You can read all about the pre journey preparation here, including what to take, how to deal with Visas and more.
Luzhba Ski Tour Lodge, the journey
So after all the hassle of Visa's and travel was it worth the long trip to Siberia ?
Well actually the hassle continued, impacting our team massively, namely our guide Per advised us two days before departure that his passport had gone missing after he sent it to the Visa Office in Marseilles and even though it was sent recorded delivery it had disappeared!
So there we were off to Siberia Ski Touring with no guide!
Fortunately Per had subsequently arranged that Dima the local guide based at the lodge would guide us for the week.
So we were on our way, we'd booked flights with Aeroflot as our baggage (hopefully) would be transferred all the way from London Heathrow to Abakan, as opposed to having to collect it in Moscow and check it in again.
However for one of our Team, on arrival at Aeroflot check in (where the girl had never heard of Abakan, our final destination) the ABS caused a lot of consternation even though he had all the right documentation. After various phone calls he was told just to put the cannister and trigger in the hold, however on arrival at the gate for boarding he was informed that was not the case and that he had to retrieve the trigger and cannister and leave it in London!
Flight to Moscow was circa 5 hours and you travel across three time zones, then we had to get to the domestic terminal which was reasonably easy where we had to wait for three hours for the flight to Abakan.
Be warned that you should turn your roaming data off as soon as you leave the UK, as if you have it on when landing in Russia and download some emails / Social Media you'll be in for a nasty shock as one MB is £7.50!
WiFi is good in the terminal however.
As for timings, we took off in London at 13:30 arrived 5 hours later at 21:00 local time, our flight to Abakan was to leave at 12:05 and another 5 hours but this time across 4 time zones so we'd arrive at 09:00 basically losing the night.
At Abakan we were met and, having collected the gear, which had all safely arrived, it was a quick breakfast before a 3.5 hours drive with snow progressively becoming more prevalent with the last 60km on snow laden roads to where the road finally finished at Biskamzha, and it was here where our Siberian experience really kicked off.
We did not know prior to arriving that the trains are the arteries and lifeblood of the region, and where we were going they are the only way to get there as there are no roads that can be used in the winter months and even in the summer the trails are really only accessible by substantial 4x4 trucks.
The snow in Biskamzha was around 30cm and this is where we met Dima for the first time who told us that in Luzhba it was more like 60cm+.
Dima spoke great English having worked in British Columbia, Canada where he was studying the Adventure Guide Diploma. He was born in a small Siberian village and having grown up there, the local woods and mountains were literally his playground.
Prior to journeying out to Siberia, like manyI was Googling for videos and travel reports, and came across the North Face The Great Siberian Traverse - at 21:30 into the film the team come across a local making the most basic of skis for travelling the terrain in Siberia. At the time I did think it was maybe just set up for the filming and that people would never ski on them but that they would adorn the wall as decorations.
The train frequently halted en route at stops that were no more than a shed with a few locals getting on and off, and as it was a Saturday some of them were carrying fishing gear and just as we were about 15km from Luzhba (I was using my InReach) the train stopped again for three or four guys to get on board wearing winter army combat / camouflage clothing and carrying similar skis.
I was sort of blown away on seeing these, and asked Dima to see if the guys would not object to me having a closer look and taking some pictures.
All the locals wear what is in essence a Wellington boot but with a substantial sole rather than what we were all wearing, variations on technical hiking/climbing boots and what was essentially the binding allowed for the use of the 'Wellington' along with a bit of tyre glued to the ski acting as a grip for the boot.
The underneath of the ski had fur skins glued to the ski and the ski width was circa 125mm.
And over the course of our stay we would see other locals with the same setup.
Another question a few of us had was the exact location of Luzhba and the lodge as we had been using Google Earth to determine where we would be staying and how indeed we were to cross the river from the railway track where there was no obvious bridge over the wide river. Though we rightly surmised that the river would be frozen and that we'd simply walk across it.
Over the course of the week we'd go across that river a fair few times and as you can see the track did melt!
I think we finally arrived at the Lodge after the walk from the train station at 16:00 with our gear being taken by snow-mobile and having quickly unpacked it was soup time!
Then I seem to recall, as by then my brain was a tad fuzzled, we had dinner at 20:00 and were told about timings and logistics for the following day.
Travelling with us and staying in the Lodge were two other groups of Swiss Germans and their guides.
Luzhba Ski Tour Lodge, the skiing
We had breakfast at 08:00 and were able to fill flasks up and make sort of pancake wraps with cheese and salami for picnic lunch along with a great selection of bars and mixed bags of raisins, nuts and Smarties/ M&Ms.
We left the Lodge at 09:00 and climbed up through some of the summer huts into the forest.
That first day the climbs were not long but we did five totalling just over a 1,000m vertical, so a lot of transitions and good in that all equipment performed well given the cold temps the first day, which started off around minus 15 and rose to a mild minus 10.
The snow was super cold and you know it's great powder when you can see the light fairy dust hanging in the air still after a couple of turns.
I was quite surprised at how there were some good open stretches between the trees and at no time ever were we in combat ski mode*
Next day we skied in another sector - around the Luzhba Ski Tour Lodge. Over the years they have carefully GPS tracked the routes within various areas and many of the sectors have Canadian styled names such as Sunny Pass and Powder Pass.
Over the course of the week Dima consistently found us quality untracked descents.
Most days we skinned 1.5km having crossed the river along the railway track before starting the climb, and we usually did one climb of circa 650m followed by another of 300-400m.
And bear in mind that we were climbing from 350m to 1,050 max.
Dima had to work hard cutting the skin track through the forest in 100cm of fresh powder, and prior to descending a steep open bowl he dug a snow pit to determine the snow pack, and he was always conscious of the snow pack even though we were skiing in a forest, which I more than others maybe appreciated having been caught in a slide only a couple of years ago while skiing 'safe' trees!
He also deliberately set a very slow pace, given the experience of the group at circa 300m per hour, this was to avoid sweating in such cold temps, which when transitioning would result in you quickly getting cold.
In fact, we were fortunate to never really experience uber cold Siberian temperatures during our stay in Luzhba, by the end of the week it was only minus 5 or so.
The skiing was as one would hope for, cold smoking powder and/or various adjectives.
As one would say a picture paints a thousand words, so this video pretty well is a book!
I should add that life in Luzhba revolves around the railway, it's the only way people / supplies etc get in and out and most days we skinned alongside the track. The start of the tannoy announcement was always three distinct tones and I deduced that it sounded like the theme from The Saint TV series and then a bit more Googling and I found the chords. The goods train takes nigh on 100 secs to go past and is made up of nigh on 70 trucks, known as the Siberian Snakes - but don't worry I speeded it up.
By the end of the week we'd climbed circa 7,000m encompassing some 30+ transitions!
As for the actual gear I took / wore, as ever you bring loads and then end up using the same kit more or less.
Like I previously said, temps were not uber cold, and were pretty consistent.
I actually wore the same Icebreaker 200 Bodyfit Zone base layer set for the whole week, which is a notch up from my usual Icebreaker layers with more panels for temperature control management, anmd at then end of the trip, you'd be hard pressed to smell that I'd been wearing it all the week.
And as usual for Icebreaker Merino socks I took three pairs, wore two, and on return to home could not smell which out of the three I'd used so had to wash all of them :)
Rest of the gear was the usual mix of layering with shells, discarding and packing away layers when climbing and snack breaks quickly throwing on a down jacket and, come the descent, just making sure all pockets and vented zips were closed, and goggles were ok due to the ensuing faceshots.
I managed with a 25lt back pack, though maybe 30lt plus would be better suited if you were / are paranoid about packing spare pair of goggles, gloves, additional layers, hats and large thermos plus extra jacket and the like.
My non-touring Black Crows Atris 108 skis were totally well-suited for the terrain and relatively short climbs and I'm glad I opted for a more downhill orientated forest ski than an all out lightweight touring ski.
Luzhba Ski Tour Lodge, the social side of things
Our group had actually been put together by Per, our guide who never made the trip.
He knew that we'd all gel on even though most of us had never skied together before.
We were two Brits and four Swedes. One father and son, of whom the son had never ski toured before, but he was a solid young athlete and strong skier so the non technical touring was never really going to be an issue (except for one kick turn, see video below), and he did suffer from some major blister problems.
Our group was also joined by a great couple, a guide from Martigny Orsières and his wife and he was almost on a busman's holiday.
After returning from skiing a wholesome soup was served up at 16:00 then it was Banya time where the Scandis thought it was highly amusing to try and beat the Brits into submission by ever increasing the heat of the sauna to Sauna World Championship levels, then it was the roll in the snow to cool down.
After that it was dinner at 20:00.
I should add that if you rely and can't live without surfing web pages then be warned connectivity at the Luzhba Ski Tour lodge is on a par with 14.4k modem days, and you can just about WhatsApp and Facebook but anything else is nigh on impossible.
As a finale here is a nice video put together by Lola, wife of Stefan the Swiss Guide.
*Combat Skiing = fighting bushes and trees that are so close together your path is almost blocked
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