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Feature sidebar - Riding in Russia

Local snowboarder finds Russian resorts rustic but conditions first-rate

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Imagine dropping off a plateau into thigh deep untracked powder.

Now imagine getting there on a two-person chairlift shared with less than 400 people a day.

Welcome to skiing and snowboarding in Russia.

"It was like heli-skiing off the top of this mountain," said local K2 professional snowboarder Brain Savard, who has just returned from a trip to the Caucasus.

"There was a flat ridge that stretched out for kilometres in either direction at the top of the mountain.

"You could just hike along the ridge and then just drop in anywhere you wanted."

Savard and Nitro snowboarder Shin Campos travelled with photographer Dan Hudson to explore one of the last, great, undiscovered frontiers for alpine sports, the Russian ski resort.

Their first stop was Sochi a winter and summer resort on the Black Sea. They called a Sochi bed and breakfast home for a week while they boarded at Krasnaya Polyana, about 100 kilometres away.

"Sochi is the northern most semi-tropical place in the globe," said Savard.

"It is lush, it has palm trees and tropical plants and it is temperate. Then just 100 kilometres away is the ski resort Krasnaya Polyana.

"Its quite unique.

"We were riding in thigh deep powder amongst these old growth Birch trees.

"I have never seen anything like it. It is a regional anomaly. We are talking about trunks that are four feet around and trees that are 100 feet high. It was just beautiful.

"Here (in Whistler) we have a thick canopy and so only some of the snow gets through the canopy. But at Krasnaya Polyana there is great visibility among the trees and they are well spaced, and all the snow comes through the branches so it was just perfect powder riding right through these old growth birch trees. It was awesome."

The 3,238 metre high mountain has four, two-person lifts travelling to the top in a straight-line. The technology and on-mountain equipment is definitely rudimentary but the great boarding and skiing made up for most of it.

"It was over 5,000 vertical feet of riding," said Savard.

A day pass on the mountain was $15 US. Savard said most of the skiers and boarders were either locals or hard-core enthusiasts who flew from Moscow for the weekend.

"You could fly there from Moscow for $85 US," said Savard.

"They all have modern equipment. If they can afford to go skiing then they can afford to buy the new stuff and they have the new stuff in Moscow. They have snowboard shops and everyone was in current gear and walking around in their North Face."

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