Skitouring in Siberia is an event that can completely overturn every notion about ski tours and backcountry. This is due to the early start of the season, and the amount and quality of the snow –– people come to Siberia for the powder, which is at least waist-high.
Siberia is of course vast, and we are only going to talk about one place – Luzhba – a village located on the border of Kemerovo Region and the Republic of Khakassia. Nonetheless, most of the recommendations apply to ski tours throughout the region.
Description of the region
The climate is continental: the winter is long and cold with frosts down to -45°C, and the summer is short but warm. In winter there are sharp fluctuations in temperature over the 24-hour period. For example, in the morning it can be -2°C and in the evening already as low as -30°C. The first snowfalls begin in October, and in November the snow cover is already stable. By December, the depth of the snow cover is 2-3 meters. The ski tour season traditionally begins at the end of November and can last until the end of March, but the most favorable period is December: according to statistics, this is the time that the greatest amount of snowfalls, and the temperatures are relatively comfortable for ski tours (in January it gets significantly colder – as low as -40°C).
The snow in Luzhba is almost always powder. The skiing area is a forest that completely shelters the snow from wind. Hard frosts and weak sunshine prevent the snow from melting and forming sun crusts. Frequent snowfalls constantly replenish the skiing area. A meter of snowfall during the night is not unusual. Snow often falls at temperatures of -10 – 20°C.
The altitude of Luzhba station is 350 meters above sea level, and the nearby peaks are a little over 1000 meters. As such, there is no need for acclimatization since the body is ready for such heights and can work to the maximum. Climbing the mountains is only possible by ski tour, which makes the region inaccessible to most people; the slopes work out to be ten times slower than those nearer the resorts.
The inaccessibility of the area as a whole also plays its part. In winter the roads are simply nonexistent. The only way to get to Luzhba is by rail. The railway station and residential buildings are located on opposite sides of the River Tom. During the summer a river crossing is organized, while in winter the water freezes and the passage is possible over the ice.
Specific features of ski touring in Luzhba
Since the snow here is almost always light powder, the main requirement for free riders is the ability to ski or snowboard in deep snow.
The average vertical drop of one descent is 250-350 meters. Since this is a forested area, the terrain is extremely diverse and interesting: forest glades featuring all kinds of drops, couloirs, and ridge routes: simply fun forest lines. On average, one climb takes no more than two hours – of course, provided that there has not been a meter and a half of snowfall and the path has not been completely covered with snow. But this is not a problem either: it’s much more important to be able to ski well, and it’s not at all difficult to ski tour here.
It is possible to make 3-5 descents in a day. Owing to a large number of runs, you don’t get the feeling you’re spending the whole day just for the sake of one line. Almost all lines have a gradient of 25°-35 ° since the amount of snow makes lesser gradients almost impossible to ski.
Preparing for ski touring in Siberia
The success of the event as a whole depends very much on the preparations made. It is extremely important to pay attention to the following points:
- The equipment. This must be for powder. For skis this means a waist of 115-120 mm, while split boards should also be for powder. The best configuration is a camber with a large rocker on the nose.
- Clothing. The morning temperature when leaving the cabin can be -35°C, and after an hour it can rise to -10°C, so it is very important to dress in layers and during the course of the day to take them off or put them on again. The best options for Siberia are thermal underwear, Primaloft jackets, down jackets, and membrane jackets. If possible, it is worth taking two PrimaLoft jackets.
- Skins. They should be as sticky as possible (BlackDiamond are recommended as being the best) and be fixed on the nose and tail of the skis. Unfortunately, not all skins work well in extreme cold.
Specific features of daily life and organizational issues
How long does it take to get from Novokuznetsk to Luzhba?
A total of three hours each way. The regional train from Novokuznetsk departs at 5:30 am. It is best to be at the train station in plenty of time. At Mezhdurechensk you need to change trains. The return train from Luzhba leaves at about 15:30.
Where to buy food?
All food is bought in Novokuznetsk and transported by train, then delivered by snowmobile. There are no shops in Luzhba! There is a cafe that serves beer and other alcoholic beverages, but all this can also be bought in advance.
Where to change money?
The last point where money can be exchanged is in Novokuznetsk.
What else should be done in Novokuznetsk?
This is the last point of available civilization. Please note that there is no pharmacy in Luzhba, so any medicinal requirements should be taken into consideration while still in the city. We also recommend buying spare batteries for transmitters and flashlights.
Is there electricity, mobile coverage and internet in Luzhba?
There is a constant supply of electricity and telephone service. Internet coverage is 3G by Megafon.
What about heating?
Just like in a village cabin there is a coal and wood-burning stove, which you need to stoke up with wood from time to time. We recommend taking a sleeping bag with you (the house is heated, but it can be chilly in the morning). Everyday things for living in the house will also be very useful.
The water supply in Luzhbe is a mountain stream:) There is no bathroom or shower, but there is a real traditional Russian steam bath, which is a great pleasure to relax in after skiing.
What to do in the event of broken equipment?
You should count on the repair kit you take with you (a minimum set of spare parts). Attention splitboarders! The straps of snowboard bindings may break under hard frosts. We recommend taking spares. Several guide companies work in Luzhba – in the event of equipment issues, whenever possible these companies come to the rescue of each other; in addition, the guides always carry group repair kits, but it is very important for individuals to take care of and service their own personal equipment in advance.
What language do the locals speak?
The people who live here are ethnic Russians and Shorians. There are a few housekeepers, who can only speak Russian. They help with the delivery of goods, in domestic matters and maintain general order in the area. The only people who speak English are the tour guides who come here with groups.
We invite all amateurs and professionals to open the season with our team in Siberia (Luzhba) in November 2021. Our professional, certified guides will accompany you throughout the trip, taking on all the organizational duties and helping you out with everyday issues, and during the week they will take you on the most scenic routes, showing you all the most interesting lines of descent that are not so easy to find on the wooded slopes of Luzhba.