Murmansk Oblast


The history of the exploration of the Khibiny reads more like the history of a fight against them. The Khibiny Mountains are young by geological standards (390 million years old), low (no higher than 1,200 m) and so erratic that the Sámi, the indigenous inhabitants of the Kola Peninsula, came here only in summer. According to a Sámi legend, Vudyavr seita, the evil spirit of the Khibiny, punished those who invaded his domain.

We owe the exploration of the Khibiny to the famous mineralogist Alexander Fersman. In March 1920, he visited the Kola Peninsula as a member of the Northern Scientific Fishing Expedition. Fersman recalled: 'It immediately became clear to me that the Khibiny are a whole new world of their own made of stone'.

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In the same year, he returned to the Khibiny specifically to study these mountains. The expedition was assisted by Sergei Kirov, whose name is immortalised in the name of one of the two cities that were built here. The second city is Apatity, built next to the world's largest deposit of apatite-nepheline ore. It is located between the mountain range and Imandra Lake.

Today the Sámi names of the peaks remind of the times when the wintery Khibiny were untouched by humanity: Vudyavrchorr, Kukisvumchorr, Aykuayvenchorr, Rasvumchorr. In the short polar summer, climbers and hikers come to the mountains, but in winter, the slopes really come alive.

Most tourists go to Kirovsk to ride snowmobiles, practice downhill skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing. All this is provided by the popular resorts Bolshoy Vudyavr and Kukisvumchorr.

Not everyone knows that Kirovsk is the cradle of Soviet alpine skiing. History played out such that the new city in the Khibiny was inhabited mainly by special settlers and correctional guards, so the disposition of the locals could be described as brutal. To create a healthier atmosphere, the authorities decided to strike at the problem with physical education and sports, and in 1937, Kirovsk held the first downhill skiing championship in the USSR, the All-Union Rally of the Best Alpine Skiers in the Country. The microclimate also contributed to the development of the sport: in the Kirovsk Region, snow falls two weeks earlier than in neighbouring Apatity, and in the spring, it melts two weeks later. Avalanches are still dangerous, but snow-dams have been built to prevent avalanches.

Bolshoy Vudyavr, which entirely occupies the slopes of Mount Aykuayvenchorr, 12 km from Kirovsk, is the most famous resort of the Khibiny. It already has a group of fans who have replaced the hard-to-pronounce name of the resort with simply, 'Bigwood'. The total length of Bigwood's skiing runs is 25 km. The resort promotes itself as a ski resort for everyone but is best suited for families. The ski season starts in November and ends in May; the high season is March-April, when the slopes are snowy and the weather is often sunny. The lack of sun is not a problem either: 15 out of 23 tracks have artificial lighting. This is a vital necessity since the polar night in Kirovsk lasts from 14 December until 4 January.

The Kukisvumchorr resort, on Mount Kukisvumchorr, is located right in Kirovsk, in the urban district of Kukisvumchorr (its unofficial name is '25th km'). Kukisvumchorr is the highest peak in the Khibiny range. It has a vertical drop of 520 m, the highest point is 890 m. The tracks are no joke: suffice it to say that students of the Olympic reserve school, opened in Kirovsk in 1974, train on the steep slopes of Kukisvumchorr.

There are no straight gentle slopes on Kukisvumchorra, but fans of extreme skiing will find what they are looking for. However, there are slopes for those who prefer mild skiing on varied terrain. The resort has six slopes for skiers of all levels, including one for training. Another feature of Kukisvumchorr is the abundance of zones for freeride. The resort hosts the Freeride Khibiny Open Cup, one stage of the Freeride World Qualifier. The pleasure of active sports is complemented by the contemplation of impressive industrial and natural landscapes: from the slopes, you can see a view of the central Kirov mine, and, on the other side, the spurs of the Khibiny range.

During the long polar night in winter, the sun does not rise in the Khibiny for 44 days. In the summer, the sun does not set for 61 days. These periods are significantly longer if you include the twilight and white nights.

Avalanches are another important issue. According to Sámi beliefs, they are an expression of Vudyavr seita's anger. The Khibiny are snowy mountains, where strong winds blow. The first builders of Kirovsk were not ready for the caprice of the mountains, and in 1935, two large avalanches descended on the village, which had not yet become a city, destroying it and killing 88 people. After this tragedy, the first avalanche service in the USSR was established in Kirovsk. A real war had to be fought against avalanches, as evidenced by a mortar erected as a monument near the avalanche service building. Now it is no longer used, but previously it was used to remove snow by force.

To protect against landslides, special snow dams have been built, but still, every year at least one person dies in an avalanche. The employees of the service predict and record avalanches, and make forecasts that are posted at the ski resorts. In accordance with them, some of the slopes are periodically closed. For those who ride on the regular tracks, this is not a problem. But freeride skiers need to check the forecasts and study the layout of avalanche zones in advance. Special equipment will be helpful too. Before embarking on the route, it is recommended to register with the Murmansk search and rescue squad, a branch of the North-West regional search and rescue squad of the EMERCOM of Russia, by phone at (815-31) 58-895.