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Thursday, July 1, 2010
Updated: July 15, 7:22 PM ET
Shredistan? Russia plans largest resort

Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin close-talking about plans for Russia's new mega-resort.

Sixteen billion dollars, 800 kms of runs, 5,000 sq. kms total terrain and an army of workers hitting six figures (but surely paid considerably less.) These are just some of the numbers being thrown around regarding this planned mega-resort in the northern reaches of the Caucasus mountains. The chain of five resorts accessible on one pass is also projected to attract 10 million tourists annually, a number sure to raise eyebrows along with mad venture capital.

For reference purposes and for metric haters, Whistler has about 5,000 acres, not kilometers of terrain. Even La Plagne, Les Arcs and other mega-resorts in France, spots so big that you can barely ride up and down the many peaks available on your day ticket, run into much smaller numbers: La Plagne claims 225 kms of groomed runs and 110 lifts on their site. Linked up with Les Arcs, they still don't touch this new beast in Russia that'll encompass five different republiks, namely N. Ossetia, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Dagestan, Adgeya, and Kabardino-Balkaria.

The chain of five resorts accessible on one pass is projected to attract 10 million tourists annually.

The Moscow Times reports that President Medvedev had this lightbulb moment whilst schussing in Krasnaya Polyana, a freerider's paradise, backdrop to a number of marquee snowboarding videos and the mountain component to the upcoming Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

And, even if you're of the opinion that bigger is always better, this new Ruskie resort mega-plex faces hurdles that make the average American environmental clearance process look pretty tame: For one, the region is notoriously unstable. "Low intensity" civil unrest in the North Caucasus, including suicide bombings of police stations and sniper assassinations of government officials, has been simmering since the 90s and regional clans control a number of tourist attractions as is. (Sure, money and tourists could clean things up and provide more honest ways to make a buck but not if "bandits" are actually controlling the "means of production.")

Putin surveying the future sight of Russsia's first après oxygen bar.

It gets stickier: The Lago-Naki slice of the plan infringes on a UNESCO World Heritage site, an international level of protection normally considered "impenetrable." Guess not... Environmentalists opposing the plan also claim that the proposed resort cluster will stomp on four federal nature reserves ("zapovednik") and two national parks. Oh, and there's talk of two new airports to deal with the surge in tourist traffic, too.

We hit up Rick Kahl, Editor of Ski Area Management and he said: "It sounds extremely ambitious to me, but if there's a burgeoning upper class in Europe and Russia, then these areas could see some business. If the shooting dies down, that is, and if the infrastructure is as good as Medvedev claims, and if the billionaires and banks really want to see the resorts built."

For more on this story see stellar outdoor blog The Adventure Life and The Moscow Times coverage.