Finland Center president Jaana Rehnström recently sat down with Olavi Hirvonen, former Olympic skier and founder of vacation center Lapland Lake in Upstate New York. The two chatted about the Winter Olympics, his connection to Finland and his future plans for Lapland Lake.

Olavi with his wife, Ann.

Olavi with his wife, Ann.

Olavi, you must have been watching the Olympics; what comments do you have on the games, your sport, and the Finnish skiers today? 

Oh, compared with my time, it’s like night and day! Everything is different; the trail grooming, the advances in the equipment, the new suits – our clothes used to be so uncomfortable! And of course the skiers are really professional, also in the sense that once they’re on the team, they get paid. They do year-round training, which means they might travel to ski in New Zealand during the summer here. And freestyle didn’t exist until the 1970s. 

I find that the Finnish skiers have less sisu than they used to in the past. Perhaps the whole doping scandal a few years back lowered the morale for everyone afterwards, or perhaps they just don’t train as much. 

Do you go back to Finland nowadays? Has it changed a lot?

Yes, we have gone back from time to time, particularly to the Finnish Lapland to ski after we close here for the season. The last time I was in Finland was six years ago. Lately we have preferred to travel to a warmer climate – the Bahamas – in the spring. Finland has changed a lot, particularly Helsinki, which has become such an international city. Even the language has changed; there are so many English words inserted into speech now. 

You are almost 80 years old – what are your plans for the future of Lapland Lake?

I continue to work here every day, and it seems like people expect me to go on forever…sometimes I’m reminded of the joke that President Urho Kekkonen supposedly made in his will “IF I die…” We have been trying to sell the property for several years now. But we want it to continue more or less as it is today, and have turned away some offers we felt didn’t respect that vision. I’m still looking for the right buyer.