and a few tables. This trail utilised very effectively every meter of the 175m descent with no speed-killing flat sections except in the very beginning. We found this track very effective for training high speed cornering on a smooth and hard surface. This trail is very accessible also for beginners.

Another nice trail was “iXS Downhill”, a natural trail with the same 175m decent and a length of 1000m. We found this trail very entertaining with number of gaps, rock gardens and banked turns. All more difficult sections had chicken ways for beginners, making the track accessible also for less experienced riders.

While some some other tracks were open as well, some were still closed at this time. We ride almost solely the two already mentioned trails. We would have liked to spend some time on “4X” track but it was unfortunately closed expect on the day of our arrival, when we didn’t ride.

Bottlenecks
At the time of our visit, there were two lifts running, a chair and a drag lift. May 2 and 3 (Thursday and Friday) were great days for riding with practically no queues at all. On Saturday, the park started to get packed after 11 am. By noon, waiting times to the chair lift were easily 15min. This felt really depressing considering that tracks themselves are relatively short and fast to ride from top to bottom. While we spent loads of time in the bike park on Thursday and Friday, we didn’t tolerate waiting times on Saturday for more than two or three hours worth of riding.

WinterbergBikePark
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[Part 1]

May 1 - Arrival to Winterberg

We are travelling quite extensively (mostly not MTB related) and usually like to minimise our time at the airport. However, traveling with a special package we decided to be at the Helsinki airport in good time ahead of our flight and thankfully so. There was not single parking lot available for a van at the airport area and we had to leave the van further away outside the airport. Thankfully we had time for the extra 20 minutes that it took. After the check-in and the security control we enjoyed a breakfast at the Finnair lounge while watching our bags to be loaded to an Embraer 190 just opposite the lounge. Funnily, the lady at the check-in desk had asked us to confirm with the flight crew that our bike boxes have been indeed loaded to the plane. Well, we got that visually confirmed. Our flight landed in Dusseldorf some 20 minutes behind the schedule at 9.30 am on May 1. That was fine considering that we had booked a rental car at the airport at 10 am.

Our car was a VW Caddy that was just large enough to accommodate our bike boxes and other luggege. Everything was made easier by the car being just wide enough to take our bike boxes from the side door leaving the cargo space at the back of the car for other stuff.

Picturesque villages of Sauerland
From the Dusseldorf airport it took some two hours to drive via Dortmund to Winterberg. This was the first time for us in this part of Germany and we were kind of surprised how nice the scenery was. Small villages were scattered in valleys and looked nice from a distance from the autobahn. Almost all houses were white with brown roofs and corners. We had been expecting a much more flat scenery in this part of Germany. Those better educated in geography probably know that Winterberg is located in the rural, hilly area of Sauerland and is one of the major ski resort in central Germany.

Approaching to Winterberg a smaller road took us through one or two picturesque villages confirming our earlier observations. Everything was nice and clean and houses looked like as they were taken from postcards.

In Winterberg, GPS guided us to an address near the main square where we picked up the keys to our rental apartment. While we had planned to do some riding already on May 1, we decided to spend the afternoon mounting and adjusting our bikes and equipment as a preparation the the season's first ride next morning.

Our apartment was very conveniently located just 150m away from the bike park. Strangely, while there were sheets for beds, some essential like towels, shower gel and toilet paper were missing. What’s the logic behind that?

WinterbergSquare
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The Scandinavian biking season tends to start late in the spring. This year, start of the riding season has been further delayed by the spring arriving even later than usual. In Scandinavia, most bike parks don’t open before late-May or June.

Keen on starting the season earlier than what is possible here up north, we decided to kick off this year's season in Winterberg, Germany. We booked flights and accommodation already some time in February/March for May 1-5. In fact, season's premiere even in Bike Park Winterberg was delayed until April 27, which according to our understanding is a few weeks later than their usual early-April opening. After all, we were lucky that the park finally opened just a few days ahead of our scheduled May 1 arrival.

Why Winterberg?
We wanted find a place that is accessible from Stockholm and Helsinki in terms of flight schedules considering that we had a possibility to spend four nights at the destination. To maximise the amount of vertical and in order to make most out of the trip we preferred to consider only lift assisted riding for this particular trip. With these criteria we found Bike Park Winterberg an interesting alternative. Its location in less than a two-hour ride by a car from the Dusseldorf international airport and flight schedules that were suitable for us made it a quite ideal choice for this year's season premiere.

April 30 - May Day Eve in Helsinki
Our flight from Helsinki to Dusseldorf was scheduled to depart very early in the morning on May 1. We arrived from Stockholm to Helsinki a night before, on the May Day Eve. May Day’s Eve really is a very special for Finns. You may have heard stories about serious party in streets of downtown Helsinki. Indeed, it can be a very involving experience for foreigners to see the downtown crowded by people from early teens to pensioners. Behaviour of usually quite reserved Finns on May Day’s Even tends to be heavily influenced by a very liberal use booze. Some streets in the downtown area on that day are blocked from cars for partying. This really is a big event, probably the biggest party of the Finnish calendar year. Many university students start their celebrations already a week in advance, rendering the whole event a real endurance test. Most teenagers probably start early in the afternoon while some odd late-comers may wait until the early evening before getting drunk in public. Depending on the weather, streets in the downtown area may be occupied by tens of thousands of drunken and unpredictable locals. For foreigners, it is recommended to watch out for locals who may have a tendency to turn aggressive later at night as the alcohol content in the blood rises. Beware also that this is one of those days when leaking the beer overdose of all over the pavements is considered fine by the police.

With these thoughts in mind, we were quite excited but also slightly concerned when we were sitting in a cab and finally arriving to our hotel in the downtown sometime at around 20 CET in what appeared to be a quite chilly evening. To our surprise, everything seemed strangely calm when we arrived. Honestly, we had been expecting more people, more action and more the sense on danger. It remains open for a debate if the Finns have learned some of the more civilised European drinking habits over the past years or whether it was a result of the chilly weather that we didn't witness what we really had expected. After checking in at our hotel, we felt comfortable to take a walk outside for a quick dinner before an early bedtime ahead of a 05:30 CET wake up the next morning for an early flight to Germany.

A word about Helsinki hotels
Speaking of Helsinki downtown hotels, there are several quite nice alternatives nowadays. We stayed at Hotel Glo Kluuvi, located at Kluuvikatu street at the very heart of the city, just next to the city’s most upmarket hotel Kämp. Hotel Glo Kluuvi opened its doors a few years ago and has since been one of our favourites when visiting Helsinki. Despite being already a few years old, it is still in a pretty nice condition. Unfortunately, for some reason they re-built the reception and lounge area of the hotel earlier this year. Gone is the previous lounge bar that we regarded as one of the nicest lounge bars among Helsinki hotels. The new setup has a quite fresh Scandinavian design compared to the previously cozy, Spanish inspired style. Design aside, there is not much bar to talk about anymore. Most of the previous bar estate has been taken over by a restaurant which was previously located in the second floor of the building. The old restaurant premises heve been converted to a conference center. While none of this is a big thing for us, especially considering this trip, we were still disappointed to see the nice and lively lounge bar gone. However, this hotel still remains one of our Helsinki favourites, even though much less so now than before. For those looking for a quality but not too pretentious accommodation in a downtown Helsinki, we can recommend Hotel Haven which is slightly fancier with an almost as good location than Hotel Glo Kluuvi.

HotelGlo
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We arrived at Bangkok this morning. What a contrast to Scandinavian weather - we enjoyed the Christmas at almost -30 degrees centigrade. We will team up with some members of our riding crew tomorrow. Besides celebrations the coming weeks gives once again a great opportunity for planning of some exciting 2013 rides.

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As the saying goes, time flies when you are having fun! And indeed, it's again time for our traditional Christmas lunch with some members of our riding crew. This annual lunch always takes place at the very same restaurant in the Helsinki downtown area. We have some very exciting plans for the 2013 riding season and tonight gives a great opportunity to further develop some of our ideas.

According to weather reports, Helsinki has got some 30-40cm of snow over the past 36 hours or so. Currently we are waiting for an early flight from Stockholm Arlanda, hoping that it will not be all too much delayed.

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