On the May 3rd 2006, an Airbus A320 crashed into the Black Sea four miles from the coast of Adler airport, just outside the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. All 113 people on board were killed as the plane hit the sea at an angle of 60 degrees, with investigators blaming pilot error caused by truly terrible weather.
About ten weeks earlier, myself, James McPhail, Gary Greenshields and Adam Gendle had looked nervously out of the window of our own dilapidated Aeroflot Airbus as it wheezed noisily into the same approach. It had been a scene of chaos since take off in Moscow. Vodka-supping businessmen lay sprawled across rows of folded down seats, while a line of people merrily queued up to take their turn smoking cigs in the toilet. The further towards the back you went, the more the noise from the antique engines increased. As we began to descend, we could see the Black Sea brilliant blue beneath us, with the sprawling twin cities of Sochi and Adler ribboned spectacularly along the coast to our left and the Caucasus mountain range looming in the background. Once the plane came to a halt, we caught a quick bus to the terminal and were greeted by a man with a moustache and a sign saying ‘Lockdown Russia Trip’. He handed me a phone. “Follow the guy with the moustache. He is my father. He is called Ivan. If you need help, call me. I am called Ivan too”. So began our trip to Russia.
After trips to Iran, Lebanon, Japan and Argentina over the last few years, myself and photographer James McPhail find ourselves compelled to keep travelling to the lesser known nooks of the snowboarding world - away from the usual resorts and out into the margins. Never any good at freestyle, I realised as I got older that travelling around the world to lap a funpark twenty times a day held little appeal. It was the chance that dragging a board bag behind us offered to visit parts of the world we wouldn’t ordinarily consider that held the most appeal. The more severe the culture shock, the more we wanted to go. Up the mountain too, we began to prefer the inverted order of things in out-of-the-way places, where antiquated lift systems and underdeveloped resorts are the reality. With snowboarding more popular than ever, and huge crowds of riders lusting after the same precious resource, such conditions become symbolic of a more rewarding kind of riding experience. Our friend James Stentiford, who would also come along on this trip, put it well when he said “… to me snowboarding is about adventure and discovery, getting off the beaten track, finding empty untracked mountains and searching for powder in places most people wouldn't bother to look. After 12 years of snowboard travel I still feel like I've only scratched the surface. Every time I look at the atlas I see new possibilities.” Amen to that.
To reach Krasnaya Poliana, you must fly to Moscow and from there catch a connecting flight to Adler. With the Crimea now part of the Ukraine, Sochi is Russia’s preeminent holiday town, and as we left the airport and were driven to our hotel by the mysterious Ivan’s Dad, we could see signs of the pleasure-seeking vitality that must energise the town during the summer months: shut-up cafes, beachside boardwalks strewn with empty bottles that speak of late-night meetings, and ghostly open-air dancefloors and amusement parks. During the Communist years, Sochi was also the favourite holiday location of Joseph Stalin and the rest of the Soviet elite. He had a holiday home (a dacha to the Russians) in the hills above the city, and would spend weeks here each summer – relaxing, working or entertaining Politburo comrades such as Molotov and Sergo. Stalin would take to the waters in an effort to cure his psoriasis, and entertain his entourage with outdoor pursuits and leisurely Georgian lunches. Favourite activities included nurturing his favourite lemons, shooting hares and leading ‘expeditions into nature’. All this time millions starved across Russia as a result of The Five Year Plan he had implemented in 1928, aimed at industrialising Russia as quickly as possible. Afterwards, I wondered why nobody had mentioned this political anecdote while we were there - although the likeliest explanation is the epic, almost heroic level of disinterest conveyed by the average Russian.
The Prestige Hotel sits 50 metres away from the lapping shore of the Black Sea, 600 kilometres dead straight across from Turkey. On a clear day in the summer, standing on a hill with a good set of binoculars, you can apparently see the coastline shimmering in the distance. As we pulled into the front, a strange iridescent sunlight made the shoreline seem alive, an effect probably caused by the eerie calmness of the sea and our developing jetlag. When you arrive in a new place, it’s usual to feel a sense of dislocation as you struggle to fit in and gauge the rhythm of your new home. It usually only takes a couple of days before the feeling disappears, but in Russia it never really did. If anything the feeling accumulated, like a layer of fine dust, as the week went on. Although we never felt outright hostility, there was an edginess about the place that was hard to ignore. Later in the week, James McPhail put it down to the “hard lives” of the locals, and that first morning we felt extremely self-conscious as we swanned into town with our film cameras, laptop computers and board bags. The first meal at the hotel didn’t exactly help either. With the menu written using the Cyrillic alphabet and us unable to speak Russian, we were reduced to clucking like chickens and mooing like cows in front of the incredulous, giggling waitresses. But then wasn’t this why we were here, to feel uncomfortable in a foreign land?
After a frankly strange breakfast of cheese and bread, potatoes and fish, sweet rice pudding and coffee so strong the grit plugged the gaps in your teeth, Ivan arrived. It was the beginning of our daily routine. Each morning, Ivan and his friend Arken would turn up at 7am and drive the hour’s journey up the mountain. Our route took us from sea level to 700 metres in around 35 kilometres, past the train station that marked the end of the line before Georgia and past the hulking, unfinished airport terminal that had been started eight years ago before building had been curtailed due to lack of funds. Later we heard that construction would begin again within a year in preparation for Sochi’s bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, but for now it sat forlorn, and as the week went on it became a handy local symbol for the chaos of this new Russia. We were paying Ivan 3000 roubles a day to be our guide and driver. At the beginning of the trip we were intimidated by his taciturn Slavic demeanour, tattooed arms and the metal baseball bat he kept in the boot, but as the days passed we realised that his music taste (which was 90% death metal and 10% Jefferson Airplane) was a good reflection of his character: hard exterior, soft inside. A
As we drove past the airport, Ivan told us about the adjacent village, which he described as “an outlaw type place”, where they grow weed “and other things”. During the summer, army and police helicopters buzz the hillsides trying to find the crops. As the road began to climb beyond an ostrich farm, and we passed through the longest road tunnel in Russia, Ivan tried to suss us out - finally coming to the conclusion that we would probably need some looking after. “I’m not trying to scare you, but be careful while you’re here. Don’t flash your money around. It’s not too dangerous, but then it is not like your home. You should remember: you’re in Russia now.”
For a resort that is so difficult to get to, Krasnaya Poliana (literally ‘Red Meadow’) has quite a reputation. A motley hotch-potch of scruffy shacks and dilapidated, unidentifiable blocks, it’s an unlikely-looking boomtown, but that’s exactly what it is. It sits at the frontline of the transition from communism to capitalism that is taking place all across this huge continent. It’s natural resources – insane, easily accessible off-piste, amazing trees and lots of snow – are internationally coveted, but the infrastructure simply cannot cope with the increasing demand. Even the Iranian resorts we’d visited a year earlier seemed to run more smoothly. It took us an hour of queuing and riding the two-seat bucket lifts to reach the foot of the lift at the top – which was shut. So we hiked the last leg, schlepping vertically through the deep snow under the lift until we reached the ridge that curves around above the resort. At last we could see the terrain that had attracted us here in the first place: cornices, chutes, steeps, and another untouched valley further along. I spent the time getting my legs back while Gary and Gendle picked off a couple of smaller lines. Later, we headed down to meet Ivan. He seemed slightly flustered, and drove down to Sochi in about half the time that it had taken us that morning. As the week went on we’d be seeing more of those mercurial mood changes.
Stentiford was at the hotel, so once we’d swapped gossip and books we headed to the local supermarket to stock up on supplies. Supermarkets, Jamesy and myself have long decided, follow the Petrol Station Paradigm. What that means is that you can tell a lot about a country by the set-up of the typical petrol station. It’s an idea that we’ve become slightly obsessed with over the years, dusting it off every now and again to test its validity and even planning a book on the subject. Yes, we’re very interesting. Anyway, on the way we stopped to get fuel, where out theory was given more credence. As he pulled into the forecourt, Ivan turned to us. “Want to change any money?” “What, here?” “Yeah. The guys…” – gesturing to the pump attendants – “…are friends of mine. They change money on the side.” The bulging pockets of the petrol attendants actually held bundles of hooky currency. If that’s not an image that sums up the state of the place, I don’t know what is. Our next stop, the supermarket, was equally revealing. There was hardly any fresh fruit or veg – but the entire first aisle was dedicated to bottles of devilishly strong spirits. Further along, there was a lane given over to imported sweets and chocolate, but most of the other shelves were bare. Our presence drew quite a crowd, and not for the last time this trip, the tempestuous Ivan was doubly prized.
The weird vibe was still very tangible, and we tried to get to the bottom of it as we headed back to the hotel. It’s not an exaggeration to say that everyone we saw, man or woman, seemed hard-faced and frayed around the edges. A lot of it could have been to do with the actual physical construction of the place. The lack of infrastructure seemed to be a theme, and the half-built buildings that were everywhere lent everything an unfinished, sketchy feel. In essence, there was a void where any sense of community would usually be. And there was little evidence of any government or order - apart from “the cops” which Ivan was constantly trying to avoid, and which everyone seemed to be in cahoots against. At the time it reminded me of Lebanon, which had seemed similarly chaotic at first. But over there the incredibly strong bonds of community - a feature of Lebanese society at every level - had soon helped the true spirit of the country reveal itself to us. As I wrote in my notebook that first day in Sochi, “I can’t see that happening here.”
The next day was ‘Man Day’, as Ivan explained. Apparently it’s a national holiday where men get to kick back and be waited on by all the women. Ivan was excited, so there was a good vibe in the car at 7am as we drove up to the resort. It lasted until we saw the queue for the ticket office, which was about five times as long as the one we’d struggled with for an hour yesterday. Quickly a decision was made, and while Stenti went up the hill to get his legs, the rest of us decided to spend the day checking out Sochi. We drove around for about an hour and had a pretty cool day getting more of a feel for the place and doing the sights. Being down by the coast, the most surprising thing was how warm it was. Pretty soon we were down to t-shirts – which was weird knowing James was shredding powder a short hour’s drive away. Later, after we’d been driven around Sochi some more (Ivan wouldn’t let us out of the car, concerned we’d be set upon by hordes of rabid locals. I think he was being a little overly protective), we went to a Georgian restaurant just on the outskirts of town. It was probably the weirdest meal of my life. Firstly there was the restaurant itself. This was a huge, draughty hall with an open fire in the middle and shifty-looking couples dining around tables. For some reason they wouldn’t shut the door, so thick palls of wood smoke continually swept the room, making our eyes stream with tears and ruining the taste of the food. Then there was the karaoke session that was going on. On a stage that formed the centrepiece of the room, a local guy, aged about 16, was absolutely belting out Georgian folk songs. And when I say belting out, I mean to the point that normal conversation was actively difficult. He was seriously giving it everything he had, lost in his own private Pop Idol audition. Even more strangely, despite the fact that the place was deserted, they sat us down right next to the stage and the fire. What with the smoke and the noise, I began to wonder if they were taking the piss. The fact that Ivan didn’t bat an eyelid made me realise that they weren’t. Still, the food – barbecued meats, radishes, bread filled with cheese and garlic; all good hearty stuff – was great and Ivan opened up a bit after a couple of glasses of sweet Georgian wine. He began to tell us something about his life, so I wrote some of it down:
- 26 years old. - Into heavy metal and buying CDs. - Teaches English. - Went to University in Sochi. - Runs cars from Finland into St Petersburg with his mates to make some money. - Tried to get into the UK to work with some friends but couldn’t get a visa after an interview in Moscow. - Has an older sister. - Came back to Sochi to help his Dad run his taxi business, which he likes because it gave him lots of free time. - Travelled round Finland when he was younger and spent his entire time drunk, as they kept feeding him vodka and he felt it was his duty “as a Russian” to prove he could outdrink them all.
Once the meal was finished, Ivan took us outside to look at the captive bear in a cage that the restaurant was keeping as some kind of hideous mascot. It was a fully-grown brown bear they’d caught in the woods, and it had been locked in ever since. This was easily the cruellest thing any of us had ever seen, and suddenly the gulf between ourselves and Ivan, which had narrowed during the meal, seemed wider than ever. It’s difficult to describe the filth in the cage, and the state of the bear itself was almost unbelievably poignant as it shuffled around, unable to meet anyone’s eye. For a while we stood there and watched it in silence. They couldn’t let it go, explained Ivan, cos it wouldn’t know how to survive. And so it has to sit there outside the restaurant, a forlorn talisman shaming the place. I thought of how the brown bear is the traditional symbol of Russia, and of how the pathetic sight in front of us was yet another shabby metaphor in a country full of them, before trying to drive the fatuous thought from my mind. But I couldn’t really help it. I think we all went to bed a little gutted that night.
The next day the trip came alive in terms of the snowboarding. Stentiford led the way, and we hiked and rode all day. For large parts of it I was out of my comfort zone – particularly as it was only my second day riding that season. But it turned into one of the most memorable days riding I’ve ever had. Krasnaya’s incredible terrain helps to explain why so many people make the trip to this tiny, out-of-the-way Russian resort. It is a serious mountain with serious dangers, but the scope for exploration – and the rewards for those with enough experience to handle it - are limitless. At the moment, that venerable lift system means much of the best terrain can only be accessed by hiking, but this makes the riding all the more rewarding. The top lift accesses a wealth of chutes, spines and steeps, while further down the sparse trees that make up the higher lift line mean the resort stays good during bad weather. We spent much of our time working the ridge, taking advantage of the wealth of tight chutes and steep terrain. As it gets tracked out, it’s possible to access the next valley along, picking off lines as you find them before hiking back into Krasnaya, but this is really only for the extremely confident. I don’t count myself in this category, because hiking out of this valley - straight up a steep, icy couloir back up onto the ridge, scrambling over rocks and grass at the top - is about as scared as I’ve been snowboarding for a long time, although the others didn’t seem that phased. Later we hiked up the ridge one final time and were rewarded with a couple of amazing powder runs as the sun went down, and I had a real “We’re in Russia. In the mountains. On our own!” moment. My legs were in rags, but it had been an amazing twelve-hour day.
That day and on others, we saw further signs of Krasnaya’s encroaching popularity. There was meeting Snowboard UK photographer Dan Milner and riders Jess Venables and Andrea Binning at the top of the ridge (where we heard Dan’s story of getting arrested for air rage on the flight to Sochi, and of how the girls had to bail him out with the airport police). Then there were the Aussie and Kiwi lads we met in the mountain restaurant on the third day, who knew our mutual friends Marcus Chapman and Tom Willmott and recognised us from Snow Park the summer before. I asked them what they thought about Russia: “Well mate, it makes you realise how good you’ve got it when you come to a shithole like this!” His friend wasn’t quite so harsh. “Yeah mate. But when you’ve been home for a while it won’t seem so bad here”.
Later, in the Munchhausen Coffee Shop at the base, we met Tom Rawlins, an Englishman who’s been living in Russia for the past 16 years. In every remote, up-and-coming place you can visit around the world, you’ll find somebody like Tom: in at the ground floor with plans to make a fortune out of the boom that is surely on the way. Tom’s the guy who had the idea you wish you’d had when you turn up three years later and think “Imagine if I’d have bought a place round here about five years ago!?” All going well, his plans to sell real estate here should make him a rich man. Luckily for me Tom is also an authority on everything local, as his Russian-flecked English accent attests, and over a coffee he was able to answer some of the questions that had been exercising James and myself over the few days we’d been in the resort.
You’re English yeah? So how long have you been here? I’ve been in Russia for 16 years and I’ve been living here permanently for more than a year.
How did you hear about Krasnaya? I’ve been skiing all over Russia and coming here for the last seven or eight years. I’ve been coming here all the time because it’s so good. So I decided to stay.
What changes have you noticed in that time with the resort and the popularity of the place? It’s just booming. The snow is the best snow you can get here for powder. There aren’t many people at the moment. There are going to be a lot more. And because Sochi has made an official bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics at the federal level, you’ve got a lot of money being allocated into developing the resort. Within the next two years I think there are going to be at least a dozen brand new lifts going in all around the resort and it’s just exploding.
Who’s responsible for that? Who’s paying? The existing ski lift you’ve got here was put in by a great guy in about ‘91 I think. He did it all himself – he came here with only 200 dollars in his pocket and he managed to get the whole thing going. He’s a great guy. The rest of it you’ve got GasProm, the Russian Gas Company who are building a new resort, you’ve got Potanin, one of the Russian oligarchs, he’s building a new resort in Rusahuta, just in the next valley area over that little ridge. Is it mainly private investors? The pioneer here was a private investor; the rest of it really is government investors. ‘Oligarch’ really means government investment.
And what about the Winter Olympics? From our perspective, coming from the Alps, Sochi’s bid to host the Games in 2014 seems beyond implausible. I mean, what about that white elephant of an airport terminal and the chaotic lift system we’ve been using up the mountain each day? As far as we’re aware, the Russian Prime Minister Flakov has just allocated 120 billion roubles - about 9 billion Euros - for the development of the whole Sochi area, including all the mountain resorts. So if you see the way that Moscow developed over the last ten years, if somebody puts there mind to it at the federal level, and they have the money to do it, then within five years you’ll see the place completely change. The property prices, for instance, are doubling every year at the moment.
And how about the popularity of the resort? Have you seen it change since you’ve been coming here? Has there been a massive increase in the number of Westerners coming over here in the last five years? Well, there are a lot coming here, but the main problem for Westerners at the moment is that you don’t have an international airport here. But the way things are looking, it’s likely that within two years there will be an international airport opened up here. What’s going on with the terminal? As far as we hear in the village, they’ve already been given the money to make the runway up to international standard. And the next step is to bring the new airport up to date – you can see it when you drive in. It was frozen at the time that Russia went through its first crisis. But now they seem to be putting it back together. So hopefully you’ll have flights directly from Chamonix to Krasnaya Poliana soon. It’ll be fantastic.
How do you see the resort coping with the demand? At the minute you’re positive that it’s going to grow a lot, but it already seems to be struggling. Has it always been like that? I think that it’s just reached a peak at the moment. Obviously the existing lifts have reached their limit – they’re old Russian lifts – but by next winter you’ll have a lot of new lifts going up, gondolas going everywhere. So I think they’ll easily be able to cope with the amount of people coming in.
How is it living here? It’s great. In the winter I ski and ski, and in the summer it’s walking and mountain biking. It’s great here. There are actually more people here in the summer than in the winter. And there’s a yacht club 40 minutes away. So in the summer it’s fantastic, sometimes you can ski in the spring, and then in the afternoon you can take a yacht. It’s a great time.
And what about your pub? There are only two English people living here at the moment in resort, myself and James. And we’re designing a pub at the moment with our own micro brewery, cos at the moment you can’t really get decent British beer here. You just get all the lager stuff here, which isn’t really what we want.
Is that difficult to get off the ground? Is there a lot of red tape? As soon as you speak the language, everything here becomes very transparent and open. You understand what’s going on. Without the language it’s pretty difficult. But I think our pub will be ready by the end of 2007. That’s what we’re hoping. We want to get the CAMRA organisation over here for the opening.
It was good to speak to Tom about Krasnaya, but I couldn’t help wondering if he was just tilting at windmills, like the organisers who hope Sochi will host the 2014 Olympics. Still, the idea that East London will be ready for the Olympics within eight years probably makes the locals there piss themselves with laughter at the moment. Maybe Tom has it right. One thing is for sure: the secret is out about Krasnaya. How it develops from here is impossible to say, but it’s going to be interesting.
Our last day in the resort was an object lesson in why you should go up the hill anyway, no matter how bad the weather is. It was absolutely hammering it down with rain. There was another huge queue. The thought of sitting on those antique lifts getting drenched wasn’t appealing. But then we all bought plastic ponchos for a quid each, got into them and went up anyway. The top lift was closed so Stentiford and myself lapped the lower one through the trees. Here the snow was wet and heavy, but it was still fresh so it was great fun, as well as being yet more proof of the versatility of the place. We stopped for lunch at the restaurants and ate more of the pancakes we adopted as official trip food, before I decided to go off on my own for a quick lap. Bad move – as the chair came through the trees it suddenly stopped and I ended up stuck on it for 45 minutes with some Russian guy. I asked my new friend what was going on. “No diesel! No electricity. You’re in Russia! Ha ha ha!” The worst part was the eerie silence, broken only by the distant sound of whistles as the lifties communicated and tried to get the thing working again. Just as I was planning my escape route and wondering if my legs could take the drop to the ground, it groaned into life and glided up the hill again. I’ve never been so glad to get off a chairlift in my life.
Just before heading down we slipped off the side of the piste to shoot some more pictures. It took about an hour in the drizzle, and by the end we were all freezing. Faced with a hike up or a traverse, we decided to traverse - even though we had no idea where we were going. Inevitably we got hopelessly lost, and after an hour of tramping around we seriously began to discuss digging a snowhole and getting a fire going. We knew we were probably only a few hundred metres from the piste but in the thick trees and bad light it was extremely disorientating. In the end we had a conference and decided to hike back up to the chunk of piste we guessed must be behind us, and blundered upon a snowmobile track that led us back to the resort. This good, scary experience was pretty much the perfect last run of the trip, even though it could have got worse pretty quickly.
On our last drive down from Krasnaya Poliana to Sochi, the mood was mellow, and it was good to realise that the divide caused by the language barrier had been eroded. That, or it could have been the local moonshine we sampled at the roadside stand Ivan took us to. It was absolute rocket fuel, as was the Georgian red wine (Stalin’s favourite, apparently). We spent an hour trying various spirits and unguents, like the bee’s milk Ivan told us was “… good for everything – heart, lungs, liver, dick, everything!” He laughed loud and long, the first time we’d actually heard him properly laugh. On the drive down, with us all half cut from the vodka and wine, he became expansive and told us more stories about his time as an exchange student in Sweden. It was the first time there’d been a properly relaxed atmosphere in the car, and it was good to get yet more confirmation that people are basically the same wherever you go in the world. In this case the lack of a common language or culture had made it a little trickier and enforced the mutual suspicion we’d all felt since the first day. But we got there in the end. Even the news that Ivan’s Dad had been fined and had his license taken from him didn’t dent the bonhomie. Apparently he’d crossed the white line in the centre of the road. “They have to catch five a day,” said Ivan, “But my uncle is high up in the police and will make it OK.”
The Caucasus leg of our trip was at an end, and we began to prepare ourselves for our two nights in Moscow. Planes fly from place to place, take off in one culture and land in another. Take off, nervous, in London, and land, intimidated, in Moscow. On the way out of Moscow we’d had our first taste of the corruption that seems to be endemic in Russian life when the check-in guy at the airport had made us slip him $100 in our passports to make sure our bags got to Sochi on the same flight that we were on. In Sochi, all we’d heard since was to prepare ourselves for how corrupt Moscow is. I was glad we were due to meet two friends-of-friends: Nick, a skate photographer, and a local Red Bull marketing guy called Fjodr. Our friend Kat at Red Bull in London had arranged for them to show us around the city for two nights and my God, I’m glad she did. Two complete strangers taking two days out of their busy lives to show a group of people they’ve never met around one of the biggest cities in the world? You wouldn’t get that in London. As you might imagine, Moscow has that feel that all the name cities of the world have, to the extent that it’s almost like a living organism where history, architecture, culture and the lives of the inhabitants combine, rather than a collection of concrete and stone buildings. We were staying in the perfect hotel as well – The Komet, complete with shady-looking military types in the lobby, dubious drilled holes in the wall and a pervasive stench of stale cig smoke. In any other circumstances we’d never have stayed there, but Fjodr had booked it and told us we’d never get in a proper hotel without paying through the nose. Yes, that undercurrent of corruption as well. Still, it didn’t really matter as we were hardly there. Instead we spent most of the days on a whirlwind tour of the sights. We froze on Red Square, spent time on the Metro (just to travel on the world’s most beautiful underground) checked out the Arbat - Moscow’s equivalent of Carnaby Street - and got hideously pissed at this supposedly exclusive ‘extreme sports bar’ underneath the Kremlin. You have to be a member, and to gain entry have to have your thumbprint scanned. Fjodr, who had just been made a member, was understandably as proud as punch that he was able to get us in there. We didn’t have the heart to tell him that almost everyone we know who’d been to Moscow had also ended up in there, blagged in by similarly helpful Russian locals.
Just before we left for the aiport, we had a conversation with the incredibly mellow Nick that pointed the way for next year. Nick is an Uzbek and dropped into conversation the fact that this landlocked dictatorship, backed up against the Urals, also has ski resorts. Myself and Jamesy exchanged glances but didn’t really think much of it until I got an email from Nick a few months later:
On 26 Jul 2006, at 10:50, Nick Ivanov wrote:
Matt, here is some info. A flight from Moscow and back is about 350$. There are two ways of living out there. You can stay at a good hotel in Tashkent, "Chervak" for around 25$ for night with 3 meals. The way to mt. Chimgan will take around 20 min car ride. Or you can stay near mt. Chimgan at some small houses for around 7$ per night without food included. There are 2 mountains mt. Chimgan and mt. Beldersai. The best time to go there is the end of january and the begining of February. But the worst point is that the weather changes very quickly. Our filming crew was waiting for the filming weather for 3 weeks there. There was a lot of snow, but no sun to film. But they had great time riding :)) When the snostorm anded and sun appered, all the snow melted. But if you catch the weather, u'll have some great experience for sure! I got some contact if you need some heliboarding , i can ask how much it'll cost and so... Anything more you need to know? I'm glad to help you, and hope joining you on this trip.
Uzbekistan? Why not…