Ski Touring in Siberia, an Adventure in the Land of Cold and Powder

Andrew LyleFebruary 13, 2019

Siberia has always been associated with natural mystery and winter intensity, so it should come as no surprise that it is an alluring destination for skiers and powder hounds across the globe. Located in Northern Asia and known for its remote and expansive terrain, its numerous mountain ranges, including the Khamar-Daban and Altai Mountains, offer a plethora of skiable terrain across a never-ending landscape of snow.

The entirety of Siberia is staggering. It stretches from the Arctic Ocean in the north to Kazakhstan and the borders with China and Mongolia, covering about 30% of the entire Russian landscape. What it lacks in population it makes up for in land size; there are 3.8 people per square kilometer across the entire region.

Logistically speaking, Siberia is defined by its isolation. The sheer size makes checking Russian snow cams a futile task. There is not a bastion of five-star hotels waiting to serve you after a day on the mountains in one of the roughly 4.36 million square kilometers of the region. The effortless access that skiers enjoy in the Alps, Rockies, or even the Andes is slightly different, combining air, rail, bus, and boat to shuttle intrepid ski touring athletes into the exhilarating backcountry of uncivilized Siberia.

 

Tall, snow-covered trees reaching into the Siberian sky. Photo courtesy of Jean Annequin.

This is the type of location IFMGA-certified and Chamonix-based guide Jean Annequin looks for when organizing trips to various corners of the Earth. For more than 25 years, he has been creating and leading groups to isolated regions like Antarctica, Alaska, Greenland, Argentina, and, of course, Russia. Siberia is one of the wildest places he has fallen in love with in terms of ski conditions and scenic beauty.

With ski trips, climbing expeditions, and a whole range of other adventures under his belt, Jean always saves a few of his favorite Siberian spots to share on the unique programs he creates. He tries to impart the profound feelings of freedom and independence to his clients when ski touring in a vast and open landscape like this, sharing the excitement and showing them what comes with the territory.

If you are looking to dive head first into one of the most remarkable wilderness areas in the entire world and ski tour through the snowy wonderland of Central Russia, check out the programs here, grab a guide, and head into North Asia and the heart of Siberia!

 

3 Reasons Why you Should Go Ski Touring in Siberia

Big Terrain

 

The most glaring perk of having so much land is the amount of incredible possible ski objectives. In the southern parts of the region, lush greenery covers the land, notably the evergreen forests of Luzhba, accompanied by captivating lakes, including what is considered the world’s deepest lake, Lake Baikal. The southwest region of Siberia eve has the Ukok Plateau, an elevated grassland and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Average low temperatures dip below freezing from October all the way through April, placing a crisp and clean atmosphere over the terrain. The conditions are volatile, which means winter can arrive after a brief autumn or it can build up to a December storm. While this can produce idyllic snowy conditions for skiing, it also means that you should be prepared for anything the terrain and climate can throw at you.

 

Amazing runs in heavy powder snow! Photo courtesy of Jean Annequin.

Jean considers the short spring and fall seasons when planning his expeditions into the winter wonderland of Siberia. The mountains are high enough for guaranteed snowpack and long descents, including dense tree skiing, steep lines – at time exceeding 45 and 50 degrees, and narrow chutes and cutbacks. Forests for as far as the eye can see with long descents to match are the norm. Even the snowfall is epic, with a heavy powder arriving as early as November and lasting well into spring.


Ski touring at Lake Baikal is the perfect mix of aesthetic beauty and snow sport intrigue!


Remote Scenery

 

The combination of a beautiful setting and not having anyone else around to spoil it is a dream come true. For skiers, this is the only way to enjoy Siberia. Many locations in the region take multiple days to reach, and include a variety of transportation methods, including “raft.” The best places for pockets of powder won’t have top level accommodations, but they will have small wooden huts with fundamental necessities – they only add to the charm of the trip.

Jean believes the magic comes from the immensity of the wilderness and sharing the moments back at the huts with friends – reliving the -25 degree days with laughter in 25 degree cabins. The serenity from watching snow fall upon the Siberian taiga is mesmerizing, as is knowing it is snow that only you will get to ski. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that is shared with nature and nature alone, giving you a distraction-free ski trip as immense and intense as you’d like it to be.

 

A rope bridge guides Jean and his crew to their destination. Photo courtesy of Jean Annequin.

And snow it does! It is even possible for a meter of snow to fall within 24 hours. All of this isolation only ensures the presence of deep, fresh powder. During the winter, it can snow for more than 25 days in some areas. The lack of humidity in most parts of Siberia also encourages the pack of light, dry powder, and on sunny days, corn snow can develop and warm the air for premium ski conditions. Having a competent and certified guide is a surefire way to find the best pockets of snow.

Cultural Tour

 

Siberia can’t help but invite you to immerse yourself in its culture. When you spend two days flying, riding, and floating to the pristine peaks of prime powder, it’s almost like a religious experience. Jean Annequin recalls meeting a trapper on one of his excursions who decorated his skis with furs. Moments like this add to the joy of skiing in a region defined by its nature, without lines and crowds.

The immersion into the terrain is all part of the fun. The area surrounding Lake Baikal is mountainous and rugged with a plethora of intriguing trails to explore in the snow. Quaint churches can be found in some of the most unlikely places, complete with compelling architecture. Rope bridges and wooden walkways help guide skiers to their destination when they aren’t skinning up and skiing out from valley to valley.

 

Photo courtesy of Jean Annequin.

Jean believes that the most captivating aspect of ski touring in Siberia is the forest. It is the guardian of the trip, helping to guide each skier to choose their line and drop into their run. He says the summits are reserved for the clear days when you can look out at the untouched scenery below and take in the Siberian landscape – the immaculate and unadulterated landscape that offers everything it can to the daring skiers in its midst.


Check out the best spots for freeride skiing and ski touring in Russia!


What to Expect From This Ski Touring Experience

 

Ski touring in Siberia is a challenging and unique adventure for even the most advanced athletes. Skiers who like the remote enchantments, relentless terrain, and cultural appeal of a wilderness trip into the heart of snowy Russia will all thoroughly enjoy a trip to Siberia. Here are a few features you should consider and expect on a ski touring trip to Siberia.

 

  • Go with a knowledgeable, certified guide

Joining a certified local or seasoned ski touring expert is the best way to have a memorable experience. A guide knows how to maneuver in difficult terrain, how to execute safety protocol and procedures, and how to make sure you have a great time. They can offer valuable insight to improve your skiing and help you develop your techniques. You can even learn about the environment you are skiing in while having a blast.

 

  • Multiple days to arrive at your destination

The most remote areas take the most time to reach, but they are also the most rewarding parts. Make sure you plan for a few days at the beginning and end of your trip to arrive and depart safely and comfortably.

 

Family-style dinner in the comfort of a rustic lodge. Photo courtesy of Jean Annequin.
  • Developing infrastructure

To get to the best areas of quality snow, you will be relying on your guide to show you the way. This may include floating across a river, boat rides, and bus travel. These unorthodox methods of transit may be a far cry from Chamonix cable cars and Blackcomb gondolas. Be patient with the experience and embrace its simplicity – it is part of the Siberian charm.

 

  • Challenging obstacles and objectives

While it is a personal experience that can be appreciated at different speeds and difficulties, a general understanding and proficiency of backcountry terrain is required. Intermediate to advanced skiers are best suited for Siberian ski touring. Those athletes with the mental fortitude and physical fitness to withstand a week (or more) exploring unknown terrain and challenges will have a great time.

You can expect to enjoy tree skiing near the shores of Lake Baikal (and of course throughout Siberia), steep bowls around Mamay Valley, 40-degree lines in Luzhba, steep ridges in the Altai.  There will also be enough snow to make the Kremlin blush.

 

  • Unbridled scenery and mountain views

The most important part of the trip is the Russian landscape. Siberia is a snow-sure destination whose natural environment puts its money where its mouth is. Tree-lined runs from panoramic summits are real, with open glades and steep ridges dipping around frozen lakes and rivers. The exhilarating snow conditions and wilderness are not exaggerated.

 

  • Rustic accommodations

Building a fire and staying in a picturesque wooden hut is a run of the mill evening in the Siberian forest. Sharing the experience in the confines of a mountain hut or wooden lodge is that much sweeter. It envelops you in the full enchantment of the region and a real Siberian adventure. Skiing in and out into a winter wonderland has never been easier.

 

Time to relax in the mountain huts. Photo courtesy of Jean Annequin.
  • Fresh powder

Thanks to the generous snowfall and the fact that no one will be skiing anywhere near you, the high quality snow is all yours. Listen to your guide when it comes to avalanche safety and preparedness and enjoy deep and meaningful ski runs. You are most likely going to get snow, and lots of it. Siberia has definitive snowfall that can last for days, so plan accordingly.

 

  • Harsh conditions

Runs can reach some steep inclines and feature substantial obstacles. Photo courtesy of Jean Annequin.

Siberia is known for having some of the coldest and most severe weather on the planet. Coordinate with your guide how you would like to deal with some of the atmospheric and logistical difficulties that may arise because of this. It can make or break your experience.

If you like what Jean had to say about his experiences in Siberia, check out his 11-day program ski touring in Siberia and join him on a trip to discover this captivating region!

 

When is the Best Time to Go Ski Touring in Siberia

 

A beautiful day in Siberia. Photo courtesy of Jean Annequin.

The best time to hit the slopes of Siberia is from November through April. This can vary slightly towards the beginning and end of the season because of the fickle nature of spring and autumn. It is possible for winter to break out as early as October and for hearty snow pack to linger well into may.

The weather will be brutally cold in the dead of winter, so understanding and planning for this is essential. Talk to your guide and make sure you have what you need before heading into the wilderness. In remote areas it can be impossible to supplement your equipment and gear with items you forgot. Keep this in mind and make sure you bring everything you will need.

How to Get There

 

 

Getting to Siberia takes time, but it is a fulfilling experience that prepares you for an extended time in the backcountry. Flying into Moscow is a practical first step as there are a number of direct flights to Russia’s capital. Major European cities with flights to Moscow include London, Paris, and Istanbul, as well as both Tokyo and New York.

 

Using a raft to cross the river. Photo courtesy of Jean Annequin.

From Moscow, there are regional airports around Siberia, like the Novokuznetsk Airport (for Luzhba) and the Irkutsk Airport (Lake Baikal and Mamay Valley). Trains stop in both of these areas as well as other routes in the regions of Siberia. The Trans-Siberian Railway stops at Krasnoyarsk for those who want a scenic trip into the region. Flights also serve northern areas like Khatanga and Norilsk from Moscow.

Buses will supplement your travels from there to the surrounding towns and villages. Other methods of transportation rely on alternative methods and ski touring and skinning. Jean crosses the Tom River when traveling to Luzhba and beyond. It might not be as comfortable, but it is an added measure of immersion into Siberia that enhances the experience.

 

Hiring a certified guide is the best way to have the time of your life. Photo courtesy of Jean Annequin.

The further you travel into the backcountry, the more evocative and thrilling objectives there are to ski. Tell your guide how ambitious your trip needs to be, and they will work with you to bring your dream ski touring vacation to life.

 

So what are you waiting for? Grab your skis, your skins, and your guide! Head to Russia and take on the exciting backcountry that can only be found in the wild and woolly wilderness of Siberia!

 

 

Jean Annequin, IFMGA Guide. Photo courtesy of Millet.fr

We thank Jean for sharing his knowledge & expertise with us to create this article!

 

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