The Russian Black sea city of Sochi, with its ski resort of Krasnaya Polyana, will host the 2014 Winter Olympics. What likely will be among the best and most expensive facilities in Winter Olympic history are under construction and the media spotlight will be on them over the interim. You may even want to plan a visit sooner to see and ski or ride for yourself.
It is the second time Russia has hosted an Olympics. The last time was for the Summer Games in 1980 in Moscow. Sochi was selected as the site by a narrow margin of just four votes over South Korea. It's a unique place to hold the Games as it isn't a "traditional" winter getaway location like Lake Placid, Innsbruck, or Torino, Italy.
Sochi is, however, a resort town where summer temperatures get above 80 degrees, and winter temperatures do not often fall below freezing.
Sochi was a relatively unknown city until Josef Stalin chose the location as his summer home in the 1930s. It became a popular destination with Russians of all walks of life, from architects to workers who were rewarded with trips to the seaside resort.
One of the main benefits for the town, according to the organizing committee, is "to rejuvenate the city." Major facilities, as well as hotels, business centers, concert halls will be left in place after the Olympic activity has concluded. Almost every location will need to be built from scratch.
One of side benefits of hosting the Olympics in Sochi is that the city will be made accessible to disabled people, including skiers, since the Paralympics will be held there following the Olympics. It is very difficult now for wheelchair users to navigate the streets of any Russia city, so this will be a first.
The venues will include: a major ice arena for ice hockey that can seat up to 12,000 spectators, and a smaller ice arena that seats 7,000. There are also the speed skating center that holds 8,000; the Ice Palace that will host skating, short track speed skating for 12,000; the Curling Arena for 3,000; and the Olympic Stadium to hold 40,000.
Sochi has to start from scratch, beginning with a complete state-of-the-art sewer system. "The first task is the development of the city of Sochi, the creation of a modern, high-quality mountain climatic resort. Second we need to create a world-class sports infrastructure," President Dmitry Medevedev said.
Add to that extending and modernizing the port and upgrading the 1500-kilometre rail link to Moscow into a high-speed line and it is not difficult to imagine that these Sochi Olympics are going to cost a lot of rubles.
The Olympic project is in two parts or clusters 50 kilometres (31 miles) apart, to be linked by a new light railway, a 30-minute journey. The ice skating facilities, including two ice hockey rinks, speed skating, a short track stadium, and a curling rink, along with the Olympic Stadium will be in Sochi by the Black Sea.
The skiing, snowboarding, bobsledding, and ski jumping events will be up in the mountains, about 48 miles east of Sochi at Krasnaya Polyana.
The slopes have a reputation for their long season thanks to some of the most consistent and extensive snowfalls in Russia. Some reports claim the resort is located at "the wettest point in Europe" and that snow depths there can reach more than 23 feet.
There is no snowmaking at this point, so coverage on the lower slopes can suffer at either end of Krasnaya Polyana's long season. The best slopes are located on the northern slopes of the Aibga Ridge, with the longest 2.5 miles in length over a 1200m vertical.
However heli-skiing can extend the trail length to nearly 4 miles by continuing up to 3,200 metres above sea level. Heli-skiing, the option favored by Former President Vladimir Putin, can open up a vertical of nearly 7000 feet. The resort was part of a regional bid to stage the 2002 Winter Olympics, losing out to Utah. Paragliding and snowmobiling are also available. Krasnaya Polyana means the Red Glade.
An artificial island for offices and hotels is under construction in the harbor to be built in the shape of the Russian Federation. A new offshore docking facility will take cruise ships with up to 3,000 passengers. The local airport has a new terminal and the runway is to be extended to 2 miles.
Will it or won't it be ready on time? It will. It always is. Even so, the exceptionally difficult financial climate and the Russian stock market crash in 2008 have given reasonable cause to ask questions. However with no debt, their big foreign exchange reserves, and with so much at stake, the Russian government is unlikely to let anything stand in the way of the success of the 2014 games. They are depending on billionaire oligarchs, major government firms, and sponsors.
There are many other opportunities for skiing in Russia and you are invited to visit our OnTheSnow's Russian language Web site for much more information on skiing and riding in Russia. Several Web browsers will translate the information into English or other languages if reading in Russian isn't in your skill set.
(NeigeSki.com associate editor Robert Harneis contributed to this story.)