RUSSIA BUILDS EUROPE'S HIGHEST SKI LIFT... in known insurgency zone
Located in the western Caucasus Mountains near the border with Georgia (which Russia invaded in 2008), Mt. Elbrus is an 18,510-foot dormant volcano and Europe's highest peak. From this winter, it will also be home to Europe's highest aerial ski lift. Russia is now building a third and highest stage of a gondola that will top out at 12,621 feet, eclipsing the world famous Aiguille du Midi tram on Mont Blanc at Chamonix. By 7 feet.
The Elbrus Ski Area
The Russian government awarded the project to OJSC Northern Caucasus Resorts, a colossal tourist project begun in 2010 to construct numerous mountain and seaside resorts to drive tourism in the country. Their goal is to build 228 updated ski lifts across the Caucasus region in a project valued in the region of $26 billion. As is par for the course, the project has been hit with allegations of corruption and cutting corners but the idea is to attract the 30 million Russians who will move in to the middle class in the coming decades.
Soldiers chilling on the chair
It is also hoped that tourism development in the region will quell terrorism by anti-Russian guerrillas from the nearby muslim provices of Chechnya and Dagestan. The same guerrillas who in 2011 bombed and destroyed a gondola at the nearby ski resort of Baskan hours after opening fire on a mini-bus filled with tourists, killing three and injuring another three. "People are killed all the time there ... Who is going to go on vacation there?" asked Vladimir Kantorovich, vice president of the Russian Association of Tour Operators. Violence killed 107 people in 2012 in the Kabardino-Balkaria region, home to Elbrus, according to the website Caucasian Knot, which monitors the conflict.
And violence is not the only problem. In April, scores of heavily armed police raided the Moscow and regional offices of Northern Caucasus Resorts, the company set up to run the investment scheme, to investigate accusations against its former boss. He was charged with embezzlement and has left the country. Moscow started Northern Caucasus Resorts (NCR) with capital of 60 billion roubles ($1.93 billion). Costs have ballooned as the project has grown. Estimates reached $26 billion in January, from $15 billion in 2010.
Bomb damaged lift, 2011
If the prospect of separatist guerrillas, heavy security presence and questionable mountain safety doesn't sufficiently dissuade you, the resort is located 160 km from the international airport at Mineralnye Vody and 70 km from the regional airport in Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria.