Elbrus, Russia

Elbrus Ski Tour

This is a 10-day ski expedition and ventures right into the heart of the mighty Caucasus Range. Nestled between the Caspian and the Black Sea, it's a seriously wild place! In April and May snow conditions are usually excellent and the surroundings are majestic and virtually undeveloped. We start with some superb day touring in the Adyr-Su and Baksan valley before attempting the Elbrus ascent.

Although Elbrus is not a technical peak (less technical than Mont Blanc), it is very strenuous and you should be able to ski-tour all day, and be cable of 1300m height gains. However this is a physically demanding tour requiring good fitness and acclimatisation. Typically those that ski Mount Elbrus will already have completed a classic high altitude ski tour such as the Haute Route or Mont Blanc.

Elbrus is an extinct volcano so is conical in shape and has two distinct summits. The western summit is higher and is climbed from a mountain hut (known as the ‘Barrels’) at 3800m. With the right weather conditions, it is a relatively straightforward climb with crampons and ice-axe sometimes necessary on the icy upper slopes, however with good snow it is possible to ski-tour all the way to the summit with a superb (and long) powder run down.

On this expedition you will be lead by a Mountain Tracks IFMGA guide and a local guide working in tandem. For accommodation we use good quality hotels in the valley, and serviced mountain refuges on the mountain, for the most part the accommodation is full board.

We will make every endeavour to carry out the itinerary as shown but alterations may have to be made owing to weather and snow conditions.

A snow cat can be taken from the barrels to Postokov rocks on summit day. This takes you about 900m up the mountain and is STRONGLY advised for all teams unless you are very well acclimatised and have excellent fitness. The cost is about €450 split between the team.

The price includes all accommodation (except in Moscow if required), all meals (except in Moscow), all guide fees and expenses, all uplift costs and local travel and transfers

The price does not include flights to Moscow/Min. Vody, accommodation in Moscow (if required), equipment hire, personal insurance, bar bills, optional excursions, visa fees.

The price is based on a minimum group size of 5 or more. 

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This is an extensive list of the recommended clothing and equipment you will need if you are coming on our Elbrus Ski Tour.
Accommodation is a mix of mountain lodges, hotels and the infamous 'barrels'!  Most days you'll just ski with a daypack but you do change accommodation 3-4 times and so you're main bag shouldn't be too bulky.
If you are uncertain or need further information, don't hesitate to contact us.

  • When choosing clothing for ski touring you want to think light, warm and versatile. During the trip weather conditions will change and you’re likely to go from warm afternoons where you’ll be carrying most of your gear in your rucksack, to icy-cold mornings when you’re wearing everything to keep warm! Getting hold of the best and lightest kit available is always worth it and most of the major brands will be able to supply suitable kit.
    • Roll neck rather than a scarf. We use and recommend the ‘Buff¹ ¬ a light, stretchable tube. Excellent despite the name! They do both a fleece/cotton version for warmth or just a cotton one (to keep the sun off).
    • Headwear to include warm hat and sun-cap or wide-brim hat for extra protection from the sun. Mountain Tracks fully supports the wearing of helmets for skiing, although not mandatory for any of our trips we do recommend them.
    • An outer shell jacket made of waterproof and breathable material like Gore-Tex or similar with a built-in hood. The lighter the better and so a shell is recommended rather than a insulated jacket.
    • 1-2 thin fleeces - rather than a thick layer between your skin and the outer shell - an approach which gives better heat retention and good flexibility. These tops are known as ‘mid layers’. The principle of ‘layering’ e.g. allowing you to easily add/remove layers depending on the temperature and the activity is recommended to ensure comfort on the mountain.
    • Insulation layer like a down or Primaloft jacket is a good item to have ready to wear in the event of cold weather, it can live in your rucksack as a spare layer and can come in very handy for sudden changes in the weather.
    • For the lower half it’s essential that you have a pair of thermal base layer pants (long johns).
    • These can then be combined with either:
    • (a) a good pair of ‘technical shell’ pants in a waterproof and breathable fabric like Gore-Tex (b) a pair of mountain or alpine pants in a softshell material together with a pair of lightweight, breathable over trousers with long side zips.
    • Top and bottom underwear made of a synthetic, wicking material. Very popular at the moment are the wool based layers from companies such as Icebreaker and Smartwool. They are comfy, breathable and warm when needed and can be worn for days without your friends catching a whiff!
    • Good quality Gore-Tex gloves or mitts and a thin pair of softshell or fleece gloves for when it is hot and for ski touring in. Silk inner gloves can be useful if the weather is cold and you suffer with cold hands.
    • Technical Socks - Investing in good quality ski socks will improve fit, warmth and feel when skiing for long periods. Bring along a few pairs.
  • For the Elbrus ski tour you must have an all-mountain/freeride touring ski. 
    There are plenty of great skis to choose from and we highly recommend skis from the following manufacturers:

    If you are planning on buying skis for ski touring and general skiing and have any questions do not hesitate to call us to discuss the options available to you.

     

    • Ski Skins – these are skins which, now made of artificial fabric, stick to the bottom of your skis and allow you to walk up hill. They must be cut to fit your skis exactly, so if you are bringing your own skis you must provide your own skins.
    • Ski Crampons (aka couteaux) - most ski touring bindings have ski crampons specifically designed for the binding. We always carry these just in case. Again if you are bringing your skis and touring bindings you must provide your own ski crampons. 
    • Ice Axe - general lightweight mountaineering / alpine pick. Ideally this needs to be short enough to fit in your pack.
    • Boot Crampons - ideally lightweight aluminum ones although steel crampons are required for more demanding tours
    • Climbing Harness - a simple lightweight harness. The key feature is that it should have fully adjustable leg loops for putting on over ski boots, crampons, etc.

    On some tours in non-glaciated terrain an ice-axe, boot crampons and climbing harness may not always be required. However as conditions and itineraries can change we do generally recommend that you bring these items with you. If you do not own these items they can be rented to you by our guides or via one of the local sports shops.
  • The “Safety Trilogy” - required on all our ski tours and off-piste courses.

    • Avalanche Transceiver/Beacon
    • Snow shovel
    • Avalanche probe
    Remember it is not enough just to carry this equipment; you have to know how to use it.
    How about joining one of our specialist avalanche courses – check out www.mountaintracks.co.uk/activity/avalanche-training
    • Good pair of ski goggles with a lens for low light is essential in the event of snow and poor visibility
    • Good quality sunglasses with 100% UV protection
    • 35 – 40 liter rucksack
    • 1 – 1.5 Liter water bottle – we don’t recommend hydration systems (e.g. camelbak) in winter as they can freeze.
    • Food – bring some of your favorite hill nibbles (chocolate, energy bars)*
    • Suncream and lip salve
    • Camera with a large capacity memory card!
    • Money – most hotels, shops and restaurants accept credit cards, but not all the alpine huts do. You should allow about 30-40 Swiss Francs or 20-30 Euros per day for lunch and drinks (amount approximate and depends on consumption)
    Please note that your guide will have a few “spares” and other safety items that he or she will ask the group to carry between them; so leave a small space in your sack for an item e.g. spare skin, spare ski pole, emergency shelter.

    For a hut night:
    • Lightweight sleeping bag liner – now compulsory in most huts.
    • Wash kit with small personal first aid items – should include:
    • Toothbrush and paste - a mini one is ideal
    • Soap
    • Anti-bacterial hand cleaner
    • Wet wipes – essential to try to maintain hygiene
    • Tissues and toilet roll
    • Plasters – of various sizes and possibly some adhesive wound dressings.
    • Pain Killers – aspirin or Paracetamol/Nurofen
    • Antiseptic cream or wipes
    • Blister kit – compeed and elastic tape to hold it in place (essential)!
    • (Note: Guides will have comprehensive first aid kits and are qualified in mountain first aid)
    • Small light quick dry towel e.g. a Lifeventure Soft fiber towel
    • Most huts have limited washing facilities
    • Earplugs – it can get quite noisy!
    • Headtorch - lightweight and carry spare batteries.
    • Book, pack of cards and or Ipod/MP3 player – It’s nice to have something to read or listen to when you are in the huts or to challenge your fellow travelers to a game of card. These items are not essential but if you have space you might appreciate them.
    What to wear in the hut
    We are often asked by people what they should wear in the hut. It's a good question as you don't want to carry many or any extra clothes with you if they are not required. In the winter you will probably end up wearing your base layer thermals (top & bottom) or you can carry a lightweight pair of loose trousers to wear around the hut in the afternoons/evenings. Your base layer top is what you will probably wear on your top half or you can carry a t-shirt to wear in the hut that can double to sleep in. 

    Food and Water
    We suggest you bring with you or buy in resort snack food that you can take out on the hill with you each day. Things like cereal bars, dried fruit and nuts, chocolate, sugary sweets or your favorite hill snacks. When you’re staying overnight in huts its best to take supplies for the days you are away. Huts do sell food but it’s expensive and sometimes stocks run low.
    If you have any food allergies or dietary requirements especially if you are a Coeliac (Gluten free) or have a dairy allergy we strongly recommend you bring some food with you that you can supplement your dinners with. The huts are fairly good at providing for vegetarians but less so for other dietary needs.
    You have to buy bottled water in the huts as usually any running water is non-potable. Bottled water is expensive in French and Swiss huts; you can be paying upto 12-16CHF per 1.5L bottle of water. So please ensure you budget for this cost.

  • Most resorts have ski shops that hire ski equipment and we try to provide relevant contact details for all our courses and tours.

    Prices do change by resort/country, but here’s an approximate guide to hire costs for 6-days hire:

    Touring Skis plus skins and ski crampons €150-180
    Touring boots €80-90 
    Boot Crampons €45-50
    Ice Axe €30-40
    Harness €20-30
    Helmet €20-30
    Transceiver/shovel/probe €75-80

    Our guides also generally have additional sets of safety equipment (transceiver/shovel/probe) which they hire out to clients for €65 for 6 days hire. Must be booked in advance.
  • For the Elbrus ascent you will need a kit bag or large rucksack to carry your equipment for 3-4 days in the barrels. We usually get a snowcat to transport the bags, food and beer up to the barrels so weight is not too much of an issue. The only consideration is in case of very bad weather you might need to ski down with your bag (a 10 minute blue run), so make sure it has rucksack type straps.

    A medium to heavyweight duvet jacket is essential and insulated Primaloft trousers are also useful (not essential) on cold days.

    Hiking / trekking boots for travelling to huts and walking between the barrels etc

    Ski poles with large touring baskets

    Thin Thermarest / Insulated mat - to bolster the mattresses in the barrels!

    Two water bottles 1L preferably one with an insulated cover. Avoid platypus / camelbak style systems as they freeze.

    High factor sun and lip cream SPF 30+.

    Money - Euros can be exchanged everywhere and there are ATM machines in all the towns we visit.

     

Elbus.JPG

Elbrus

View map

At 5,642m Mt Elbrus is the highest point in Europe (and one of the 7 summits - the highest points on each of the continents).

Elbrus is in the heart of the mighty Caucasus Range which runs for over 1,200km from the Black Sea in the west to the Caspian Sea in the east.

The mountain itself is about 1,000m higher than any of the neighbouring mountains and thus dominates the landscape like no other.

The best route into the area is to fly to Moscow (or St Petersburg) and take an internal flight to Mineralnye Vody airport (aka MinVody), which is connected by a network of roads with valleys on the northern slopes of the Caucasus. The journey time by road from MinVody to our first base is about 4 hours.

  • It is a condition of booking that you are insured for your chosen activity and the cover must include medical expenses, personal accident, personal liability, third party risks and rescue (including helicopter rescue). You are strongly advised also to take out cover against cancellation and curtailment.

    For UK residents Ski Club Travel Insurance may be a suitable option.

    For more details and to purchase a policy online visit http://www.skiclubinsurance.co.uk/
    If you need assistance arranging your personal insurance please let us know.
     

  • The UK government recommend against all but essential travel to the North Caucasus area of the Russian Federation. This is due to its proximity to areas (Dagestan, Chechnya) that have seen terrorist activity in recent years. After not running trips in 2010 and 2011 we returned with groups in 2012, 2015 and 2016 as the security situation in the region has improved with more international travellers visiting the area.

  • A visa is required for entry into Russia. This should be obtained in the UK prior to departure. PLEASE NOTE: obtaining a Russian visa is a long, tedious process and needs to be done well in advance - we suggest at least 6 weeks and attention to detail when completing the on line form is essential to avoid any unnecessary delays. Invitations and vouchers will be supplied by Mountain Tracks. If your budget allows, using a specialist visa company such as Visa Swift or Action Visas can make the process much more tolerable.

  • There are no direct flights from Europe to Min. Vody. From the UK and Europe, the best route is via Moscow where a connecting flight can be taken to Min. Vody. You'll be met at Min. Vody airport and transferred in private vehicles to the Ullu Tau Lodge. At the end of trip you'll be transferred back to Min. Vody for the return flight to Moscow and your connecting flights home.

    The guideline price for return flights from London (or Geneva) to Min. Vody is £580-600.


  • The group will be accompanied from the UK by one of Mountain Tracks' IFMGA mountain guides who will assist the local Russian guides and be responsible for ensuring the trip runs smoothly.

    Our partners in Russia are Nikolai Shustrov and his team from Top Sport Travel in St Petersburg who will lead the tour when in the Caucasus. They are amongst the best guides on Elbrus and as well as being expert skiers and accomplished mountaineers they speak English and are very friendly!

     

  • The price is based on a minimum group size of 5 or more. The price for a group of 4 (minimum number) is £2,395 per person.

  • 4 nights are spent in the Ullu Tau lodge on HB basis in twin rooms. 2 nights in a hotel in Cheget (HB/Twin rooms) and 2 nights are spent in the 'barrels' on Elbrus. These are basic mountain huts (4-5 people in a 5-bed hut). Food, whilst basic, is generally nourishing with meat (lamb) and borscht being the staple diet.

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