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adventure & travel

Kamchatka travel report

Freeriding in the land of volcanoes

by Steffen Kruse 04/25/2018
Skiing, snowboarding, friendly people, sparse birch forests and a volcanic region that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A great base for a wonderful snow trip to another world.

Challenge number 1: Make it onto the plane

It all started very relaxed with the journey to Munich and the meeting at colleague Jan's place, near the Theresienwiese, which is known for its conviviality. On this evening, a reunion was on the agenda, as some of us hadn't seen each other since our last trip around the Balkans last year. A reason to raise a glass, laugh about what had happened and philosophize about the future. The crew consists of six people who come together from all over Germany and Switzerland and are really keen on foreign cultures, mountains and snow. Some of us had already traveled to Kyrgyzstan and the Balkans together, so it was a great basis for the upcoming adventure.

The next morning, we headed to the airport just as relaxed. When we arrived at the counter, the check-in lady wasn't quite as happy as we were. The size of our luggage apparently exceeded the usual volume of a package traveler. It was weighed to the exact kilo, which caused the stress level to rise for the first time. The first peak of stress was caused by a visa that was only valid one day later, on the day of arrival in Kamchatka. However, the arrival in Russia was already today, as we had a transfer in Moscow.

So there were only five little freeriders least for the next few days.

The whole action had caused our time buffer to dwindle enormously, which led to another stress peak at the security check. It was the start of the vacations, people were in a travel mood and our fellow travelers' understanding of our time constraints was severely limited. The bodyscanner and its coziness almost got on our last nerve, the boarding time had already expired. So run, run, run. Only to realize at the gate that one of us was missing and still stuck in passport control. Just a few seconds later, and the good man would not have made it onto the plane..... Because of all the visa issues, there weren't six of us on the plane to Moscow as planned, but at least there were five of us, and we could hardly believe what had happened.

Warm-up in Kamchatka

While the start of our freeride adventure was a little bumpy, it went all the better when we arrived at Kamchatka airport. Everyone's luggage had arrived, the rental car was ready and we were ready to go. Finding suitable accommodation turned out to be more complicated than expected. We had actually already booked accommodation, but we didn't want to share it with four other very tall and bushy-tailed gentlemen in fine ribbed shirts. However, a couple of bankruptcies later, we finally found exactly what we were looking for: a nice, slightly shabby but authentic hotel in a prefabricated building area with very friendly staff. As it's not exactly booming with tourists in the winter months, apart from a few skateboarders, we were able to stay as long as we wanted.

Driving is on the right-hand side. But they also steer on the left, as most of the vehicles are imported from Japan. Traffic is orderly and everyone looks after themselves, their fellow drivers and the potholes. The latter result in heaps of missing bumpers. But once you've lost them, you feel much freer. Because they are usually never replaced. Some of the ruts are so deep that, due to a lack of talent or eyesight, one or two people can get stuck several times. The tow rope is definitely a loyal companion.

The first ski tour took us to the vicinity of Jelisowo. We went over deserted ski slopes, over a ridge and after about two hours we stood on our first summit. We were delighted and the view was overwhelming. On one side you could see as far as the sea, on the other endless mountain ranges and the still active Avachinsky and Koryaksky volcanoes. We should still go up to them on our trip!

We decided to dust our way down through the sparse birch forests and hike back to the car in the valley. What doesn't actually sound spectacular at all takes on a certain excitement if you postpone the whole thing until spring, when Master Petz is slowly becoming active again and is hungry. None of us wanted to stray too far from the "main field" and be left alone. Kamchatka is home to the largest brown bear population in the world! The quality of the snow was quite acceptable and we were already having a lot of fun, without realizing that this was just a small foretaste.

Excitement on the menu

Ordering food is always fun, at least if you don't speak the local language or understand Cyrillic. Nevertheless, we always had very tasty meals, even if we didn't always know what we were getting. Whether it's a harbor pub, a high-end restaurant, a food corner or a brewery, the food is really very varied. Only as a vegetarian could I imagine that the choice of food would be difficult. There are various soups and stews on every menu, such as the well-known lagman, which is very popular in Eastern countries. Meat in all variations, from shashlik to entrecôte, from lamb to chicken, is of course a must. Due to the local proximity to the Bering Sea, you can often also get very fine fish.

And if we had accepted all the invitations to taste vodka, we would probably still be in Kamchatka. The hospitality is outstanding in all respects.

The next ski tour destination was south of Petropavlosk, right by the sea. In our latitudes, the access roads would probably have been closed long ago due to impassability. But not in Kamchatka, where we shifted down a gear in our Toyota Corolla to accelerate...

The view on the ascent reminded me a lot of the Lofoten Islands, except that the ever-present volcanic cones were missing. At the summit, there wasn't a slice of bread, cheese and sausage, no not here! The best smoked wild salmon, that's the summit snack here.

The next morning, we picked up our missing sixth man from the airport, but not his ski luggage. That wasn't due to arrive until the next day. However, as our plans had been postponed by a day anyway due to the bad weather, this wasn't a problem. As soon as the missing luggage arrived, all six of us were standing together on our first summit with a direct view of the sea, not far from the town. Puffy in the north, crusty and sultry in the south, but still great fun. Everyone was happy and flashed by the view alone. Instead of après-ski beer, we treated ourselves to a delicious coffee from a real Italian machine.

The great adventure awaits: The Avachinsky and Koryaksky volcanoes

The bad weather day was perfect for shopping. We needed just about everything for Avacha Camp, from apples to toilet paper, pasta, dried fish, vegetables, nuts and much more. Although this took up almost the whole day, it was really unique to experience the market halls and the hustle and bustle there and is highly recommended. The Kamchatka Valley-European Exchange of Experience and Culture is also an experience in itself. A very posh Italian restaurant turns into a dance floor and very orderly, almost stuffy, white table settings become controlled chaos with new friendships and the handing over of orders.

The shuttle to Avacha Camp arrived at around 6am. It took a while to load all the luggage, including food for six people and four days. After an hour's drive, it was time to reload onto the Snowcat, and an hour later we were in camp.

Time to tackle the first summit, Avachinsky. A relaxed run in through a basin, the goal always in sight. It stayed that way for quite a while, as the volcano really didn't want to get any closer. After all, we were at the "foot" of the mountain. The isolation of the volcano meant that we were exposed to the wind from all sides. This in turn makes for a very structured surface, which is not exactly ideal for snow gliding. But no matter, the summit was the goal. It's unbelievable how long such an ascent can take - rarely experienced like this. On the upper meters, we switched to crampons and ice axes.

How healthy, or not, are the sulphur gases? Are there deep chasms under the supposedly small holes that would lead to a lava bath? These are questions that I have not yet had to deal with in our region. Different country, different landscape, different requirements. Although I was really fascinated by the snow formations, plumes of smoke and sulphur deposits, I wasn't entirely at ease on the summit. I paused for a moment, enjoyed the view and then set off on the descent. Bumpy over the summit structure, surfing in the evening sun across the wide valley back to camp. The Avachinsky and the storm had demanded a lot from us all and taken up more time than expected. No matter. A quick meal and our parched stomachs were full again and ready for sleep.

On a day full of storms and whiteouts, we can't get to grips with the country and the region in practice, but at least in theory, studying travel guides. Kamchatka is around 7,500 kilometers away from Germany and connected to the Russian mainland, yet there is no "normal" land route. The regional capital is Petropavlosk-Kamchatsky with around 180,000 inhabitants, the total population is 320,000. The peninsula measures 1,200 kilometers from north to south, the maximum width is 450 kilometers. If you enter "Kamchatka" in a Google image search, the brown bear, a kind of landmark for the region, soon appears alongside the beautiful volcanoes. A sculpture dedicated to the brown bear can be seen as you leave the airport and drive towards Petropavlosk. In summer, the brown bears feast on the numerous salmon that migrate up the rivers to spawn. In winter, the bears live off the few ski tourists who wander unknowingly through the forest. Fun! Fortunately, incidents with humans are extremely rare, as we are not on their menu. Other larger animal inhabitants are moose and reindeer. The largest birds of prey on earth with a wingspan of around 2.80 meters can be seen in the air: the giant sea eagle, but also the white-tailed sea eagle, which is mainly found in the south.

However, all of these wonderful animals are struggling with the destruction of their habitat and poachers. Kamchatka itself is struggling with the emigration of its well-educated young population, as the region offers too few skilled jobs for them. In addition to fishing, there are two large mines and growing tourism, but this is not enough to slow down the exodus of young people.

According to the weather forecast, another stormy day with a whiteout was to follow, but contrary to expectations, the sun peeked around the corner slightly in the morning, the storm had subsided and visibility also improved. Good enough to set off towards Camel Hill and explore the area a little. In fact, it wasn't too bad and there was even a bit of powder! Short ski days can be perfectly combined with an extensive avalanche transceiver search, complemented by a sumptuous caviar lunch.

The next day was to bring bluebirds and no wind. Our alarm clocks rang at 5:30 am. Thanks to the two-day break, we were well rested and full of energy. Today's goal was the Koryaksky volcano, a very ambitious project at 3,456 meters. Our camp was at around 800 meters. The plan was simply to see how far we could get, especially as the exit from the main couloir and the transition to the summit structure were not entirely clear. In the end, we reached the end at around 3,000 meters. Visibility was slowly closing in from below and we had been warned by the whiteout of the previous days. In general, however, we realized that our plan and the route to the summit would have worked out. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic last day at Avacha Camp!

We packed up and loaded the Snowcat quickly, and just as quickly we reached our next destination, Paratunka. Paratunka is not as much of a "nest" as it seems at first glance. The village is quite spread out. In winter, only the luxury hotels are actually occupied by wealthy heli-ski tourists from all over the world. In our small wooden huts we were alone. Each hut has its own small pool behind the house, fed by thermal springs at around 40 degrees. If our circulation didn't kick in at some point, we would probably still be sitting in the pool enjoying the unusual spectacle.

It had been snowing all day and we couldn't find a cab for the six of us boys. So we relied on public transport without really knowing where the journey would take us. In the end, however, we arrived more or less where we wanted to go and had a fun experience early in the day. The sparse birch forests around Paratunka offer everything a freerider's heart desires. Steep, playful terrain, or simply open fields to accelerate. So we were ready for the pool with a big and satisfied grin on our faces, but without having done the math with our landlord. We were already standing there in our swimming shorts when the door suddenly opened and he was standing in front of us with a large plate of freshly grilled meat. A very good man, a huge gift and a perfect pre-pool meal. Thank you Pavel!

Our first day of skiing in Kamchatka took us to the small ski resort of Moroznaya Gora, near Yelizovo. The weather forecast was good and we opted for this option. The plan to set off into the forests on snowmobiles was rejected for various reasons and, last but not least, the prices are "Heliskiversaut". In the end, however, we had another great day with a lift and a bit of a climb. When we were served a sumptuous meal with two thick entrecôtes for everyone in the evening, both our stomachs and the day were well rounded.

Denise, our driver, is a funny bird, speaks good English and has great tips. He's a really fit guy who, unusually for the country, doesn't smoke or drink, but only because it tasted too good for him in the past. Why change something grandiose? That's what we thought on the last day and so we had another great time in the ski area and in the woods. Nobody would have thought that we would later find ourselves in the "Excellent" restaurant, served with white gloves and eating gourmet cuisine at Whopper menu prices. The finale in the local dance club was the icing on the cake of this great trip.


Absolutely worth recommending and experiencing!

At a glance

  • Accommodation in the cities can be booked quite easily via Otherwise, do a little research on the internet. If you can speak and read Russian, you have a clear advantage.

  • Those who speak the language also have a clear advantage when it comes to planning. Otherwise, Russian-speaking support is definitely helpful, not only because of the price negotiations

  • The locals are generally very helpful and communicate with their hands and feet. Late in the evening, depending on the location, it is advisable to understand the signs of the times and make your way home in good time...

  • If you are mainly staying near the city, a rental car is sometimes helpful. Costs per day: +- 25 EUR. Otherwise, cabs don't cost a fortune: approx. 0.70 cents / kilometer. Public bus transport is also an alternative: the network is well distributed, but somewhat difficult to understand.

  • Helicopters and snowmobiles certainly have their place in Kamchatka for getting to the remote areas. These means of transportation are not necessary for the fun of gliding. If your legs are tired again, the three local ski resorts will do the trick.

  • Tour planning using a map would be desirable, but none are available in a usable scale, or they are relatively poor. You don't necessarily need to be careful and keep your eyes open!

Thank you

This trip demanded full commitment from all of us right from the planning phase, thank you very much for your support boys, it was more than worth it. Thanks also to Pavel, who always gave us great support with the planning in Paratunka. Two weeks full of experiences and impressions, I'm already looking forward to the next trip. A big thank you also to Open Wear for their support!

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This article has been automatically translated by DeepL with subsequent editing. If you notice any spelling or grammatical errors or if the translation has lost its meaning, please write an e-mail to the editors.

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