With so many of the ‘new rich’ Russians now filling top resorts in the Alps, most noticeably Courchevel, Kitzbuhel and St Moritz, it should come as no surprise that the world's largest country is home to more than 120 ski areas.
Most of these were internationally unknown until the end of the Soviet era in the 1980s, but subsequently the full range of Russian ski possibilities has become known and new privatised resorts developed. There are few, if any, countries on earth with a more diverse range of resorts.
To begin with, there are the dozens of small ski hills in and surrounding Russia’s major cities, particularly Moscow and St Petersburg. Many can be reached by metro train services and during the Soviet era many operated rudimentary lifts and ungroomed slopes free of charge to citizens at weekends, if you were prepared to queue.
Now privatised, many of these slopes still exist and indeed some have become so exclusive in contrast to their origins that lift pass prices are reported to be among the world’s highest to price out most people. There’s also one of the world’s biggest indoor snow centres, snej.com, in Moscow.
Next is Russia’s world class terrain along its southern borders. Although Mont Blanc is sometimes reported to be Europe’s highest mountain, it is in fact Mount Elbrus on the border with Asia that’s higher at 5633m, and it can be possible for ski cats to take you above the height of the top lift, at 3800m, right up to 5100m for some huge descents.
This is also the area where the Russian government and several giant corporations have transformed the ski slopes close to the Black Sea city of Sochi in to several resorts for the 2014 Winter Olympics which, after billions of investment, boast the most state-of-the-art lift system to be found anywhere in the world.
Plans are now in place to develop five more world class ski areas in the region over the next decade, with a combined total of nearly 900km and guest capacity of 150,000 in a bid to help stimulate economic growth in the region.
Moving east in to Siberia more new resorts have been created but others from the Soviet era have been abandoned. As recently as the 1980s cities artificially created for mining up in the arctic saw no winter daylight due to their latitude and doctors prescribed skiing to some of the workers in order to help them keep fit and active in the harsh conditions.
But while those cities have closed, in the capitalist era new commercial centres have been created such as Kvan at the country’s main car making city, where a remarkable $30m ski slope has been built with a giant steel frame at the top of the hill that adds 100m of slope length and 20m of vertical.
On the North Pacific Coast, half-a-dozen time zones from Moscow, skiing remains a major attraction, this time in particular heli-skiing on the Kamchatka peninsula, world famous destination for this version of the sport.
Russia’s ski area development is not without its troubles; there have been helicopter crashes at Kamchatka and in the Caucasus which are also earthquake prone, and terrorist groups have shot tourists and tried to blow up ski lifts in recent years at Elbrus too.
But set against this is the determination of avid skiers and sometime political personas such as Vladimir Putin have been a driving force in the development of the Russian ski industry over the past decade. read more...
Russia: latest snow conditions round-up
Summary of forecast snowfall and ski conditions for resorts in Russia. Fresh snow is forecast at 23resorts. Powder is reported at 0 resorts and 0 are reporting good piste conditions.