The story of Ruka and the Aho family began in 1967, when Doctor Juhani Aho bought his first little piece of Kuusamo: a site on Lake Kitkajärvi shore, and a permanent room at Hotel Rukahovi. The first daredevils had been skiing in the Ruka woods in the 1940s, and the first slopes had been cleared on the side of the hill in the early 1950s.
Alongside with growth of the Ruka ski resort, the Aho children have grown up and taken turns as managers of the family business. In 1999, equal shares of the ownership of Rukakeskus Ltd were transferred to his 5 children.
Two years ago, Ville Aho succeeded his brother Kari Jussi Aho and sister Miia Porkkala as managing director. Miia Porkkala still holds a position in the company management, and the eldest son Kari Jussi Aho is Chairman of the Board.
We have needed each other, Ruka and I
Having become a major shareholder in 1973, Dr Aho turned his mind on the future of the Ruka resort. New slopes and holiday homes were built, and the newly opened airport in Kuusamo gave Ruka a welcome boost.
Today, there are 34 slopes, 21 lifts and about 25 000 beds at Ruka compared to 2 lifts and 500 beds in 1973. Ruka now has the longest ski season in Europe, over 200 days every year and 400 000 annual skier days.
– Ruka means a lot to me. This place has needed me as much as I have needed it, says Dr Aho, 85.
Turning Ruka into the most popular Finnish ski resort has not been easy. The beginning was hard, Dr Aho’s ideas were doubted and envied, and there were power struggles over what should be done and by whom.
Despite all that, Dr Aho made a promise to himself and to the residents of Kuusamo.
– I promised I would turn Ruka into the biggest and most popular ski resort in Finland.
Few believed in his vision, but Juhani Aho was a man of his word. He took daring risks on behalf of Ruka, the place that his family had grown to love so well. He went so far that he had a prenuptial written in order to protect the family home in Espoo, South Finland.
– I was investing millions in Ruka, mainly money I had borrowed after I had already invested my own.
In Kuusamo, Juhani Aho was regarded as a bold and daring man, and for a reason. Because of huge investments, the company was very close to bankrupsy in late 70´s, and then in early 90´s when the company´s debt was three times higher then turnover. Today, the Aho children still invest in Ruka, but at a somewhat lesser risk.
– Jussi made decisions based on his intuition, but for us, financial figures are important. There is no need to take extravagant risks anymore, says Ville Aho.
Ecosign gives new direction
New milestone in development of Ruka was in 1999, when Miia met Paul Mathews from Ecosign Mountain Planners. Ecosign was soon hired to prepare Master Plan for Ruka.
– Ecosign has had a tremendous effect in development of Ruka. Paul saw things in a new way and suggested a compact pedestrian village with underground parking, totally new concept in Finland. We thought he was crazy, Ville says.
But 2012 after 5 years of construction and 100 million euros, the Ruka pedestrian village with 320 car underground parking, 1500 beds, 15 restaurants and 10 shops was finalized.
– The village is the new heart of Ruka Ski Resort. This time we were wise enough not to invest alone, but sold the units to private owners. And with Ecosign´s hotbed filosophy, these beds will be in commercial use forever, but not in our balance sheet.
From father to children
Under the new leadership, the goal has remained the same: to keep on improving the operations of Ruka Ski Resort, and see to it that it will be transferred to the third generation of the family in the future.
– We aim to turn Ruka into a year-round, international tourist resort. I strongly believe that the real boom in Lapland tourism is only just beginning. We want to have our share of this growth, now more than ever before, Ville Aho states.
The strategy of Ruka is firmly based on skiing, and the will to provide the best service a tourist can hope for in Finnish Lapland.
– Alpine skiing still form the core of our business, but Ruka has so much to offer besides skiing. Dozens of activities and the unspoiled nature around Ruka are the basis for our bold goal to be the best ski resort in the world for families. Our biggest growth potential lies in international visitors, Ville Aho says.