In Helsinki there are about 180 km’s worth of groomed ski tracks – and at least an additional 500 km of tracks in the adjacent municipalities. So how to decide which ski routes to enjoy? After a really good winter’s skiing and with some help from friends, I’d like to offer some suggestions…
To start – you can find maps of Helsinki’s ski routes from the city’s website (printable PDFs here), and can query the condition of tracks at the Helsingin latureittipalvelu website (“Helsinki trail route service”). You can then use the Reittiopas website (= “route guide”) to find your fastest route to each track by public transport, and the Finnish Meteorological Institute’s website to check the weather conditions too. If some of this sounds familiar to you… I did a short blog post about this last winter (see the blog post here). But read on… because I’ve learnt a lot since then!
Paloheinä is the best skiing spot in the city, and has routes for everyone from beginners to experts. For beginners a good place to start is the open fields – here there are usually two sets of tracks in each direction, and since the tracks are prepared twice a day, they are always in good condition. The Blue / Easy route could be a beginner’s next step – it is about 5 km long and winds through the forest. There are two short but steep uphills and a nice long downhill near the end – and most of the route is lit up by flood lights so you can easily get around even after dark.
View Paloheinä beginner’s (Blue) ski track in a larger map
All the tracks around Paloheinä are worth exploring – as evidenced by many hundreds of people skiing there on nice days! For the more experienced skiers, there is the Black / Difficult route – I don’t know how many more winters I’d need to be able to tackle the hills on that track… And just to convince you that Paloheinä is a good place to go for a ski, let also say there is also a little cafeteria where you can get a pastry (maybe a nice rahkapiirakka or a fresh doughnut?) and a hot drink (including hot black currant juice – which it a tradition for me now). There are also bathrooms and some small lockers in the cafeteria building, so it is a good place to start and/or end a trip. At the nearby Suomenlatu building you can rent skis and snowshoes, or have your skis waxed professionally (details on the Suomenlatu website).
There are some other spots suitable for beginners – close to central Helsinki, the Arabianranta track (“Hermanni – Viikki” on the route map) is flat, and is easily accessible. It is also very wind exposed, so you might want to go elsewhere if it is a windy day. If you are feeling a bit adventurous, you can continue on Kivinokka, with the track becoming more hilly as you approach Herttoniemi (and you have one road crossing). I see that you can also rent skis from the Viikki Unisport gym – details on the Unisport webpage here.
There are three other tracks suitable for beginners that I’ve skied on – towards to east, the ski track from Puotila to Mustavuori (“Mustavuori – Vuosaarensilta”) is fairly flat and easy. In 2013 it was one of the first tracks to be ready for skiing – and it is also easily accessible from the Puotila Metro station. Mustikkamaa has a nice gentle track, with some small ups and downs and some nice views. On the downside the Mustikkamaa track has several road crossings and the total length is quite short – but still worth a visit if you just want a quick ski near the city. The ski trails in the southern section of Helsinki’s central park (Laakso) are also quite flat and easy, and are very easy to access from central Helsinki (e.g. taking the 3T tram to the “Auroran sairaala” stop). I’ll admit, though, I got a bit tired of this route as the latu was often a bit degraded – maybe since the track is far from the rest of the ski trail network and therefore difficult to maintain?
Once you want to start tackling some hills, then Merirastila and Kivikko have good tracks worth visiting. Merirastila is a one-way route – the track starts on top of a small hill and, in the first half of the loop, comprises a good number of short downhills. Approximately half way through the loop the track evens out, and its a fairly flat stretch to the base of the hill where you started.
View Merirastila ski track in a larger map
The Kivikko track is also a one-way loop. If you access the latu from the Jakomäki side (i.e. taking bus 77 from the city centre), the trail starts with a lovely long, shallow downhill through a nice patch of forest. It then levels out and winds around the Lumiparkki (a small but popular snowboarding venue), before gradually working its way uphill past some apartments to complete the loop. The trail is 3.8 km long, so you might want to plan to do a second (or third, or fourth…) loop to make the trip worthwhile.
View Kivikko ski track in a larger map
There are a number of different long routes one can enjoy on the Helsinki ski track system – for example skiing the length of the central park (Laakso to Paloheinä). Since I’ve only really done a few “long” ski trips around Helsinki (and have tackled none of the trickier routes), asked Lucas (who is an experienced skier who’s spent one winter in Helsinki) to share his experiences:
“As an experienced skier coming to Helsinki from the United States, I was tremendously excited to see such an extensive trail network, easily accessible by public transportation, groomed by the municipality, and free for all skiers. I brought both skate and classic skis, and kept an eye out for well-designed and uncrowded trails.
For shorter skate-skiing sessions, Herttoniemi’s trails are the most impressive. There are 5 km, 3 km, 2 km and 1 km loops, all centered around a prominent hill with ski jumps at the top. Short but very steep climbs are mixed with flowing, non-technical descents and fast flats. These trails are rarely crowded, which I found refreshing after experiencing the mobs of weekend skiers at Paloheinä. The loops are accessible from the south via the Herttoniemi metro stop (less than 200m of walking from the stop to the trails). Although I felt silly at first riding the metro to go skiing, you can access trail networks much more easily with the metro than the bus or the tram.
Farther east down the metro, the Rastila stop is an excellent access point for an extensive trail network opening to the north. These trails hold snow well and offer more moderate grades, perfect for long classic skiing sessions. Skiing to Talosaari across open fields is a joy. By skiing north maybe 10 km from Rastila, you can also access Vantaa’s extensive trail network (online map here).
From Vantaa, an ambitious skier could explore the trails centered around Sipoonkorven kansallispuisto, just designated as a national park in 2011 and impeccably groomed for both skate and classic skiing in the winter. Accessing these trails without a car is a bit of a problem, but several of the regional buses take you close by. At the park entrance at the end of Bisajärventie there is a small café and firepit, perfect at the end of a long ski (Sipoo’s ski trails are documented online at mski.fi/sipoo).”
View Herttoniemi to Laakso, via Paloheinä in a larger map
“For somebody who doesn’t mind roughing up their skis a bit, there are some aesthetic loops very close to the city center that offer an interesting mix of terrain types. Here is one of my favorite long loops: Start by skiing across the frozen bay (Vanhankaupunginselkä) to the loops at Herttoniemi. Ski the trails around the bay by Viikki, and near the mouth of the Vantaa river walk north for 100m (look at mski.fi first to get a sense of the route). You may then ski up the river on wonderfully flat, fast trails all the way to Paloheinä (11.5 km upriver, then west to Paloheinä). From Paloheinä, you can continue south through the central park all the way to the park’s end at Pasila. This route takes only two or three hours for experienced skiers, and showcases Helsinki’s park system like no other route. By taking the metro and the tram you can start and end the loop at Rautatientori, which is truly amazing.“
Many thanks to Lucas for sharing some of his knowledge of Helsinki’s ski tracks – if you’ve got a favourite ski route in (or close to) Helsinki, how about also telling us about it in the comments section below?