Jouni Palosaari is Mr. Levi
Jouni Palosaari, 50, daydreamed about a proper downhill ski centre already at the beginning of the 1980s; now Levi is the biggest ski resort in Finland
By Tapio Mainio
”The Levi of today is a result of many fortunate coincidences”, says Jouni Palosaari, who has been running the Levitunturi ski resort on the fells of Western Lapland since 1988.
Palosaari does not make a great fuss of himself, even though he is the one who has given a face to Levi.
”Jouni is a visionary who has gathered a group of skilled workers around himself. The team acts in an efficient way”, enthuses Guy Catani, the long-term Managing Director of the Finnish Ski Area Association, who has now retired from his position at the head of the umbrella organisation.
The heart of the company is Zeropoint, located at the foot of the main "home" ski-run, and with an open-plan office that looks over an alpine town and its roughly 23,000 beds.
Levi is now number one in Lapland.
As recently as the beginning of the 1980s, many downhill skiers by-passed Levi in order to go skiing on the long slopes of the Pallastunturi fell to the north.
Levi was sniffed at as a pathetic hill with a couple of ski lifts, and with the upper part of the fell (it goes up to 531 metres above sea level) still in its natural state.
I remember how Palosaari gave me and the photographer a lift on his snowmobile on the untouched snowdrifts on top of the Levitunturi fell at the beginning of his career.
”I wish we could buy this land some day”, Palosaari was daydreaming even then.
His dream came true in 1992, when the lift company Levin Hissit Oy, owned by the municipality of Kittilä, acquired the important upper slopes of the fell from local landowners, for example by swapping areas of land. Today, the lift company is known as Oy Levi Ski Resort Ltd.
”Without good slopes there is no credible and attractive ski resort”, Palosaari points out.
When the pistes are all right, it is easy to build other attractions for tourists around them.
Another important impulse to tourism was given by Hotel Levitunturi, owned by a labour union and completed in 1981. It attracted a hefty number of tourists to the area.
The first restaurant manager was Jouni Palosaari’s sister Päivikki Palosaari, who is actually better known than her brother and who has since made an impressive career for example as the owner of Hotel Hullu Poro, also in Levi.
An airport was completed in 1982 in Kittilä, a few kilometres down the highway to the south.
It has been the key to international tourism. An recreational spa was built in 1986, and the first gondola ski lift in Lapland was installed in 1999.
Today, the entire Levi fell is full of ski-lifts (28 in total, including two gondolas) and groomed slopes (45 in all, with the longest around 2,500 metres), and it features the most effective snow-making system in Finland.
”I bought a second-hand gondola in France. At night I woke up after having had a nightmare, in which the second-hand ski lift did not operate and its parts were all in total disarray. It wasn't a dream, either, but luckily, the French blundered in the delivery arrangements and I managed to cancel the order. I went out and bought a new gondola from Austria”, Palosaari recalls.
The gondolas carry skiers up to the top of the steep "Levi Black" slalom slope, used since 2004 as a venue for FIS Alpine Ski World Cup races.
Thanks to the World Cup, Levi is almost as familiar a concept as Lapland itself.
Faith in tourism was really needed - even that placed by the municipal decision-makers, as during the gloomiest years of the 1990s recession, the company bought seven ski-lifts from downhill ski centres which had been declared bankrupt, including the Kivesvaara ski resort in Vaala in the Kainuu region.
The municipality of Kittilä continues to be the largest owner of the ski lift company.
Kittilä has also zoned plots of land for both private and business purposes.
Jouni Palosaari was born in Kittilä on October 25th in 1961.
He is married and has three grown-up children.
His father was a farmer and his mother a midwife.
He still lives in his old home village of Köngäs, ten kilometres away from Levi.
After completing graduation in construction engineering in Oulu, Palosaari was employed by the municipality of Kittilä.
A year later, he took up a job as the Managing Director of Levin Hissit Oy, in which position he still continues.
Among his many duties, Palosaari is the chair of Oy Levi Events Ltd, which is in charge of the organisation of the Alpine Ski World Cup at the resort.
This last task may be giving him some sleepless nights - this year's unseasonably warm October weather has thrown November's men's and women's slalom races in Levi into jeopardy, as the linked article notes.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 25.10.2011
Previously in HS International Edition:
Levi World Cup slalom races again under threat of being cancelled due to warm weather (31.10.2011)
FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Levi on November 11th-13th, 2011
Finnish Ski Area Association
TAPIO MAINIO / Helsingin Sanomat