It has been predicted that there's going to be Northern Lights in Levi soon. So take a look skywards! Prediction provided by Sunsää.
When Jouni was a child, there were just a few cottages in Levi. Now it's Finland's biggest ski centre. Jouni played an important part in that.
A HOUSE PAINTED with a traditional red colour and a potato patch.
Currant bushes and three Islandic horses grazing. You might think you are standing in front of an ordinary Lapland house. But nothing about the house or the man in charge is ordinary.
Jouni Palosaari lives in this house. The grand old man of Levi, the one with the central role in making Levi the greatest skiing centre in Finland. As the CEO of Levi Ski Resort, Jouni acquired for the Levi fell the first gondola lifts in Finland, managed to make Levi one of the venues for the Alpine Skiing World Cup Tour and created the largest adventure park in the Nordic countries by the Levi fell.
To mention a few.
- I am a bit of a builder, Jouni Palosaari says walking across his grass-covered yard gesturing left and right.
- Over there... That was brought... That I built myself...
- I start building only when the plan is completely finished. The project is about the details.
That’s what Levi is all about, too. The details. The bold decisions. The vision.
Jouni's hobby is saving old buildings. His compund has several salvaged granaries ans a sauna for each day of the week.
IN 1961, when Jouni was born in the village of Köngäs, near Levi, the fell had nothing more than stunted trees on its slopes. The tiny village of Sirkka was there by the fell and the summit had stone fields covered with pink lichen. From up there the view is so rugged and glorious that it almost looks like a film set: fells, rivers, wetland and forests.
When Jouni was a child he had a bedroom on the second floor of a yellow house, and a room for wood-working and tools downstairs.
- There was sawdust and wood chips everywhere.
Jouni walks towards the river bank. Sand flies are swarming around, the sky is covered with dark rain-bearing clouds. Ounasjoki river flows slowly, boats await at the shore.
- This was our amusement park, says Jouni.
Jouni played at the river bank every day with his older sisters. They swam and fished. Every winter the entire family did a long ski excursion to the Levi summit. They wore their best blue-red-and-white Lapland attire and attached the wooden skis to their feet. There was no ski lift so up they went on their skis using their muscles.
After 1968 Jouni’s family didn’t need to scramble up the fell anymore: that’s when the first ski lift was opened, a rudimentary one where you sit on a T-bar.
The lift attracted more visitors but it wasn’t until 1981 that things really started happening for Levi.
Hotel Levitunturi was opened. The next year saw the opening of the Kittilä airport.
After that it wasn’t just random skiers, reindeers or lonely arctic foxes you encountered in the Levi forests and slopes.
The figure Jouni whittled as a child is guarding the homestead.
IN 1988 Jouni became the CEO of Oy Levi Ski Resort (Levin Hissit Oy at the time). Immediately Jouni got to participate in Levi’s first development project.
In early 1990s, Finland underwent a deep depression. Ski centres went under. But Jouni believed in his. He went to the bank to tell about his plans.
Which were rejected completely. There are plenty of ski lifts in Finland already, Jouni was told. No loan was granted. Jouni sat in his car and started the engine.
He drove taking in the scenery. He was whizzing by the Ounasjoki river, wetlands, stunted trees. Somewhere there he came up with an idea.
- I realised Finland is filled with ski lifts but they’re all in wrong places.
Next morning, he laid out the map of Finland and a list of ski centres that had recently gone bankrupt.
They headed out to the first ski centre. Then the next. Driving a bus with the registration plate SUX-1 (suksi means ski in Finnish). Deals were made. The men took apart the lifts that were out of commission and brought them to Levi.
Again, on to the next location. That’s how Levi got its ski lifts.
As a child Jouni skied over the Ounasjoki river to school. "This is the landscape of my soul", Jouni says about the river bank and the compund he has built.
EVERY MORNING, Jouni drives to work to the Zero Point Brand Store where his office is situated.
- Since there were no sports clothes shops in the village, I had to found one.
Now there are many other clothing stores as well. Just like restaurants, hotels, ski rental shops. Safari companies, gyms and a spa. Souvenir shops, karaoke bars and companies offering different travel experiences.
The place that 30 years ago had almost nothing is now a densely built village with almost 1000 people living there all year round. There are almost 750 000 visitors annually. It’s the biggest ski centre in Finland and it's one of the venues for the yearly Alpine Skiing World Cup Tour.
That’s pretty good for a place with no Alps.
Jouni played a part in that, too.
The Icelandic horses grazing in the pasture were flown to Finland by Jouni. He also grows potatoes on his farm and uses his 50-year-old tractor for ploughing.
- I COUNTED THREE things that would prevent us from getting the World Cup here in Levi, Jouni says.
The darkness, the distance and the frost, Jouni lists.
For Jouni obstacles are made to be overcome. They downright spur Jouni’s creativity. He went through the FIS Council’s regulation book. The governing body for the Alpine Skiing World Cup stated that the minimum light level for a competition is 80 lux. He then asked the Finnish TV channel MTV3 what does it take to be able to film good footage.
- Well, we then created a lighting of 900 lux. Now you can film here whenever you want.
The distance was something the bosses at FIS were not too happy about.
Jouni laid out the map. The Kit-tilä airport is nearby and the fell is in the middle of the village. He calculated that it actually takes longer to get to the slopes from the airport in some of the venues in the Alps than it takes in Levi.
- Levi is, in fact, number one with the shortest travel time of all the World Cup venues.
The FIS Council was happy with the outcome.
The third problem, the frost, is something that even Jouni has not been able to solve.
But the FIS regulations don’t have limits for the temperatures though they have pretty much every other little detail covered, Jouni says and smirks.
- You need to be able to look far ahead in order to see the possibilities, Jouni says.
Jouni is always in the middle of a building project: he is currently thinking about a hexagonal-shaped kota hut and already has the logs for it.