Rosa Khutor -- The Olympic Mountain

(ATR) Aroung the Rings' Brian Pinelli takes an in-depth look at Rosa Khutor, which could become the world's next great ski destination after its starring role at Sochi 2014.




Boasting an abundance of fun and challenging terrain with its proclivity for huge snowfalls, Rosa Khutor is a true skier’s mountain.

Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort in the Western Caucasus Mountains has broken ground as one of the world's fastest-growing ski resorts while also becoming the largest in Russia.

Developed to host alpine and freestyle skiing, as well as snowboarding – 30 medal events in total – for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Rosa Khutor continues expansion towards 19 high-speed lifts and more than 100 kilometers of trails.

From Rosa Peak, summit elevation 2,320 meters (7,612 feet), skiers and snowboarders can venture along Aibga Ridge with its sweeping views and the Black Sea visible on a clear day. Drop into the massive, above-tree-line bowl below and the real enjoyment begins.

The modern, state-of-the-art resort – which is managed by the French Compagnie des Alpes – offers one of the world’s most extensive snowmaking systems with 404 fixed and 25 mobile snow guns. As a result of the newly developed "Hot Snow" technology, artificial snow can be produced in temperatures as mild as 15 degrees Celsius.

The mountain region’s fickle weather patterns and proximity to the Black Sea, as witnessed in recent winters, can result in not enough snow or sometimes too much.

Avalanche prevention has been a major concern on the rugged mountain, with experts conducting initial studies in 2007 as development of the resort began. In lieu of the use of explosives, 43 huge pipes have been strategically placed on the mountainside, each of which can emit a remote-controlled explosive burst of oxygen and propane to trigger artificial avalanches before potentially deadly ones occur.

Investments for construction of the world-class ski resort are estimated at 69 billion rubles, approximately $2.1 billion.

Rosa Khutor is located 40 kilometers from Sochi and, as of early November, can be reached via Russia Railways, a 30-minute train ride up the Rosa Valley along the Mzymta River.

As recently as 2007, when work began at Rosa Khutor following Sochi’s successful Olympic bid 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 well on its way to becoming a mega-resort.

Navigating Rosa Khutor

To access the mountain from the Krasnaya Polyana base village – the epicenter of the Olympic mountain venues with its recently-finished hotels and new restaurants – take the Olympia gondola, which ascends through 1,673 feet of altitude, passes the alpine Olympic Village, and arrives at the Rosa Plateau adjacent to the expansive Rosa Khutor Mountain Lodge.

After a second gondola ride to the Besedka area, located at an altitude of 4,430 feet, skiers and riders can choose from a variety of meandering 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 in honor of previous Winter Olympic host cities.

To access the summit, take the Kavkazskiy Express, which rises sharply, ascending over jagged cliffs while gaining 3,182 feet in elevation, before arriving at the 7,612-foot Rosa Peak.

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 of the varied expert and intermediate terrain 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 and more than 4,500 feet of vertical skiing can be achieved.

Alpine Racers Explore Rosa Khutor

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."

"There is so much to ski up there," said Biesemeyer’s teammates 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 twists and turns for 2.2 miles. It has four spectacular jumps and offers a staggering vertical drop of over 3,500 feet, slightly more than the venerable Lauberhorn downhill in Wengen, Switzerland. As usual, the highly demanding Olympic course was designed by 1972 Olympic downhill champion Bernhard Russi.

A World Cup test event was contested in February 2012 with rising star Beat Feuz of Switzerland winning the men’s downhill.

"It’s an absolutely beautiful course, a really complete downhill with rolls, jumps, and a lot of turns," Feuz said.

Five-time Olympic medalist Bode Miller also praised the future Olympic track.

"The set-up of this hill is good, the jumps are awesome – they’re huge, as you can see, but they have good steep landings and straight take-offs, so I think it sets up for a great natural downhill," Miller said.

"The reality is that a downhill should be a challenge; it should be dangerous and have risk," he said. "Part of that is carrying speed off terrain and into big turns and jumps. If it doesn’t challenge athletes, then you won’t ever see their best and an Olympic downhill has to be the real thing."

The Future of Rosa Khutor

It is hard to comprehend the frenetic growth and development that has occurred at Rosa Khutor and in the once-sleepy mountain village of Krasnaya Polayana, in preparation for February’s Games.

Future development at Rosa Khutor includes constructing new lifts to access more expert terrain southeast of Rosa Peak and below nearby Kamenny Stolb, a peak which rises 2,509 meters 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 wide array of terrain, snowy slopes and modern infrastructure, one can only surmise if the upcoming worldwide exposure will propel Rosa Khutor to becoming a frequented, world-class ski destination long after the Olympics have departed.

Written byBrian Pinelli

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