Denis Loktev, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky
For many Russians, getting to Courchevel is a faster and potentially cheaper option than travelling from Moscow to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in search of slopes. The prospect of an eight hour flight in cramped seating is just too much to bear for your average ski bunny. So with that in mind, the people who do go that extra mile to holiday in Russia’s icy peninsula are often the most hardcore of extreme sports aficionados.
The ski resorts of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky attract some of the world’s most accomplished skiers, snowboarders and paragliders. Luring adrenaline junkies the world over who have grown tired of the polished, bourgeoisie slopes the Alps has to offer.
For those who can afford it, chic cottage villages with thermal mineral water baths await. Not to mention the helipads, which service bulky Soviet-era MI-8 helicopters ready and waiting to whisk you off to the areas most popular locations for off piste adventure – like the Avachinsky (2200 m) and Viluchinsky (2173 m) volcanoes.
There are cheaper holiday options. We spent one of our day trips with a fun and friendly group of back-countryists. These fit young things like nothing more than to scale snowcovered volcanoes on foot. If that weren’t enough they then donne their skis and boards to freeride back down.
If you prefer your holidays a little more ‘au naturel’, a local crew of back-country enthusiasts set up camps in the area several times a year, complete with electricity, kitchens and some heating for a very reasonable price.
Tourism is one of the major sources of income in Kamchatka – the other is fishing, as the local seas swarm with red fish, crabs and a host of other delicious seafood. I spoke to the region’s tourism and sports minister who said they’re hoping to attract more Russian and foreign visitors by hosting several important sport competitions in the future – where they’re aiming to double the hotel accommodation they currently have on offer.
But Kamchatka has a long to go, with few Russians considering it a viable travel destination. The secrecy that has long surrounded the peninsula since World War II, when its bays harboured Soviet fleets of nuclear submarines, has put off potential visitors. Even now many are not aware of the hotels, roads and other infrastructure on Kamchatka. The challenge therefore is convincing people to go – and once they’ve sampled the breathtaking scenery for themselves, the hardest part might just be getting them to leave…