In the North Caucasus, bunny slopes are the new black.
Responding to positive reviews of the Sochi Olympics, Russia has hopped the mountains in hopes of rebranding a region best known for housing Islamic militants and bloody exchanges with Chechnyan rebels by developing the area for winter sports.
Despite a death toll that reached 500 in counterterrorism last year, the presidential envoy for the North Caucasus remains confident that the region will take off, citing the fact that Russian tourists don’t intimidate easily: ‘Is it less dangerous than Egypt? Nothing will scare away any of our tourists.’
For those who are intimidated by random terrorist acts, airport-to-resort transport is available.
The first resort has already opened, in the relatively safe region of Krachayevo-Cherkesiya, near the town of Arkhyz. Though several trails wind through the trees, skiers can only access the bunny slope, due to a lack of lifts. The southerly slope shares Sochi’s winter-pattern baldness, but resort management promises perfect powder up the mountains.
The price is right. A day pass with equipment rental-riot gear not included-comes in under €30. Those who want to make a weekend of it can stay in a couple of no-frills motels named Romantik-1 and Romantik-2.
Arkhyz citizens had hoped to cash in on the investment, but developers imported labourers to build the hotels and lifts at the site. They may yet find cottage industries in selling Chinese-made souvenirs or home-made goods from the region. Unfortunately, none of the larger businesses have local ownership.
But the Arkhyz resort is just the beginning of a €10.85 billion initiative to place sports complexes in all seven of North Caucasus republics. Integrating local businesses and investing in the regional economy could be a fantastic way to stabilise the area. Keeping prices low would invite Russians into a region that has been traditionally separatist, and instil national pride.
Adventure travellers and eager skiers may jump at the chance to check out the raw politics and virgin slopes of the North Caucasus, but should remember that the area remains volatile, invest in the appropriate travel medical insurance and consider getting acts of war and terrorism coverage. Romantik-2 may not be so dreamy in a riot.