The volcanoes and geysers of Russia’s Far East are the ultimate attraction for extreme sports aficionados. In this issue of ‘Russian Life’ we discover the land of fire and ice – the Kamchatka peninsula.
The immense peninsula between the Okhotsk Sea and the Pacific Ocean is one of the world’s last wild frontiers. Home to a Russian military base the area was strictly off-limits to visitors till the 1990s.
Now it is a top spot for adrenaline junkies the world over as Valentin Gavrilov, a Mountain guide explains:
“Our personalities are very wild and many people come here looking for exactly that – the wild, pristine nature of the mountains”.
During the cold months, snowmobiles are the best way to cross the volcanic valleys which are literally steaming with hot springs.
The six-month long snowy winter is a godsend for freeride skiers and snowboarders but to really sample what Kamchatka has to offer, you have to go via helicopter to reach the best mountain peaks.
Brigitte Achkar, a French snowboarder talks about her love for Kamchatka:
“To be able to ski downhill on these magnificent volcanic mountains, from the summit to the sea front – I think it’s the most unique place in the whole world and when we can afford it, well, we can treat ourselves with such a pleasure.”
Kamchatka is home to 10 per cent of the world’s active volcanoes. The risk of earthquakes and avalanches making off-piste adventures, all the more extreme.
A fact Nikolai Veselovskiy an adventure travel organiser is well aware of:
“In principle, everything related to alpine skiing outside the resorts can be dangerous but there are companies that organise helicopter and freeride skiing that have qualified guides to ensure safety.”
For a region the size of France and the Benelux combined, there is a distinct lack of tourists. Even Russians prefer to play it safe, choosing the tried and tested resorts of the Alps.
For a faithful few, like Denis Ailloud a French mountain guide, there is no place like Kamchatka:
“Why travel so far when we have the Alps? Well, quite simply because it’s discovering another land. Even though the Alps are very beautiful, here it’s something else – there’s all the freedom you need. You can ski wherever you want, on these incredible landscapes. Any ski guide who comes to Kamchatka for the first time has to swim in the Northern Pacific ocean. Even if the water is cold, you have to complete this ritual if you want to come back.”
There are countless ways to explore Kamchatka with some hiking enthusiasts conquering the volcanoes on foot. Once they reach the peaks they get to sit back and take in the untouched scenery but they have not come to rest on their laurels, after a short break they begin their descent, freeriding all the way back to the valley.
Victor De Ciria, a Spanish snowboarder describes the difference between Kamchatka and the Alps:
“The nature in the Alps is not comparable with Kamchatka. Here everything is wilder, and often you can ski in places where no one has ever been before. For me it’s not even close to being comparable.”
Whatever the weather, this far-eastern Russian peninsula is always a must for any daredevil.