Kirovsk is the highest mountain city on the Kola peninsula located on the shore of the Bol’shoy Vudyavr lake within the Arctic circle in northern Russia. Surrounded on three sides by mountains with old Lapland names Aikuaivenchorr and Vudyavrchorr, this is one of the most northerly off the track snowboarding playgrounds in the world. The city was only founded in 1929 and given the name Khibinogorsk in honour of the Khibiny mountains. It was renamed Kirovsk in 1934 after S.M. Kirov, the political leader of the twenties and thirties. Today Kirovsk is officially home to more than 40,000 people almost all employed by one company.
As a kid, 17 years ago Jack (Andrei Jakovlev) first traveled to Kirvosk as part of an alpine skiing training group from the ESSR (The Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic). Returning in 2009 with his pal Oskar they took a 10 day trip from Tallinn in a hunt for virgin powder and kicks in this mining town cum winter sports resort, this is what they had to say about the
Being there, 40,000 does not seem correct. People moved out with the collapse of the soviet system and the ensuing free for all in Russian industry. The chaos still exists there today. You can see it in surroundings of Kirovsk. Remains of human activity are visible everywhere.
The scenery is spectacular, the mountains formed before the ice age, nature had a plan to create a big volcano there but then the ice cooled it down, and when the ice moved away the seismic shifts stopped. What ended up was a big quantity of different minerals in the soil, like apatite for example. It is used all over Europe in agriculture. The mining is very primitive. They just blow up the mountains to gather then what is on the ground. Kirovsk, while known in Russia for its mountain sports is best known for being the home of “Apatit”, the largest mining enterprise in Europe. It is also well known that there is no service industry supporting the tourism, the lifts are at least 25 years old, all except 2 on the new slope, built especially for Putin’s visit some of years ago. It cannot be described as a tourist city. It’s an old forgotten industrial city up in the fucking north with a couple of ancient “bügel” type lifts here and there. On the first day we were there we saw a wolf like dog in the mountains, the locals told us it was a wild dog species so ferocious it even eats wolves.
Superstition is endemic, it is almost funny how the locals are afraid of avalanches, including the mountain guides. Like it is something totally unpredictable for them. They, surprisingly, have never seem to study snow conditions. There is a fear of avalanches as if they are something “satanic”, instead of just studying, noticing, measuring etc.. like in the developed ski resorts. But I guess then it is not gonna’ be “old school Kirovsk” anymore. So, no avalanche control, no organized rescue and no infrastructure to speak of. But the mountains are great and easily accessible by snowmobile. The city is not so high in the mountains, only 300m from the sea level. The highest mountain in the Khibiny region is around 1200m. While the region is dotted with old Lapland names the city is founded by the mining company so everyone is an immigrant and the native peoples have moved on further north long ago, the local language is long forgotten, only old mountain and lakes names remain.
In the days of the USSR all the kids went to Kirovsk for the first snow at the end of October and in early November. Cross country skiers, ski jumpers and alpine skiers, and the local ‘trampoline’ was famous among ski jumpers because it was so dangerous and out of proportions. High winds made it even more difficult to jump. They just flew away sometimes. Now in 2009 price is a main reason to go there. It’s really cheap to get there too. 1300 km from St. Petersburg, 24 hours, on an old school exotic train ride for only €20. I am so bored of European “institutional” skiing. It is too civilized in Europe. And virgin POW is hard to find. In Kirovsk we rode only Powder! I had a best ride in last 13 years there. Place was called the Estonian concave. The name is new. One Estonian snowboarder died there a couple of years ago. An avalanche came down on him, the whole mountain. He was dug out from under 5 metres of snow. Rasmus was his name. So I rode down this concave…. awesome! Locals came and asked me where I am from? I said, ‘From Estonia’. They started to laugh and asked did I know what this place is called. Then I did not. So I was maybe the first Estonian who rode down this place alive. While it is possible to ride powder all the time you have to read the mountain right and be creative. By getting away from the main routes you can ride untouched powder, there is no getting up at 7am like in Europe to get a clean ride. March- April is sunny and warm. It’s really mild and we were wearing the same clothes back in Estonia in June. The days are longer, with more sun. It gets bad in November… high winds only 2 hours light in a day. January is probably minus 30 C there. In 1992 when I was first there it was -40c in November, with high winds, even plastic bags just froze.
Infrastructure is very bare bones but that still does not stop the people from Murmansk to St Petersburg arriving to ski and board as it’s the only resort in this huge area, the next closest is Sochi. In Kirvosk you can usually count on the lifts not working, even on sunny days, so renting a snowmobile with a guide is the only way to go. The lift working most of the time was funnily enough called “Latvia”. By European terms everything is cheap. And you can go anywhere. Powder is everything and everywhere. If you want to buy some good food in Russia, you have to choose something where the name refers to a foreign country, even though it will be locally made. For example ‘Finnish pelmeni’ (Finns actually do not make pelmeni, but these are the best you’ll ever eat), the best cheese is called ‘Estonian cheese’ but it’s not made in Estonia either and even does not even taste like Estonian cheese. The vodka is always good when it is cold and there is something to eat on it, for example marinated mushrooms.
Oskar and me plan to be back this year and will stay longer this time. I will take some good riders this time and a good video camera, build kickers and shoot some action. Tourism is practically non-existent for most of the year and although its not a great place for families and girlfriends, if you just want to just board it’s heaven. This time I had only my Nikon F2 film camera with me, all manual gear from the 60s and a crappy DV video cam with batteries lasting only half an hour a non working viewfinder and a fucked up zoom button. So in the end we were too lazy to take many pictures especially while riding. Next time we will have more shots to show.
We went to party on Thursday in the neighbouring city ‘Apatite’ one night. There is only one small club there. It was just so funny. Like being back at a school disco. On the last night in Kirovsk we went to the local nightclub, then it was a big party there, many people …start of the winter holidays.
The club was nice with some Moscow DJ’s spinning. Nice. Taxi’s are cheap if you are speaking Russian well and every time it gets cheaper using the same driver. They become pally with you, talk a lot and take the price down themselves. The locals are definitely friendly, only if you too polite they will become quite laconic with you, especially the female shop keepers. It’s a strange phenomena, If you are too polite it means you are too distant, they like closer contact, you know? hehehe.
Oscar Voit - a professional hairstylist since 1996 and Andrei Jakovlev, (Jack) - a freelancing Art Director. Born in Estonia. Went to Russian school, skipped to Estonian language school in 10th grade. Just an old school snowboarder. Pioneer, you can say. A pair of homies from Tallinn village.
Leidsin selle video oma arvutist , kui Oskari pilte otsisin. Olin juba peaaegu unustanud selle. Kunagi peale reisi naljaga poolex monteerisin. Näitasin Oskarile kah tookord, ütles mulle, et pane kindlalt ülesse. Mulle tundus mõtetu jurana. Nüüd on asjal täiesti teine tähendus. Panin nüüd siis subtiitrid kah juurde.