Words: Mitchell Scott
In the ski world, the overwhelming transformation currently underway in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, is assuredly unmatched. In fact, it’s arguable this has never happened before. In the history of all things. There’s no way. Imagine a Whitewater, or a Bozeman even, any small ski resort you’ve ever been to anywhere, and then imagine that place overrun by some 30,000 workers and billions of dollars of investment in just a few years. It’s a makeover so extreme, so vast, so over-the-top, said down-home ski resort goes from a few fixed gripped doubles and a couple of hotels to three Whistler’s stacked together—virtually overnight. And oh yeah, the Olympics are coming.
But wait, it doesn’t stop there. Nature did a pretty epic job before the bulldozers got here. The mountains are ridiculous. And, oh yeah, so is the snow.
A year out from the Olympics, to the day, photographer Christian Pondella, skier’s Eric Pollard and Chris Benchetler, and Nimbus cinematographer Ike Smith, along with BC-based longtime Powder Senior Correspondent Mitchell Scott, headed into a tempest of construction, guarded by an army of security forces, backed up by machine gun toting Russian military. But once through the maelstrom of giant dump trucks and buses and police-led calvalcades, through the frenzy of building the countless hotels and trams and gondolas and trains and highways, and more hotels, way up high in the Caucasus Range, 2,400 metres above sea level, having gone through airport-like metal detectors and security checks and animated Russian debate just to get on the lift, we stare down on a skier’s dream.
Roza Khutor is one of the newest ski resorts in the world. It’s only three years old, and sits just one drainage away from the original ski resort in this valley, Alpika, whose four since-removed chairlifts originally attracted Pondella and Pollard to this place eight years ago. Roza Khutor will be the host resort for all of the Olympic ski and snowboard events, and while it’s now closed to the public, somehow, we have access. Our own private gondola. Thing is, this isn’t your average ski resort. This is Whistler, Baker and Jackson all squeezed together, all the best parts mashed into one, with no ropes or permanent closures keeping us from the couloirs, spines, fluted faces, cliffs, and epic tree shots that dive headlong between our ski tips. And we’re the only ones here. Save for a few snipers.
There would be injury and tragedy, frayed nerves, disarray, and sketchy mis-adventures. There would also be some of the best lift-accessed skiing of our lives.
Mitchell Scott’s story about Krasnaya Polyana will run in the October issue of POWDER. Eric Pollard, who sustained a broken tibia on the trip, is back in Oregon with his family recovering.