Have you ever thought about coming to Russia for a ski tour? If you have, read this carefully.
Why is skiing in Russia so attractive? It is almost wild.
If you are sick and tired of posh European ski resorts which attract thousands of skiers from around the world, if you want to struggle with the mountain and be prepared to deprive yourself of any comfort this is the right place to come.
This first article is on the North Caucasus opportunities. Articles on the Urals, North and Far East ones will follow.
RUSSIA’S NORTH CAUCASUS The Krasnodar Territory
The most popular Russian ski resort is Krasnaya Polyana (near the city of Sochi). It lies on the Southern side of the Main Caucasus Ridge 42 kilometers away from the Russian Black Sea coast. This favorable position accounts for its mild climate. The average winter temperature is slightly below zero. Moist air easily turns into snow here. That’s why this place always enjoys its abundance.
Light and slick snow promises fantastic skiing. Especially forest and powder free-ride.
Apparently, the Russian President – who positions himself as a heavy skier – made Krasnaya Polyana so popular. His residence Bocharov Ruchey is not far away. People say he is frequent here. The resort is growing fast; the prices follow suit. It is best looked after in Russia and enjoys good promotion in the media. You may have heard that Sochi is holding a large-scale PR campaign to win the 2014 Winter Olympics bid. To cut the long story short, Krasnaya Polyana does its best to meet European ski resort standards. However, there is still a long way to go.
The four-level ski lift system brings you up to 2228 meters. The lowest point to reach is 540 meters. The ski resort offers a variety of pistes from blue (540-790 meters and 790-1144 meters), red and black ones (1144-1500 meters and 1500-2228 meters) to off-piste. All pistes except for the 1500-2228 meters are groomed. The season starts in November and lasts till June. Heli-ski is possible.
Most hotels are situated on a lawn in the valley and a trip to the ski lift will take you up to 15 minutes.
How to get there? A 2-hour flight from Moscow to the Adler airport near Sochi. Then an-hour drive up in the mountains by taxi. If you take an early flight you’ll have the chance of skiing right on arrival.
The Elbrus region is famous for Elbrus proper and Cheget which is further down the Baksan Gorge.
Firstly, about Cheget. It is 3700 meters high; the elevation change is 1000 meters. There is a very old three-level ski lift system originally built in the 1960s. It includes a one-seater and a double-seater chairlifts at the first level and a one-seater chairlift at the second one. A greasy rope tow will drag you up through the third level and make your outfit dirty. In high season you are likely to experience 20-minute long queues there. This mountain is not groomed at all. Forget Europe.
Forget snowcats. They don’t live here. It is hard to identify where the piste goes and where it does not. The notorious Cheget bumpy slopes have gained a sort of reputation among Russian skiers. The slopes are steep and mainly of black and red categories. Obstacles are waiting for you everywhere – fallen trees, huge rocks and frozen waterfalls as well as decayed rope tow installations make the landscape surprisingly picturesque. When speeding down the slope be prepared to jump over an old steel-wire rope or a broken chair. Free-ride is something special. If you are here to experience the Cheget powder, walk up the mountain and dive into the avalanche-hazard circus. This is a pure skiers’ mountain. Absolutely wild. A rare snowboarder feels comfortable here.
I bet you’ve got the idea. Wanna test yourself, your skiing skills and physical condition? Come here. The scenery is absolutely fantastic! Glacier-covered peaks, white snow and utter silence (except for the squeaky lift) will hardly leave you indifferent.
If you board you should conquer Elbrus. This Europe’s highest mountain (5642 meters) with the elevation change of up to 2000 meters has two funiculars and a lift. Additionally, if you want to get higher pay some 100 rubles to the snowcat driver. Here you are. Elbrus stands a bit to the side of the Main Caucasus Ridge so it offers a marvelous view of the ridge. It is a nice place to start skiing and perfect your boarding techniques. In summer local enthusiasts set up a summer camp up there.
But be patient! Long queues are everywhere. You know who is to blame? Right, as usual - snowboarders. Since the lift systems are absolutely imperfect (see above) and snowboard boots are flexible boarders manage to outrun skiers and jump the queue. Actually, there are two queues. One of ordinary people, the other of those with privileges granted by the ski lift guys. Make friends with them. Heli-ski is also possible. No, I’ll put it like this – heli-ski is strongly recommended.
Most hotels are located on the so called Cheget lawn 2100 meters above the sea level. It was formed by a deadly avalanche in the 1970s. Accommodation is much cheaper than in Krasnaya Polyana. There are nice three- and four-star modern hotels next to the ski lift as well as ones built in the Soviet times. Stay there to experience it all!
How to get there? A 2-hour flight from Moscow to the Minerlanye Vody airport. Then a 3-and-a-half-hour drive by a minivan or a taxi. Every taxi driver knows the way. Just name your hotel.
Azau is the second tourist attraction Elbrus is famous with. It is a ski resort and called after Azau River. It is equipped with a new ropeway. Instead of Cheget, ideal for training and demonstrating your skiing technic, this place passes ideally for speed skiing: the trace does down from Priyut-11 to Azau. The trace is 35 kilometres long. They say it is possible to pass this trace in 12 minutes. Moreover, Azau functions as a ski resort all the year, in the summer as well. It is even better to ski in spring, not in winter because of the heavy weather.
But the beginners also can find standard slopes for their level there. The trace on the section from Mir station to Stariy Krugozor is suitable for the beginners. The only one difficult place there is a ravine in the beginning of the section where the slope is scarp enough. The width of the path amounts to 300 – 400 metres, so you can ski with comfort and maneur space, beholding landscapes.
Not only fans of traditional alpine skiing different level, but snowboarders and people, fond of ski-extreme, like heli-skiing also fing something for them. 2 ropes, old and new ones, 9 lifts and helicopter (there are 6 routes for heli-skying) are at your service. Take into account, that in this case (extreme skiing) nobody is responsible for your life but you. The mountain is very difficult.
What about sights, the mountain of Chiperazau looks especially pictoresque.
The ski resort is includes 5 hotels, and plenty of hotels next to it, rather big and very small ones, very expensive and economy class. Their prices vary depending on the sights opening from the windows and vicinity from the slopes and ropeway. The resort with all its hotels and services is situated between the datums 1800 and 3800 above the sea level.
The rerstaurants offer European and national cuisine. 10 cafes fucnction directly on the resort. Also you can buy different souvenirs, for the rubles, USD and EU. The Mobile Communications function everywhere on the resort territory, even very high. Internet access is availiable from the hotels.
Unfortunately, the stuff by the ropeways still doesn't speak English in the main.
By the way, climbing on the Everest mountain is included into services of the resort. You are offered a few routes, more or less difficult.
The village of Dombai lies 1600 meters above the sea level. This is a unique place. It has gained a reputation of the Pearl of the Caucasus. The Dombai landscapes are fascinating. Wide narrowish slopes with nice green fir trees let your forget about all problems and enjoy your life. It can even compensate for minor drawback such as insufficient pistes, long queues and ramshackle infrastructure.
An interesting fact! In 1942-1944 the headquarters of the German alpine troops were deployed in the occupied Dombai.
Dombai cannot boast a lot of extreme pistes. Most of them are wide, narrow and of a blue category. But if you are an advanced skier you will like speeding right through the Dombai forest. Unforgettable! The ski resort is not that far from Elbrus helicopterwise. Spend one day flying over it. Heli-skiing goes without saying.
The highest point is 3002 meters, the lowest is 1630 meters. The elevation change is 1382 meters. A total length of trails makes up to 20 kilometers.
The ski resort has 4 chairlifts, 6 rope tows and a funicular lift.
How to get there? A 2-hour flight from Moscow to the Minerlanye Vody airport. Then a 4-hour drive by a minivan or a taxi.
More info on Russia's skiing opportunities in: