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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Spend Big on Ski Gear To Shake Winter Blues

Winter in Moscow is not the time to put on an extra layer of fat, get depressed and hole up in the apartment like a bear hibernating in its cave.

Whether you are gliding silently along a lighted trail on skis, carving a graceful curve on a glistening skating rink, racing down an icy slope on a sled or pausing for a hot toddy among snow-covered trees, Russian winter is at its best outdoors.

The proof, of course, is in the doing. But even a short visit to one of the city parks shows that snow brings Muscovites outside in droves. The paths are populated by people of every age group, even babushkas wheeling well-swaddled babies. And with rental equipment available for low prices in many city parks, skiing and skating are definitely not just for sportsmeny.

Still, as every winter sports enthusiast knows, in order to enjoy the snow and get that mood-reviving endorphine high day after day, equipment is the key. To put it simply, you need gear -- a word that makes sports fanatics drool and rub their hands greedily in anticipation of new toys for a new season.

The good news is: For cross-country and downhill skiing, ice skating, pick-up hockey games, sledding, winter camping or even ice climbing, gear is available in well-stocked Moscow stores. The bad news is: Unless you're buying Russian- or Eastern European-made goods, the prices can be outrageously high.

This bi-level pricing is clearly displayed at Olimp, (23 Ulitsa Krasnaya Presnya, metro Ulitsa 1905 Goda, tel. 255-0592), the best place in town to buy cross-country ski equipment and ice skates. This store's Western-made, cross-country skis cost up to six times more than skis made in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. For example, Ukrainian-made Tisa skis sell for 280,000 rubles ($50.90), with similar appearance and weight to Austrian-made Fischer skis priced at 1.8 million rubles ($330), Olimp's top-of-the-line cross-country skis. An expert would notice the difference, but for a beginner, Tisas offer a minimal initial outlay.

Other Western-brand cross-country skis at Olimp include Austrian-made Atomic and Blizzard, Norwegian Madshus and Italian Monotto skis ranging from 823,000 rubles to 1,358,000 rubles. Eastern brands include Ukrainian-made Fischer skis priced at 578,000 rubles, and Russian-made World Cup, Crystal and Cortina brands ranging from 201,000 to 619,000 rubles.

In shopping for cross-country skis, you should be familiar with the two types: classic and skate. Classic skis are longer than skate skis and have pointier tips; the skate skis have more rounded tips.

Many beginners start with classic skiing, in which the skis face straight ahead and, on groomed trails, glide in tracks. Skate skiers, on the other hand, move as if they were ice skating, with their skis at about a 45-degree angle. For experienced skiers, skate skiing is definitely more popular because it's faster; however, it also requires more skill and balance.

Knowing the different styles also helps when choosing the size of the poles you use. For classic skiing, poles should reach your armpit or shoulder, while skate skiing poles should be as tall as you are. Olimp carries two models of Swix poles priced at 385,000 and 539,000 rubles, but beginners could opt for Carbon-Lites at 50,200 rubles or Rikons at 198,000 rubles.

Next you'll need boots and bindings, which come in two types: the older pin style, and the newer Salomon style. Many people prefer the Salomon style, a big improvement for skate skiers because of the added stability they provide the feet and ankles.

With that said, note that Salomon bindings cost between 648,000 and 870,000 rubles when purchased along with French-made Adidas boots.

At less than half the price, pin-style bindings with Czech-made boots make sense for bargain hunters; they cost from 273,000 to 351,000 rubles, depending on the style of boots. In addition, Olimp charges 70,000 rubles to install the bindings. The Metalloremont store across the street from Olimp attaches bindings for 40,000 rubles.

Bargain-hunters can also save money by purchasing their equipment from the people stamping their feet and blowing into their cupped hands on the sidewalk in front of Olimp. The pair of Fischer Classics that sold for 578,000 rubles inside the store cost 300,000 outside on one recent afternoon.

Unfortunately for beginners, few of the skis at Olimp are waxless, something easy to determine by the scale-like ridges under the binding area. This means you probably have to enter the complicated world of ski waxing. It helps to have an experienced skier introduce you to the waxes, but with a little practice they make your skis glide effortlessly over trails and allow you to speed down hills and jog up small inclines without having to "fishbone."

There are two types of wax: kick wax and glide wax. Before each outing, kick wax, which is sold in containers similar to film canisters, is rubbed on about a three-foot area in the middle of the skis' bottoms to give the traction that moves you forward. Glide wax, which is sold in blocks, is melted on the bottom of the skis in drops (you'll need to sacrifice an iron for this), rubbed in with a piece of cork and later scraped smooth.

Usually the waxing is done the night before a trip and is somewhat of a social event, with avid skiers arguing over glasses of hot toddies about what wax is best. While experts often glide wax their skis, beginners can usually get by with glide waxing their skis two or three times a season, depending upon the conditions.

Olimp offers a basic waxing kit for 135,000 rubles and also has a full range of Swix and Rex brand waxes, scrapers and corks.

If all this cross-country equipment sounds too complicated, ice-skating offers a more minimalist approach to cold-weather enjoyment.

Olimp offers 10 different brands of black hockey skates, ranging in price from 683,000 rubles for Czech-made Bauers to up to 2.7 million rubles for Western-made models, most of which are Canadian-made Bauers.

White figure skates, of which there are four brands, all made in England, cost from 293,000 to 636,000 rubles. This season, the Canadian company Lange also has an answer to the roller-blade craze: "Freestyle" ice skates with shiny plastic uppers, roller-blade-like clasps and neon colors start at 267,000 rubles.

Olimp also carries children's sleds and winter clothing for adults and kids, but does not offer downhill ski equipment.

For that the place to go is Alpindustriya, (18 Pervomayskaya Ulitsa, metro Izmailovskaya, tel. 165-9081). While this store has virtually no cross-country ski equipment, it offers a huge selection of Western-brand downhill skis, poles and boots although at huge prices.

Ski prices range from 500,000 rubles for Atomics to 3.2 million rubles for a pair of K-2 "Fours." Other brands include Rossignol, Head, Elan, Italian-made Tyrolias and Salomon.

Alpindustriya carries more than 40 styles of downhill boots, including Langes, Raichles and Technikas, that cost from 355,000 to 2.3 million rubles. Bindings, including Look, Salomon and Rossignol, range from 344,000 to 884,000 rubles.

But the true winter adventurer will want to visit Alpindustriya for its mountaineering equipment -- crampons, collapsible hiking poles, picks and rock-climbing gear and ropes. And if you want to spend a frosty night outside, try The North Face sleeping bags, rated at -25 degrees celsius, for 2.6 million rubles -- or for about half the price, there were several sleeping bags rated at -23 degrees celsius.

Alpindustriya is also the place to buy items like Thinsulate gloves or sport sunglasses, and the store had a wide selection of pile and Gore-tex coats.

Sports World, in the basement of Detsky Mir, (5 Teatralny Pereulok, metro Lubyanka, tel. 925-1128), also has plenty of downhill ski equipment and about eight models of cross-country skis, with a few Western models priced significantly lower than Olimp. Sports World carries additional models of cross-country ski boots, including Salomon, Tyrolia and Rossignol, with prices ranging from $66 to $166. If you're willing to pay a little more for a higher quality boot, you may end up getting more for your money here.

Sports World also repairs damaged skis or snowboards for $40 to $60, based on the size, depth and number of scratches. The store charges $20 to install bindings. domestic flights at the Sheremetyevo 1 terminal and to bypass customs for passengers transferring through to international flights.


According to aviation analysts, Sheremetyevo 2 is going to be maxed out in the next 10 years and no longer able to handle growing passenger traffic. A lack of space on the site for future building -- and, perhaps more limiting, two runways that are situated too close together -- will limit the amount of flights the airport will be able to receive.

That, the experts say, is where Domodedovo stands to gain: The Lehman Brothers study recommends that Domodedovo become Moscow's new international hub.

Domodedovo is currently involved in a series of negotiations with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to build a new passenger terminal, which will cost roughly $20 million, said Leonid Sergeyev, general director of Domodedovo Airlines. While Domodedovo airlines and airport spent most of their existence as a single body, a recent privatization auction gave the go-ahead to separate the airline from the airport.

The aging facility, built in 1964, has seen its volume of domestic passengers drop from a high of 8.3 million in 1991 to 3.2 million in 1995. However, Domodedovo's international traffic, which includes flights to some Commonwealth of Independent State countries, increased 35 percent between 1992 and 1993 and continues to grow, Sergeyev said.

"Ever since the fall [of the Soviet Union] we've been studying ways to attract foreign partners," he said. The Russian financial corporation Eastline has spent $7 million to build a new, 500-ton capacity cargo terminal. Eastline has also established a catering service with the airport and will spend an additional $4 million to complete a second phase of the cargo warehouse. Aviatrans, a private cargo company which services international carriers such as UPS, has also built a cargo facility at the other end of the airport.

Nonetheless, Domodedovo is old, its infrastructure crumbling. "Nothing has happened in terms of reconstruction, so we have lots of problems," Sergeyev said.

Domodedovo's main attraction is its two runways, which stand a generous 2,000 meters apart. These allow for a substantial increase over the airport's current number of touchdowns and takeoffs, as well as the potential for a greater overall volume of traffic than Sheremetyevo 2.

"You should start developing Domodedovo as the long-term solution if you don't want to hub outside the country," said Lynn Hampton, a financial officer in the airline industry, who also worked on the Lehman Brothers study.

A joint venture started five years ago between British Airways and Domodedovo, called Air Russia, had looked at ways to service the immense potential of the Soviet market, and would have attempted to establish links to European capitals and the Far East and Asia. But the joint venture fell apart after political and management uncertainties, analysts said.

"At that time there was no difficulty to get funding for the airline parts of the joint venture," said Duffy. "But the difficulty arose when Western banks didn't want to fund $60 million to build a new passenger terminal needed to provide Western-class service."

In 1996 the airport has seen its international traffic double, mostly in the form of charter flights to vacation spots such as Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, Sergeyev said.

However, one major Western carrier said the airport today needs a major overhaul before they will fly in.

"Domodedovo is not acceptable [now] because they don't have the equipment to handle our aircraft," said Lufthansa's Drews. Rather than flying into Domodedovo, he said his airline will re-route to St. Petersburg or Helsinki if there are problems landing at Sheremetyevo 2. But Sheremetyevo 2 continues to be a problem because it can't adequately service international and domestic flights, he added.


Like Domodedovo, Vnukovo has seen little improvement to its aging airport, located 11 kilometers southwest of the city. Although passengers have noted that the airport's service has improved vastly since the old days -- there are new arrival and departure screens, and bright English- and Russian-language directional signs which now grace the terminal building -- much more must be done to bring Moscow's other major airport up to snuff.

Vnukovo services more than 50 airlines for regular and charter flights and has plans to reconstruct the airport in order to increase aircraft parking, passenger and cargo terminals, and the length of the runways. As with Moscow's other airports, Vnukova is actively pursuing the charter-flight market.

The U.S. freight company Federal Express has also begun operations at Vnukovo. FedEx -- which has its own warehouse facilities at the airport -- could lend weight to Vnukovo's drive to boost its international airport status.

Vnukovo also features a new business lounge to service an increasing number of business flights, and a bar and waiting room built with the help of an Italian company. A German joint venture established a catering facility there in 1994.

"The market here is huge and each airport in Moscow has enough business to grow," said Vladimir Zamkov, Vnukovo Airport's deputy director, who added that his company's financial situation has improved. He said his airport plowed 35 billion rubles ($6.4 million) into reconstructing parts of the airport last year and another 20 billion rubles to date this year.

So far, the small profit Vnukovo earns is reinvested into upgrading the existing facilities, he said. Negotiations are also underway to build a new passenger terminal, Zamkov said, but it has been a long process and he sees no light at the end of the tunnel.

Vnukovo has taken a bigger plunge than Moscow's other airports, down from serving 13 million passengers in 1991 to 4.6 million passengers in 1995. This, Zamkov said, is mainly because the airport focused in the Soviet period on serving the Soviet republics; now that these countries are independent, the volume of travel there has fallen considerably.

But the airport is still thinking big.

"If we had a new international terminal, we could service many airlines that want to fly here," he said.

The Lehman Brothers' study recommended that Vnukovo focus on servicing business travelers to domestic destinations and consolidate aircraft maintenance. Zamkov said he agreed in principle with the study's findings.


A trip out to the Bykovo Airport is a trip back in time. The empty, gray terminal halls make one wonder if the airport is functioning at all. Flights to the Central Russian city of Voronezh, which once took off six times a day, now leave only once.

The U.S. study recommended closing Bykovo.

The airport services mostly small-body jets such as the Yak-42, which fly to the regions in Central Russia. Like the other airports, Bykovo has begun to increase charter flights to destinations all over Europe and the former Soviet Republics. Also like the others, they have plans to build a new international section to service their growing international traffic.

"We are working on reconstructing the air terminal for our foreign flights," said Gennady Sitnik, the general director of Bykovo, which just celebrated its 60th anniversary.

In 1991, Bykovo serviced 200 daily flights but this year only