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Fell skiers as track openers

The first ski lifts at Ruka

In Ruka in the 1940s–1960s, the gear of fell skiers consisted of leather boots and wooden skis. Some of the members of the group Pellists, hikers at Oulanka in summer, liked to go skiing on the fells at Ruka in winter. The first runs down a cleared slope occurred in 1955. A combustion engine-powered ski lift took the skiers half way up the front slope for the first time in 1957.

In the early 1960s, the operating of the Ruka ski lift was transferred from a sports club to a company. In early winter 1960, Osmo Saastamoinen and Lauri Määttä travelled to Austria to get acquainted with the operations of a downhill ski centre and ski school, and the time-honoured Austrian ski lift company Doppelmayr. In autumn 1960, the first 300-metre lift was replaced by a twice as long electric lift, which could be used as a chair lift in summer. This lift served at the front slope until 1970, when it was replaced by a double chair lift. The popularity of downhill skiing grew rapidly, and the long, gentle, and wide Vuosseli slope was opened on the east side of Ruka in 1964.


    The Fell and Fido, these were the words on the headline of Reino Rinne’s article about his friend Osmo Saastamoinen in the newspaper Koillissanomat on 28 October 1967. For Osmo Saastamoinen, the fell represented his everyday work, and his dog represented a leisurely Sunday. ‘The restless dog of the woods’, was the radio commentator Paavo Noponen’s nickname for Saastamoinen’s wise pet and hunting buddy.

    Osmo Saastamoinen sought inspiration for the Ruka ski resort operations from Åre in Sweden, Kitzbühel in Austria, and Davos in Switzerland. He and his partners started Kuusamon Matkailu OY (Kuusamo Travel Ltd) in order to begin the construction of a ski resort. In addition to the new electric lift, the company started hotel and restaurant operations in Kaltiomaja, which was built from the barracks of the Myllykoski rapid power plant site at River Kuusinkijoki. The barracks had been moved to the shore of Peurakaltiolampi pond in Ruka in 1958. Nearby farmhouses, such as Heikkala, also started providing accommodation.

    The next significant step was when Kuusamon Matkailu, together with the travel agency Area and a few private individuals, founded Rukatunturi OY (Ruka Fell Ltd). The company built the first actual hotel in the resort in 1963. The elegant Rukahovi soon became a prestigious hotel and restaurant.

    In the 1970s, Dr Juhani Aho became the major shareholder in Rukatunturi Oy. Dr Aho knew with Ruka well, as he had been fishing in Kuusamo since the 1960s and had purchased holiday homes from Kitka and Ruka. Together with his wife Sinikka, Osmo Saastamoinen began running an accommodation and restaurant business at Motel Ukkoherra, and lived on the outskirts of Ruka until the end of his life.

    In the 1970s, the Ruka Ski Resort business was run by Yrjö, Väinö, and Uuno Määttä, brothers of Osmo Saastamoinen’s right-hand man Lauri Määttä, and their families. Yrjö’s son Esa “Esukki” Määttä was a well-known racer and ski persona, who was as an alpine skiing influencer and entrepreneur in Ruka for decades.



    The transfer of Ruka ski lift operations management to the company of the energetic visionary Juhani Aho marked the beginning of an era of vigorous development in Ruka ski resort. By the mid-1980s, new slopes and lifts, such as Saarua, Pessari and Kelorinne, had been built. The recession of the 1990s brought investments in the slopes into a halt.

    The expansion of Ruka into a year-round international tourist centre began at the turn of the millennium. The overall plan for the area, commissioned from a Canadian company, drew attention to the surrounding nature and the accessibility of services without a car. The parking garage was completed in 2008 and the construction of Ruka pedestrian village on top of it was underway. Ruka Holiday Resort had grown into an international tourist village and competition venue.

    Kuusamo town, Rukakeskus OY, and the sports association Ski Sport Finland were active partners in the building of facilities for an international alpine skiing training centre. Their collaboration resulted in the construction of Freestyle Training Centre, Superpipe, and FIS slalom slope, and the organizing of international competitions. The 2005 World Championships in freestyle skiing were held at Ruka, and an annual World Cup competition has been held there since 2010.

    Rukakeskus OY has made large investments in lifts and slopes, the most recent of which is the construction of a scenic gondola across the fell. The gondola is part of the plan for Ruka Valley, which aims to expand operations to the east side of the fell, where there is room for growth and where the ski resort is naturally connected to the routes of the Valtavaara nature reserve.

  • The sports club Kuusamon Suojeluskunnan urheilijat (Kuusamo Civil Guard Athletes), founded in the 1930s, carried on after the wars under the name Kuusamon Erä-Veikot. Supported by farmers’ societies and, at best, all of the nearly 70 sports-enthusiastic schools in Kuusamo, and through subdivisions in remote villages, the club reached almost all of the local young people. A large number of subdivisions were founded, such as Keron Rohkea (Kero Braves) and Sosson Sudet (Sosso Wolves).

    In 1957, the club built the first ski lift at Ruka and started a ski school. The Ruka large ski jumping hill was completed in 1964, and the first Ruka Games were a huge success, with about 20,000 spectators. The president of Finland Urho Kekkonen acted as the patron of the Games, as he often did later on as well. He donated a silver President’s Cup to be used as a perpetual trophy on the 30 km ski race.

    In 1982, Kuusamo town began extensive improvements on the Ruka ski stadium. This work has borne fruit: the Ski Jumping World Cup competition was held at Ruka for the first time in 1996. Since 2002, the FIS World Cup Ruka Nordic Opening has been held in Kuusamo. The event relies heavily on volunteers from Kuusamon Erä-Veikot sports club.


    Disciplines: cross-country skiing, ski jumping, the Nordic combined, orienteering, athletics, swimming, powerlifting, bowling, and dancing.
    Subdivisions: Kuolion Visa, Keron Rohkea, Käylän Kiri, Rukan Reippaat, Sosson Sudet, Vasaraperän Tempaus, and Vuotungin Veto.

    The largest annual sports event: Ruka Nordic, the FIS World Cup Ruka Nordic Opening.

  • In 1956, the operations of Ruka Ski School started as part of the operations of the sports club Kuusamon Erä-Veikot. The people who had taken part in a fact-finding visit to Åre, Sweden, and the activists of the slalom division of the club began to teach skiing skills to the people of Kuusamo. The first training programme was prepared by Kalevi Routala. Kuusamon Erä-Veikot organized the first ski school for local schoolchildren during the 1958 winter holiday week.

    In 1958, Ruka Ski School became an association of its own. On the same year, Kalevi Routala moved away from Kuusamo and Osmo Saastamoinen became the head of the ski school. He held the post until 1974. The ski school arranged the first course for ski instructors after Easter 1963. The course instructor was Lauri Määttä, and Seppo Kujala, Olavi Ojalehto, and Pertti Laivajärvi completed the course and became ski instructors. The pedagogical part of the course was given by Lauri Leskelä, who had attended ski instructor courses in Vierumäki and Solvalla. Leskelä succeeded Osmo Saastamoinen as the head of the ski school and held the post for a long while.

    Ruka Ski School instructors sought information on ski instruction first from Åre, Sweden, and later from the Salzburg region of Austria. The first ski instructors of Ruka Ski School attended a course in Austria in autumn 1964. This group comprised Erkki Ahava, Erkki Haataja, Seppo Kujala, Harri Leino, and Lauri Määttä. Lauri Leskelä and Olli Ojalehto attended a similar course in the following autumn. Thus began regular participation in courses in Austria, which continued for decades. Ruka adopted the Austrian ski teaching system, as instructors attended international courses there. Having become the largest ski school in Finland, Ruka Ski School took care of the training of its instructors at Ruka for a long time.

    Known for their skills and the colour of their ski jacket, “Ruka Red Devils” had soon gained prominence among the vacationing skiers. At Easter, courses for guest skiers were particularly popular. Today, the clientele of the school is international. Ruka Ski School is now run by Rukakeskus, which hires a large number of full-time instructors for the season, in addition to which a large number of members of the Ruka Ski School Association act as ski instructors in their free time. The association also plays an important role in instructor training and acts as a link to the training system of the Finnish National Association of Ski Instructors.

Riina Puurunen, Writer
Kari Kantola, MA 

Jonna Lohi, MA, Pivot Translations