Six months after the Olympic caravan slid out of Sochi, depressingly familiar photographs suggested that the skiing venues had already become ghost towns. But now, a further six months since the lights went out on the most expensive Winter Games of all time, new reports paint a more positive picture of mountains in demand.
Snow helps – many Alpine resorts are dead out of season – but a domestic interest in skiing in the tracks of Olympic heroes has also combined with politics and cold economics to keep the lifts busy near Krasnya Polyana, the down-at-heel village that became the base for the snow disciplines last February.
"Russians have tripped over themselves to reserve hotel rooms, book last-minute ski packages and fill Black Sea mountain getaways to near capacity," The Washington Post reported yesterday.
Boomtime in the western Caucasus is a glimmer of good news for Vladimir Putin, for whom Olympic pomp must feel like a happy memory. Since his pet project went off with only a malfunctional ceremonial snowflake to cause him grief, Vlad has dealt with the Ukraine conflict, cooling relations with the West, and a rouble sliding downhill fast.
Best snow sports holidays
Best snow sports holidays
1/7 Québec City, Canada
With Old World charm by the bucket load and an average snowfall of 400cm per year, Québec City is a magical place for snow sports fans to get their winter kicks. Whether you try your hand at Ice Climbing at Montmorency Falls or visit one of the two world-class ski resorts, Mont-Sainte-Anne and Stoneham Mountain, you’ll be spoilt for choice in Québec City. Don’t forget to catch a game of ice hockey whilst you’re there.
2/7 Gstaad, Switzerland
A true winter wonderland, Switzerland is synonymous with all things snow related – and nowhere does it better than the ski town of Gstaad. One of the largest and most diverse winter sports regions in the country, Gstaad offers 220km of pistes at 3000m above sea level – and the slopes are even floodlit by night time, giving skiers and snowboarders the chance to experience a truly magical ride.
3/7 Gulmarg, India
When thinking of the world’s top snow destinations, India might not be the first place that springs to mind – or indeed, the second or third. However, you’d be missing a trick if you left it off your list, because Gulmarg is certainly a gem that deserves to stay polished. Sitting high in the Himalayas in the north of India, Gulmarg is a small hill station that is India’s leading ski resort. What’s more, it also boasts the second highest cable car in the world, offering truly spectacular views over the world below.
4/7 Nuuk, Greenland
If you’re looking for a snow holiday that’s a little off piste from the regular favourites, Greenland’s Nuuk could be just the place for you. With all the snow and slopes you could ever dream of, conditions are great for both cross-country and alpine skiing. What’s more, there’s a whole plethora of other activities available from dog sledding to climbing and mountaineering that will leave you wondering why you’ve never considered Greenland before.
5/7 Corralco, Chile
Just 50km from the exciting city of Temuco, Chile’s Corralco is a small but perfectly formed snow resort with tracks catering to everyone from beginners to experts. Situated in the middle of the Malalcahuelco Natural Reserve and on the Lonquimay Volcano, Carralco provides a breathtaking backdrop to your snow holiday.
6/7 Rusutsu, Japan
Considered one of the best ski resorts in Japan, Rusutsu is heaven for fans of off piste skiing. The ski area covers three mountains, offering a great mix of options for all levels and abilities. With excellent snowboarding and natural thermal springs to warm up at the end of a long day, Rusutsu is certainly the place to head for your fix of snow sports in Japan.
7/7 Trysil, Norway
The largest ski resort in Norway, Trysil is a hugely popular choice with families and offers a great ski school for beginners to find their feet before hitting the slopes. But fear not, because with over 40 lifts and 70km of runs, you can be sure that there’s something there to please every ability! If you fancy improving your winter sport skills in the heart of Scandinavia then Trysil is the place to head.
But these rocks on the piste of Putin's presidency are good for mountain tourism. This time last year, you could get 45 roubles for a euro. Now it's 75. Great for Brits heading east (our own Simon Calder reported last month that you could fly to Moscow and back for as little as £50) but a disaster for an increasingly grounded Russian jetset. For years it has established bases in the glitzier corners of the Alps, but now many are staying at home.
"Usually we go to Austria or Italy, but this year we decided this will be our answer to sanctions," Maxim Zdor, 37, told The Post, echoing another motivation of short-haul Russian skiers (the sanctions being the EU's response to Moscow's involvement in Ukraine). "Putin told us that it's better for us to support Russia and Russian resorts like Sochi," another skier added.
You would think, then, that an Olympic-level resort that suddenly looks pretty cheap would be an attractive proposition for some of the almost million Brits who ski each winter. But is it? I went there, almost four years ago now, to get a sense of the place. To be fair to Rosa Khutor, the resort that hosted the downhill event, it was a building site, its muddy car park at odds with the gleaming gondola lift imported from Austria.
Accommodation was worse. In a nearby "spa" hotel, I was served greasy oven chips and frankfurters so hard that they might have been used as piles in the resort's construction. And that was just breakfast. At the nose-wrinkling basement pool, air from the apparently well-used loos hung heavily over the water.
And yet, despite being hungrier than I can remember during my four-day visit, the skiing was great. The pistes at Rosa Khutor are wide and sweeping, descending 1,700m (5,600ft) from Rosa Peak. The off-piste is more tantalising still, putting the resort on the professional Freeride World Tour, which I had gone to write about. And now the cranes have gone and, I gather, several excellent hotels surround the mud-free car park.
Many British tour operators spied a potential new market, but among the big guns only Crystal put Sochi on its books. "Everyone's talking about it – so get out there and ski it, it's a phenomenal resort," its website says. But last winter, Crystal says it took "only a few" British skiers to Russia, with no increase in demand this year. "We haven't seen the rise we hoped for after the Olympics," a spokesman adds.
James Cove, the editor of the PlanetSki website, points out that tricky visas and circuitous journeys are off-putting (I flew via Istanbul, arriving in Sochi at 3am). Meanwhile, the political if not economic factors boosting domestic tourism are also keeping foreign visitors away across Russia.
If Russians keep going, Rosa Khutor and the other Sochi resorts may survive until some future time when it's neither politically nor logistically difficult for foreign skiers to join them. Meanwhile, Cove says snow seekers looking east can get even better value in Jasna in Slovakia. "I was there last week and paid £1.15 for a large beer," he says. Can't argue with that.Reuse content