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Skiing in Russia - James Cove, Russia
Friday January 27, 2012 - Email this article to a friend

PlanetSKI has been sampling the skiing at the resorts that will hold the ski and snowboard events for the Winter Olympics at Sochi in 2014. So, what is it like to ski in Russia? Read our latest blog from the east...

Normally in The Alps at the bottom of the main lift there is an attendant to ensure you have a pass and perhaps help you with your skis.

In this part of Russia there are armed guards, security personnel and airport-style metal detectors and X-ray machines to pass through before you get to the slopes. 

Terrorism is a real threat as the area is part of the Caucusus, one of the most troubled regions of the world. I am in the western Caucusus, that is much calmer than other parts of the Caucusus, but no chances are being taken and the security bill has already passed $1.2b.

Twice the amount spent in Vancouver.

The Winter Olympics are an obvious and high-profile target.

It was therefore slightly disconcerting to see some people just walk round the metal detectors, I set it off but no-one seemed too bothered and when I put my rucksack on top of the scanning machine rather than in it I was not stopped.

Still at least we reached the slopes quickly.

Security outsideSecurity outside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Security insideSecurity inside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I began at Gazprom that is the gentlest of the three main ski resorts. It is where Prime Minister Putin has his ski residence.

The 1,000 odd security staff seemed relaxed so he obviously wasn't in town which was lucky as the resort often gets closed so he can have it to himself.

It felt like any other up-to-date resort in the Alps with modern lifts and all the facilities you would expect.

There was just one difference.

Three metres of powder snow.

I thought The Alps had done the best in the world for snow this winter, but I was wrong.

In this part of Russia it had been snowing heavily for several days before my arrival and this was the first clear day. To say I was lucky was an understatement as it was not just deep; it was light and dry.

I simply couldn't help grinning as I made deep powder turns and looked out over the expance of Russia imagining thousnds of miles of mountains stretching off into the distance.

The last time I had the same feeling was gazing across The Andes when I skied in Argentina. Russia is an inspiring place to ski.

 Black Sea in the distance Black Sea in the distance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The smile though disappeared in the lift queue as good use of the elbows and ski poles is required to make any sort of progress.

The Russians are an aggressive bunch while trying to get on a lift but, once on it, they are some of the friendliest.

Even if you have just been doing battle in the queue.

Elbows to the readyElbows to the ready

 

"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"We just adore to ski and the Olympics mean we have all these new lifts," said one man to me.

"I ski every weekend now and it is my passion," said a lady in a rather fetching one-piece leopard skin ski suit. Bling is most definitely in evidence.

"It is all down to Putin as he had supported the skiing," said another.

It seems Prime Minister Putin will have no problem with the skiing vote in the forthcoming elections.

Middle classes take to skiingMiddle classes take to skiing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following day I hit the main ski resort of Rosa Khator. 

The security arrangements were the same but the ski area was altogether different.

It has 8 lifts, 38km of terrain and a very respectable vertical decent of 1,300m.

When finished it will have 18 lifts, 80km of slopes and will be 1,745m from top to bottom.

"We have western standards and we meet international expectations. Some Russian guests were sceptical that we would match European and Alpine standards but we do," said the general manager of the ski area, Jean-Marc Farini.

He comes from Chamonix and works for Compagnie des Alpes that operates all the ski areas in this part of Russia.

The French company is the biggest lift operator in the world and runs many resorts in The Alps including Tignes, Val d'Isere, Meribel, Serre Chevalier and Avoriaz.

It has brought its expertise to Russia and it shows.

The temperature had remained cold so the powder was still light and dry and the slopes were steep -  requiring just a short walk and traverse from the top of lifts to reach untracked powder. 

The group I was with made good use of the conditions.

Into the wildernessInto the wilderness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All in all the skiing was as good, if not better, than many resorts of a comparable size in The Alps.

Geographically we were in eastern Europe but it was nothing like the ski areas of Bulgaria and Romania.

It is designed to attract the Russians who like Courchevel and Verbier. The upper middle classes.

Skiing becomes increasingly fashionableSkiing becomes increasingly fashionable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even for those that don't skiEven for those that don't ski

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The British company Crystal is already offering holidays to Sochi in anticipation of The Olympics and its legacy.

"Some people think it is like the other eastern European ski areas both in what it offers and the price," said Ian Davis, the product director of Crystal who has overseen the addition of Sochi to the Crystal brochure.

"It is not and it offers something the adventurous skier or snowboarder will be interested in with good quality facilities and services. I came here last winter to check it out and just thought that we must offer this to the British skier."

He is not wrong as the area offers something for everyone.

GazpromGazprom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gazprom is for a gentle day, Rosa Khator is a much larger ski ara akin to a medium sized alpine resort.

Mountain Carousel is for the experts.

It has steep terrain and excellent off piste. Especially when there happens to be 3m of powder snow lying around.

There's steeps, tree sking and couloirs. It reminded me slightly of Englerberg in Switzerland, one of my favourite resorts.

It's that way...It's that way...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the PlanetSKI snow report that contains some video from all the resorts then see here.

Skiing in Russia though offers an exciting experience, not least in the restaurants.

No sign of alpine dishes made entirely of meat and cheese.

At lunch I ate Draniki, small potatoe pancakes with sour cream. Followed it with Borsch, a beetroot based vegetable soup. I rounded off with Pelmenies that were small pieces of meat wrapped in dough that came from western Siberia.

In Siberia people make hundreds of them at the beginning of winter and then put them outside using nature as a deep freeze and then they bring them in to eat when required. 

BorschBorsch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All too soon my 3-day whistle stop tour as over and as I stepped out of my skis I thought that when the areas are connected by lift instead of a 20-minute bus ride it will rival anything The Alps has to offer.

That connection will take place before The Olympics.

Will I be back for more?

You bet.

Especially as I was having a stopover in Istanbul in Turkey on the way home. Flights go via the city so it seemed stupid not combine the trip with a visit to one of the most fascinating cities in Europe.

It is not often I step out of my skis looking forward to leaving the resort but this time I was.

Tomorrow I will be in Istanbul.

Quite a sightQuite a sight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the first blog as James Cove arrived in Sochi see here and then the second blog on his overall thoughts after a couple of days

In his next report James Cove will be taking a look at the Winter Olympics. The massive building project that has created a ski area from nothing and he asks if Sochi 2014 will kickstart a Russian ski industry and, most importantly, whether it will become a destination of choice for British skiers.

It is one of the most exciting developments in the ski world in recent times as a nation tries to create a ski industry pretty much from scratch, but will the gamble pay off?

FACT BOX

A four day trip to Sochi with bed and breakfast at the four-star Park Inn By Radisson including Turkish Airlines flights from Heathrow via Istanbul and all transfers costs from £835 per person based on two sharing departing 25th March 2012.

Lift pass per day from £27 in Roza Khutor: Gasprom and Mountain Carousel £29 each.

3-day ski hire from £39, 3-day boot hire from £23.

Group ski lessons from £25 (2.5 hours) per day.

Accommodation in Istanbul: one night stop in Istanbul at the 4* Kalynon Hotel (old town 10 minutes walk to the Blue Mosque), total price is £940 per person.

Accommodation at the five star Ciragan Palace Kempinski upon request, www.kempinski.com.

Crystal Ski (0871 231 2256); crystalski.co.uk.

Turkish Airlines, turkishairlines.com. Turkish Airlines is a 4 star carrier and member of The Star Alliance. It was also selected Best Airline of the Southern Europe by Skytrax in April 2009. Turkish Airlines is the fastest growing airline in Europe and ranked as the 4th financially best performing airline of the year by AviationWeek in June 2009.

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