Developed to host the alpine, freestyle and snowboard events for the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games, Rosa Khutor can be considered somewhat of a miracle mountain. When work began there following Sochi winning their Olympic bid from the International Olympic Committee in July of 2006, there was not even a paved road to access the future resort. Not a single run or lift existed.
Now, Rosa Khutor is something to marvel.
GOLD MEDAL, SKI RESORT DEVELOPMENT
Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort in the Western Caucasus Mountains has broken ground as one the fastest growing ski resorts to spout up in recent years, while quickly becoming the largest in Russia. The ski area continues expansion toward 19 lifts, nearly 62 miles of trails and has a summit elevation of 7,612 feet. From Rosa Peak, skiers and snowboarders can proceed along Aibga Ridge, with its panoramic views and the Black Sea visible on a clear day.
In 2012–2013, 10 lifts and gondolas were operational, accessing 45 miles of trails. Although closed during the end of January through March due to Olympic freestyle and snowboard test events, it was the third season that Rosa Khutor was open to the public.
The modern, state-of-the-art resort—which is managed by the French Compagnie des Alpes—boasts one of the world’s most expansive snowmaking systems, with 404 fixed and 25 mobile snow guns. Thanks to the newly developed “Hot Snow” technology, artificial snow can be produced in temperatures as mild as 59˚ F.
Undoubtedly, the Russians have developed a world-class ski resort, with its proclivity for big snowfalls and variety of serious terrain. Investments for the construction are estimated at 69 billion rubles or approximately 2.1 billion dollars.
Rosa Khutor Extreme Park Olympic halfpipe.
Copyright: Brian Pinelli
ALL-ACCESS TO THE OLYMPIC GAMES
Rosa Khutor is located 25 miles from the sub-tropical Black Sea resort city of Sochi and can be reached by road and as of late 2013, by railway, a 30-minute ride up the Rosa Valley along the Mzymta River.
To access the mountain from the Krasnaya Polyana village—the heart of the Olympic mountain venues with its recently opened hotels and restaurants—take the Olympia gondola, which rises 1,673 feet, passes the Olympic Athletes Village and arrives at the Rosa Plateau adjacent to the Rosa Khutor Mountain Lodge.
After a second gondola ride to the Besedka area, altitude 4,430 feet, skiers and riders can choose from a variety of sweeping intermediate trails arriving at Rosa Stadium, where the Olympic alpine events filter in from the opposite side or continue onward to Rosa Peak. Trails below Besedka include Nagano 98, Vancouver 10 and Chamonix 24, named after previous Winter Olympics sites.
Hop on the Kavkazskiy Express and the real fun begins. Rosa Khutor’s main gondola offers a mid-lift loading station at Rosa-1600 and ascends over jagged terrain, gaining 3,182 feet in elevation before arriving at the 7,612 Rosa Peak summit.
Visitors can take a break at the summit restaurant for a black tea or Russian pelmeni (minced meat dumplings served with butter and sour cream) or begin their descent via varied expert and intermediate pistes off Aibga Ridge.
From Rosa Peak down to the Rosa Plateau—the main base area for skiing—the vertical drop is 3,773 feet. Descend from Rosa Peak to the eastern edge of the resort at Rosa Stadium for a leg-burning 4,528 feet of vertical.
CATCH A SNEAK PEEK AT SOCHI
Rosa Khutor Aibga Ridge.
Copyright: Brian Pinelli
A HIDDEN GEM… FOR NOW
In February 2013, the United States Ski Team had a sneak peak at Rosa Khutor and the Olympic pistes during a special training camp preparing for the Sochi Games.
“Everybody is completely blown away with what they see here,” said Thomas Biesemeyer of the U.S. Ski Team. “It’s mind blowing what they’ve done in a limited time—the infrastructure, the gondolas, the trails, it’s all pretty amazing.”
Biesemayer added: “This place is unreal—it’s a hidden gem.”
“There is so much to ski up there,” said Biesemeyer’s teammate David Chodounsky. “We found this really cool patch of tree skiing with knee deep snow. It was so much fun.”
The resort, which has been guarded by armed security and soldiers, has frequently been closed to the general public during preparations for the 2014 Games.
The Olympic downhill course at Rosa Khutor runs 2.2 miles in length, has four spectacular large jumps and boasts a staggering vertical drop of more than 3,500 feet, 54 feet more than the venerable Lauberhorn downhill in Wengen, Switzerland.
“It’s an absolutely beautiful course, a really complete downhill with rolls, jumps and a lot of turns,” said Beat Feuz of Switzerland, winner of a World Cup test event prior to the Games.
“It’s a leg-burner for sure and you have to have a lot of willpower,” added Canadian downhill racer Benjamin Thomsen.
Skiers outside Rosa Khutor Mountain Lodge.
Copyright: Brian Pinelli
RUSSIA, THE NEXT SKI DESTINATION?
It was in the 1870s that the first Russians settled in the remote Rosa Valley and Czar Nicholas II built a hunting lodge just outside the village in 1901. However, he never visited his property, and the region was seized by the communist regime in 1917.
The isolated mountain village—only accessible by a one-lane road that was often closed due to avalanches and rock slides—remained inhabited by only peasants and pensioners. A bit of ski culture emerged in the 1960s with locals climbing and picking their way down the mountain through dense forest. However, it wasn’t until the 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, that the first makeshift chairlifts were built.
Today, Russian President Vladmir Putin has made it his personal mission to expose the mega-resort of Rosa Khutor and the sub-tropical coastal resort city of Sochi to the entire world.
Future development at Rosa Khutor includes adding new lifts to access more expert terrain southeast of Rosa Peak and below Kamenny Stolb, a peak which rises 8,231 feet in elevation. Access to steep south side terrain off Aibga Ridge is also in the works. Additionally, further expansion to access all four surrounding mountains above the Krasnaya Polyana village is being explored. All areas are expected be accessible with one lift ticket.
With its abundantly diverse and highly challenging terrain, Rosa Khutor and the once sleepy mountain village of Krasnaya Polayana may be on the verge of being “on the map” when Sochi hosts the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Despite unfamiliar and relatively obscure location, will worldwide Olympic exposure and modern infrastructure transform Rosa Khutor into a bonafide world-class ski destination? It’s up to skiers like you to determine this destiny.