|ESPN.com: Freeskiing||[Print without images]|
|A rickety double chair at Russia's Krasnaya Polyana.|
In preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the Russians have already pumped billions into several new resorts on the mountains around Krasnaya Polyana, resorts that will be ground zero for the Olympics. But a recent announcement that the country will invest an additional $15 billion to develop five more resorts in the North Caucasus has skiers taking notice.
Alexander Khloponin, the Russian President's envoy to the North Caucasian Federal District, says the project will include two airports and five new ski areas, which include new resorts at Matlas, Dagestan; Mamison, North Ossetia; Arkhyz, Karachayevo-Cherkessia; Lago-Naki, Adygeya; and Mount Elbrus in Kabardino-Balkaria. The resorts will feature modern, high-speed lifts and extensive terrain.
Currently, the main lift at the Russian ski resort Krasnaya Polyana is a series of rickety double chairs that takes over 45 minutes to get to the top. The slow ride is emblematic of skiing in Russia. The country's ski infrastructure is wobbly at best, with cobbled-together lifts, questionable grooming and an absence of terrain parks. But, the terrain is some of the best and steepest you'll find anywhere (Krasnaya Polyana hosts big-mountain athletes each year for the Freeride World Tour's Nissan Russian Adventure).
|How do you say deep powder in Russian?|
The Russian government says the new projects will be a public, private partnership, with the government providing 70 percent guarantees for the bank loans necessary to fund the project, pointing to Credit Swisse as the primary lender for the five new resorts.
The evolution of Russian skiing is being driven by two unlikely personas: The president, Dmitry Medvedev, and the man who welds ultimate power in the country, Valdimir Putin, are both skiers. The impending Winter Olympics and the potential to diffuse some of the simmering discontent in the Caucasus region through economic development have combined with Medvedev and Putin's sporting sensibilities to create a powerful force that has the potential to change Russian skiing in a big way.