In the huge snowy country that is Russia, the opportunities for off-piste skiing are truly endless

 

✈ Mineralnye Vody

A View of Elbrus

The country’s main mountain, Elbrus, offers the highest altitude for freeriding in Europe. You have to remember, though, that the glacier is littered with cracks and the weather is quite unpredictable, so you cannot travel without a guide here. The neighboring Cheget also bears no mistakes: avalanches often fall on slopes of 30–45°. Those who are confident in their skills – able to ‘feel’ the slope and listen not only to intuition, but also to the advice of rescuers – may well fall in love with these places, despite the shortcomings in infrastructure (the exception is a new gondola lift on Elbrus).

Season: Декабрь – май (лучшее время для фрирайда – март, апрель).
Start: Elbrus can be reached via a ski lift, a  backcountry ski-tour, unofficial services of snowmobiles and snow groomers; Cheget – via ski lift and backcountry skiing.
Terrain: Alpine zone.
Accommodation: Private hotels and apartments.
Après-ski: Ethnic cuisine restaurants.

Alternatively

The highest point you can reach via chair and gondola lifts from the Arkhyz Resort is 2,240 m, but the plans of the actively growing resort are ambitious. With the opening of the northern part of the gorge, there will be more free-riding opportunities, and right now the wild slopes are being explored by those who participate in ski-tours. This area, known for the highest number of sunny days in the Caucasus Mountains, is ideal for heli-skiing as frequent snowfalls alternate with periods of excellent flying weather.

Season: January – March (the best time for freeride is mid-January – mid-March).
Start: Backcountry / ski-tour (including those starting from ski lifts), helicopter.
Terrain: Alpine zone, forests.
Accommodation: 4–5 star hotels, tourist hostels, mini-hotels.
Après-ski: A few cafés and restaurants, an open-air ice rink, excursions.

Better Safe than Sorry
It is no coincidence that freeriding is usually not covered by standard ski insurance: the activity is dangerous and requires a proper level of preparation – physical, theoretical, practical. The knowledge of the terrain and the choice of the descent line, the analysis of weather and snow condition, rescue skills and first aid knowledge in the mountains – all of this constitutes a great responsibility and it is reasonable to share it with professionals. But do not only depend on the guide – be also careful yourself. A lot of useful information is given in courses on avalanche safety and specialized programmes of the Red Cross, freeriding schools and ski-tour camps.


✈ Sochi

Near the Warm Sea

In Krasnaya Polyana, there are sharp mountain peaks, along with steep ridges, couloirs, huge snowfields, beech forests with steep slopes, and, most importantly, the special snow. The Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort appeals both to novice freeriders, who are making their first tries after a snowfall, and to experienced ones. The anti-avalanche service operates accurately, but only within the resort. Outside the trails, the terrain is quite diverse: one can stumble upon many obstacles, such as streams and mountain faults. Krasnaya Polyana has the highest number of “freeride schools” (training programmes organized by guides), avalanche training courses and first aid classes. Also, the resort hosts the national competition, Rosa Khutor Freeride Contest, in February. Several companies offer the opportunity for heli-skiing – the skiing area reaches 500 square km.

Season: End of December – April (the best time for freeriding is the end of January – the middle of March).
Start: Ski lift, helicopter, backcountry.
Terrain: Alpine zone, forests.
Accommodation: 3–5 star hotels, apartments, hostels.
Après-ski: Bars, restaurants, concerts, exhibitions.

Alternatively

Pikhtovaya Polyana of Gazprom Mountain Resort is a good starting point for interesting ski-tour routes to Mount Tabunnaya, the Bzerpinsky Cornice (which is the gateway to the Caucasian Biosphere Reserve) and further along the Aishkho mountain range, which is suitable for several-day trips (transport on an off-road vehicle, a Ratrac or a snow groomer, night spent in a hunter’s house). It is forbidden to ride without an accredited guide in the reserve.

Season: End of December – early April (the best time for freeriding is February – March).
Start: Ski lift.
Terrain: Alpine zone, forests.
Accommodation: 4–5 star hotels, villas, apartments.
Après-ski: Cinema, waterpark, spa center, ice rink.

Definitions
The terms associated with freeriding may vary depending on the country and region. Most often, backcountry means skiing and snowboarding outside the resort, regardless of the way of getting to the launching point (on foot, on a ski lift, by a snow groomer, a snowmobile, or a helicopter). In Russia, the word “backcountry” usually means that riders use cable cars, and then go on foot or use snowshoes. Another option is a ski-tour, meaning moving on skis, which are equipped with special fastenings that can keep the heel movable or fixed (when you go downhill), and ski-skins are attached to the sliding surface. Snowboarders did not wish to retrain as skiers en masse and invented the splitboard instead. It is a board which, if necessary, can be divided into two “skis.”


✈ Novokuznetsk

Fairy Tales of the Urals

This is a great place to learn to freeride off-piste: in Sheregesh there are many easy slopes with a way back to the ski lift. As the resort grows, the off-piste ski area also expands, and freeriders keep on searching for pristine slopes that are located further and further away from civilization. Avalanches are rare in this area, so generally freeriding in Sheregesh is safe, just do not forget that there are holes with loose snow near tree trunks.

Season: Mid-November – April (the best time for freeriding is December, March).
Start: Ski lifts, snowmobiles, Ratracs, backcountry, ski-tour.
Terrain: Predominantly forests.
Accommodation: Hotels, cottages, private apartments.
Après-ski: Bars, clubs, baths.


✈ Irkutsk

Right by the Baikal

The freeriding community fond of the Mamai Gorge grows every year. Almost a complete lack of civilization (including lifts and mobile communications) doesn’t bother these guys: for the sake of skiing in the softest snow with a view of Lake Baikal, they are ready to go to great lengths.

Season: November – April (the best time for freeriding is December).
Start: A ski-tour with getting to the start of the ascent on a snowmobile.
Terrain: Predominantly forests.
Accommodation: Recreation center, shelter houses with Spartan conditions.
Après-ski: None.


✈ Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky

Edge of the Earth

It is not worth going to Kamchatka for ski resorts. But heli-skiing here is a divine experience: you can go down the slope of any of the numerous hills (and even in the caldera of the active volcano!), descend to the Pacific Ocean or fly to the Alaid volcano of the Kurile mountain range. Also, sailing backcountry is gaining popularity here: a trip on the catamaran and a pedestrian climb to the mountain of your choice.

Season: December – May (the best time for freeriding is March and April).
Start: elicopter, snowmobiles, ski-tour, sailing backcountry.
Terrain: Alpine zone, forests.
Accommodation: Tourist hostels, guest houses.
Après-ski: Thermal springs.


✈ Murmansk

Radiance of the North

People go beyond the Arctic Circle not only to look at the Northern Lights, but also to ski and snowboard. The most developed resort in the Khibiny is the Big Woodyavr, but for freeriders, the “25th km” Resort on the Kukisvumchorr mountain is of more interest, as well as the margins and walls of the Takhtarvumchorr and Yuksporr massifs.

Season: December – May (the best time for freeriding is March to April).
Start: Ski lift, backcountry, ski-tour.
Terrain: Alpine zone.
Accommodation: Hotels, private flats.
Après-ski: A few bars and cafés, a night club, bowling, a swimming pool.

Rules of Survival
Avalanches are not hoaxes invented by rescuers, but they are a real threat to safety. The basic avalanche equipment is a sensor, a shovel and a probe. It is important not just to have this set (it can be rented), but to be able to use this equipment. Sometimes, guides provide express instructions before a day of training, and you can consolidate your skills during courses. There are also backpacks with inflatable air cushions and an avalung, a device that facilitates breathing under the snow. But even if you are equipped with these things, do not lose your head. After all, as the mountain saying goes, “A good freerider is an old freerider.”

 

Published on: September 25, 2018

Text: Elena Vodneva