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From Russia with love - James Cove, Russia
Friday January 20, 2012 - Email this article to a friend

This weekend PlanetSKI is in Sochi to look at the preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics and to see first hand what the skiing is like in the surrounding mountains. Already one British tour operator is offering holidays.

Driving into a ski resort at 06.30am having travelled through the night is not the best time to arrive.

An alarm clock ringing loudly by my head just a few hours later hardly made me want to leap out of bed and jump in the powder.

Despite the fact that it has the best snow of the winter here in the western Caucasus with several metres of freshly fallen flakes.

Getting to Sochi, a resort on the Black Sea, is not an easy journey as there are no direct flights from the UK. 

Crystal Ski is offering holidays flying via Istanbul. In all the journey takes the best part of 9 hours and there is a time difference of 4 hours.

Not as bad as crossing the Atlantic but more tiring than the short hop to Geneva.

But what greets you on arrival is altogether more interesting.

Russia.

Sochi is more of a summer town and has been a favourite haunt of politicians for many years.

Stalin had a house here overlooking the beach and Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev are regular visitors.

The current leaders are also keen skiers and frequently visit the resorts where the snowsports will take place in 2014. 

In fact without their political backing the Winter Olympics would never have been awarded to Sochi in the first place.

It is one of the least likely Olympic venues as at the time of the award being made there was no ski resort worth talking about, no hotels, no road or rail links and very little to show the area could host The Games.

There were even worries about the snow.

There was just ambition, promises and serious political backing.

All that has now changed and even as the taxi took us in darkness on the one-hour drive from Sochi to the ski resort of Rosa Khutor we could see what the area was like.

The biggest building site in Europe.

It is also home to one of the biggest security operations as the terrorist threat is real. Last winter three skiers were selected at random, hauled from their car and shot.

At the same time bombs went off in the ski areas.

The incidents were the other side of the mountain range and not directly linked to the Olympic ski area but still not far away.

The Caucasus is a troubled area.

There are allegations of widespread corruption and intimidation in the building process with several gangland assassinations. It is that sort of place.

Arriving nearer at dawn rather than dusk with tales of gunfights and bombs is hardly the standard way to arrive in ski resort.

At the airport several neat rows of private jets and helicopters told their own story. It looked more like the oligarchs were holding a weekend convention in Sochi. Perhaps they were.

Inside the customs officials had the same intimidating cold faces of the Soviet era, As they studies my visa and entry form they seem disappointed they could find nothing wrong and waved me through with a cursory hand gesture.

Inside the airport the only notable thing was the customs officials all seemed to be women with rather short skirts and the most amazing selection of boots and high heels.

They would not have looked out of place at a seedy nightclub, of which Sochi has a few.

There was an interminable wait for the luggage and I passed it chatting to a couple of guys. It turned out they were slope designers for the downhill course that was going to be tested with World Cup race in February. "The women's one is a bit flat and tame but the men's one is a beast," one of them said.

They told me the name of the best vodka and the best place to drink it.

Finally our luggage arrived and we had to go through two separate scanning machines as the high-heeled and booted ladies checked our bags.

I have been checked many times before getting on to a plane, buy never after getting off. And not twice.

Then we were out into the crisp, cold night. I breathed deeply.

It was 04.45am and I was in Russia.

The air though was thick with cheap cigarette smoke as we ran the gauntlet of the local taxi drivers. They looked mean.

Fortunately for us a Crystal representative was there to whisk us onto our bus and up to Rosa Khutor. 

Arriving at dawn rather than dusk with tales of gunfights, bombs, high heels, vodka and metres of fresh powder is hardly the standard way to arrive in ski resort.

It felt like an adventure.

Despite the lack of sleep and loud alarm clocks.

06.30am, Roza Khutor06.30am, Roza Khutor

 

 

J

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James Cove will be updating this blog later as he makes his first turns in Russia and sees what the resort of Rosa Khutor has to offer.

For our PlanetSKI preview story see here.

For the spirit of the mountains

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