Putting in a good word for mountain ski resorts

Putting in a good word for mountain ski resorts

Expert Reports  

More than four hundred mountain ski resorts in the country are very popular with the Russian tourists, but the development of this tourism segment is hampered by a number of factors, including the unregulated issues of the environmental legislation.

This was stated at the meeting on the economic potential and prospects for the development of mountain ski tourism in Russia, said First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Federation Committee on Economic Policy Alexey Sinitsyn, representing the Kemerovo Region in the Upper House of Parliament (Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation).

According to the senator, it is difficult or prohibited today to fell trees in the protective forests on mountain slopes, and ski pistes are normally laid down the mountain slopes. “Mountain rope hoists can be placed in specially protected natural areas, but ski pistes cannot be made”.

In addition, Alexey Sinitsyn noted that in the Russian legislation, the term ‘mountain ski resort’ is not specified, which results in many related problems. In particular, despite the fact that mountain skiing is a very high-injury sport, the medical care at resorts has not been regulated and the mountain ski resorts have to find ways to resolve the medical problems they face. “Even Rural Medical Posts and ambulance stations that provide first aid in the villages and populated areas (if there is a Medical Post nearby) do not always cope with the increased flow of injured people at mountain ski resorts. This problem must be solved in a consistent manner all over the country”, he said.

The same situation is also with ensuring security, law and order at mountain ski resorts, the senator said. “It’s good if there is a police station in a nearby village. If there is no police station in a village, the question arises - who should provide security at mountain ski resorts that sometimes have a fairly large area with a lot of tourists”, he added.

There is also a problem with removing the wastes, since the number of public utility companies working in the district depends on the number of permanent residents in the village, without taking into account the growing needs of the mountain ski resorts.

The senator considered the draft law developed by the Ministry of Economic Development that introduces the concepts of a ‘mountain ski resort’ and a ‘mountain ski resort operator’ as an important step aimed at solving these problems. “These are just concepts now. There are no rules that would give a special status to mountain ski resorts or regulate the specifics of law enforcement. The document is currently under discussion”, the senator continued.

Alexey Sinitsyn named the lack of a piste classification system among other problems. “The piste classification system is quite conditional in our country, there is no single standard, and that is why the classification parameters vary from resort to resort, which can negatively affect the safety issues”, he added.

According to Alexey Sinitsyn, the issues of import substitution are also relevant and especially acute now, since large-size equipment for mountain ski resorts is not manufactured in Russia in required variety and sufficient quantity. “In addition to mountain skiing equipment, the Russian companies could produce skis, boots, helmets, equipment - all of these goods are in great demand. The mountain ski resort industry in Russia is growing rapidly. While approximately 3.5% to 4% of the Russians constantly go in for mountain skiing and snowboarding during their leisure time and vacations now, this number could double by 2030 according to expert estimates,” Sinitsyn said.

Denis Volf, Deputy Director of the Roszapovedtsentr (Centre of Reserves) of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation, agrees that mountain ski resorts can now only conditionally be considered completely legal. For example, while the tourist spots in the Elbrus National Park were set up in the 1960s, the regime of a specially protected natural area was introduced in this National Park much later.

“On September 1, 2023, the Federal Law came into force that allows recreational and tourism activities to be carried out in the national parks where the appropriate infrastructure facilities are made. A decree of the Government of the Russian Federation was issued that approved the list of infrastructure facilities. Cable cars are in the list. The issue of including ski slopes, helipads in this list, as well as lifting the restrictions on the number of floors in buildings is currently under discussion. We are making up an inventory of all specially protected natural areas to register all the infrastructure facilities already built like highways, helipads - there are a lot of the facilities”, he said.

The Ministry of Natural Resources’ representative said that plans for recreational activities are under development at all national parks in the country. “They are in varying degrees of completion. At the same time, we are finalizing the regulations regarding the calculation of recreational capacity. The plans are that by June, a set of regulations will be worked out that will allow us to work. And by the beginning of July, the national parks will have draft plans of recreational activities already developed and it will be possible to discuss and approve them”.

Nikolay Goncharov, Deputy Director General of KAVKAZ.RF said that active development of several projects for mountain ski resorts in the North Caucasus Federal District is already in progress. “A new resort is under construction in the Mamison Mountain Gorge (North Ossetia). In 2022, the construction of a seaside resort - the Caspian Coastal Cluster - began in Dagestan. Master plans for tourism and recreation areas in the Republics of North Ossetia, the Chechen Republic, and the Ingush Republic have already been developed. In the Karachayevo-Cherkess Autonomous Region, two areas have been identified that require progressive systemic development. This is the legendary mountain ski resort and unique nature reserve Dombay, as well as the village of Arkhyz and the area of Sofiyskaya Polyana having a great potential for the developing of tourism”.

Nikolay Goncharov noted that KAVKAZ.RF sees a good potential for import substitution and jointly with the Ruslet company is now designing cable cars for the company’s resorts.

Valery Piven, Director of the Department of Machine Tools and Heavy Engineering of the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation, said that today, there are 5 companies manufacturing ropeways in Russia. “The demand for cable cars until 2030 totals about 250 units, 40 gondola lifts, 67 chairlifts and about 150 T-bar lifts. So far, our production capacity allows us to cover the need for T-bar lifts and fixed-grip chairlifts. The main task is to build the most up-to-date T-bar lifts with detachable clamps. Currently, the production of about 55% of cable cars has already been indigenized. The planned indigenization period for the remaining components is from 2024 to 2026”, he said.

Representatives of companies operating cable cars note that currently, they are the only ones not covered by such a measure of support provided to entrepreneurs in the domestic and inbound tourism, such as exemption from VAT, which would make it possible to use the released moneys to modernize existing infrastructure facilities and build new ones. The issue of regulating customs duties is also pressing - when cable cars are imported as parts, different duties are applied to different types of equipment, which complicates the investment planning.

Major investors always come if a resort is well known and promoted, says Alexey Sinitsyn. “The example is our Kuzbass resort Sheregesh that was known only to a narrow circle of freeride enthusiasts a decade ago. At that time, Sheregesh had quite a large number of problems that hindered the development of the mountain ski resort, including various piping networks, transport accessibility, water supply, and many others that are well known to everyone who starts developing the mountain ski tourism. Most of these problems have been resolved. For example, it takes tourists two hours to get to the mountain ski resort by a high-quality highway now or they can take an electric train at the station near the airport. Moreover, when purchasing an air ticket, travelers can immediately arrange for luggage delivery, including all ski equipment, directly to the mountain ski resort”, he added.

The example of Kuzbass shows that the Russians are happy to choose this type of vacation, the senator noted. “Sheregesh is visited by about 2 million tourists a year, the prospect of doubling the tourist flow is quite realistic, since the mountain ski resort will be developed comprehensively in accordance with today’s master plans. We also hope that the decision on constructing an airport in Sheregesh will be taken in the near future”, he continued.

The participants in the meeting noted that despite the fact that mountain ski tourist flow in Russia has tripled over 10 years up to 12 million people annually, we are still far behind Europe, where spending winter leisure time at the mountain ski resorts is a common practice. At the same time, experts believe that the further development of mountain ski tourism is associated not only with the tasks of creating modern infrastructure facilities, but also with the popularization and promotion of mountain skiing. The inclusion of mountain skiing in the school curriculum is among the options for those regions where such an opportunity exists. Now, there are mountain ski resorts in 68 regions of the Russian Federation, and the country’s geography is good for expanding these opportunities. It is the young generation that will create a steady demand for mountain ski tourism in the future, the industry representatives believe.