Project Ultra’s, Tim Major, heads to Helsinki for an inspiring and memorable weekend with team Suunto.
This piece has been a long time in the writing. When an experience is as unique and all encompassing as the Suunto Summit turned out to be, it’s difficult to summarise in a single post. There’s simply too much to write about – too many high points to cover off, too many people to mention – that there’s a danger of not doing it justice or of the good things getting lost in the detail. So, this isn’t a full account – it’s merely a flavour of a truly unforgettable few days that made me feel privileged to be part of a community of adventurous like-minded people and that sent my ambitions spiralling in an upwards trajectory.
What Is Suunto Summit?
Suunto Summit started as an opportunity for 16 carefully selected Suunto users from around the World to come together in Helsinki to share their experiences and offer some feedback to the people who design and make the products that they use. There was a rigorous selection process and it was a huge honour to be invited to join this unique gathering. Here’s a video that I created as part of the application process:
There was a Facebook group for us all to connect beforehand and what became immediately clear was that there was going to be some incredibly cool and inspiring people joining the one (me!) who slipped through the net. This view was only reinforced when a few of us met on a rooftop bar in Helsinki the night before the Summit’s official start to chat over a few drinks, share stories and to watch the sun setting over the City.
Day One – Inside Suunto
Day one started with a series of talks and tours at Suunto HQ. This was a chance for us to see where the action happens. We lunched with the participants and Suunto staff, we donned flattering white coats and took a very informative tour of the factory (I could tell you some secrets here…but then I’d have to kill you) and we enjoyed a brilliant talk by Salomon athlete, Philipp Reiter, who came along on the trip as official photographer, social media guru and all round nice guy. We also had the chance to buddy up with a member of the Suunto team to get to know our watches better. This was super useful and I learnt a lot about the Spartan that I have been testing, including how to set up interval sessions straight to the watch and to use Movescount to plan training.
The workshops were a chance for us to feedback to the team about what we thought of the Suunto brand and products. It was so refreshing to be asked to give an honest assessment and it was immediately obvious that the guys at Suunto wanted to hear everything – warts and all – and that they are dedicated to improving their products and meeting the needs of the athletes who use them…which, it also became very apparent, is a group that includes all of them!
The Spartan had been criticised in some circles for not being ready when it was released. Fair or not, what became clear to me was that, not only have recent updates really improved the functionality of the watch (it’s slick, customisable and as good as it looks), but that the potential for future development is really exciting.
What I also learnt is that, given the brand’s prominence in the market, the Suunto team is relatively small and that the Spartan watch I’d been testing was imagined, designed and manufactured in Helsinki. Under that very roof was a hugely motivated adventurous team of people who had taken the product every step of the way from concept to market. It was like being welcomed into the arms of a close knit family who were delighted to show us around their home, let us loose with their gadgets and then send us out to play in their backyard.
Talking of which, after some more carb loading, we made our way to our home for the rest of the trip – a log cabin built in a clearing above the treeline of the stunning forest in the Espoo National Park.
Day Two – The Bodom Trail
Not only had the Suunto team organised a weekend packed full of inspiration and adventure but they had also arranged for some incredible weather. After snow in Helsinki the weekend before, we were treated to wall to wall sunshine. Arriving early at the race venue, we sat out in the sun and watched people arriving in their droves. The Bodom Trail is a massive event in the Finnish racing calendar and it was well and truly sold out. The race is 21 kilometres but there is also an option to race a 12 kilometre distance as well, which I would soon come to welcome as a useful alternative!
The start line was buzzing and the race went off at a ferocious pace. Having raced the 53 mile Highland Fling the weekend before, my legs complained as I tried to keep up, leaping over roots and rocks and occasionally sinking in thick wet mud on the trails. This was anything but flat and the terrain was way more technical than I’d expected. With the lead racers a long way in the distance and my legs feeling severely lacking in power, I opted to finish the shorter distance race. There were some brilliant performances from other Suunto runners, most notably, Diane, finishing 3rd female – even if she didn’t actually realise and nearly missed the prize giving! For me, though, the event was made by the incredible spirit and commaradery that came from everyone involved in the Suunto Summit. A huge number of the Suunto team turned up to support their friends and colleagues and there was a real pride in wearing the Summit t-shirt and being a part of the Suunto crew.
After cheering and high fiving everyone over the finish line, we returned to the cabin for some recovery, some informal discussions, some interviews with the Suunto team and to make full use of the sauna and hot tub!
Later in the day we were treated to a couple of firsts for most of us: feeding some local reindeer and then a wonderful meal in a large tepee complete with atmospheric fire pit. We chatted, got to know each other and informally pitched ideas for amazing but improbable devices that Suunto could make!
Day Three – Finding Ourselves
Orienteering is an activity that you grow up with in Finland. In England, it’s fair to say (at least, for most people) that it most definitely is not. In the modern era, we rely far too heavily on GPS and I’m as guilty as anyone for this. Whilst I consider myself to be quite handy with a map and compass, my skills were put to a serious test as we were handed small scale maps to the local area and asked to find certain checkpoints hidden away in the trees.
I was paired with Mathias and Arnau. After about 45 minutes of searching, we did eventually find a check point. Our initial excitement was short lived, though, as we realised that it was the wrong one. The best we could do was retrace our steps and find our way back to the cabin. Just to further highlight my earlier point, making use of the handy breadcrumbs feature on our Spartan watches was sadly the quickest way to achieve that! There were some far better performances in the group but it was definitely a lesson for me and I’m now determined to brush up on my orienteering skills – not just because it’s an important craft but also because it was serious fun running around the forest and searching for the checkpoints.
After this, there was just time for a final lunch before we had to say farewell to Helsinki and our incredible hosts.
Post Summit Thoughts
The weekend was action packed but with just enough room between the activities for us to properly get to know each other and to enjoy being in the beautiful surroundings that we’d been treated to. It was the people, though, that made this trip so memorable. So inspiring were everyone’s stories that it honestly gave me a belief that I could raise my ambitions way above the level they were at. This ‘if you never try, you’ll never know’ attitude is an abiding memory of the trip and has stayed with me since. I just need to find a way to put it into action.
This is not a sponsored piece or a brand endorsement. The watch I have been testing will go back. This is simply a brief insight into a unique and enriching experience – an experience that I arrived at half expecting to be dazzled by brand videos and high spec marketing but left feeling privileged to have been involved in such a unique, fun, insightful, down to earth and inspiring weekend that is a real testament to the dedicated, adventurous and friendly folk who work at the heart of Suunto and to the people they invited along for the ride. The Suunto team were welcoming, fun and humble and genuinely seemed as delighted to be hosting us as we all were to be there. Karoliina and Matt had organised a weekend that allowed us all to truly connect with them and each other and, as a result, we felt like part of something much greater: we all felt like part of the Suunto family.
If you ever get the chance to join a future Summit, take it. It’s one of the best things you’ll ever do.
High fives all round, Suunto Summit 2017!!