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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Festival Creates Playground for Adventure




It's difficult to be a snowboarder in Moscow. It may be hard to believe, but sometimes there's just not enough snow. Alexei Khokhlov, an avid snowboarder since the sport's earliest days in Russia 12 years ago, has found an answer: He and his friends transport the stuff from outside the city. Twenty carloads of snow later and they have their own homemade slope to slide down.


But if you're not ready to go to those lengths, you can still enjoy the pleasures of snowboarding thanks to a festival of extreme sports being held for the five weekends. An odd combination of coffee and Moscow hip-hop culture has created an oasis of extreme sports on the hills of Krylatskoye in northeast Moscow.


The Pure Energy festival, which began Jan. 23, provides free snowboarding and snowblading lessons, trial biking, graffiti contests, techno music, silly carnival games and coffee every Saturday and Sunday until March 7. According to organizers, last weekend, up to 10,000 people visited the festival, where they drank nearly 20,000 cups of free coffee provided by the event's sponsor, Nescafe.


Krylatskoye has long been a sports paradise. Developed in part for the 1980 Olympic Games, the region features an cycling track, artificial rowing lake and a motor racing circuit. In the summer, paragliders leap off the region's hills. In the winter, skiers come from all over Moscow.


But these days, the hills belong to a particular crowd of adventurous Muscovites. The term extreme sports includes a wide variety of activities - snowboarding, rollerblading, mountain biking - but it also puts you in a certain club.


"The people all have the same character - the snowboarders, rollerbladers, bikers," said Khokhlov, who is a snowboard instructor at the festival. "You can see it straight away. Their eyes shine. If we meet we can recognize each other from the first two words."


Hip hop music and baggy waterproof trousers are also part of the image.


"What is extreme sports? It's pure energy, it's cyclists, it's snowboarders, skateboarders. ... Everyone's together when there's such an event. There's no 'snowboarding is cooler than trial biking.' We're all one," Khokhlov said.


It's a young thing as well. At the festival, which has been advertised mostly on MTV, teenagers crowd around the free snowboard school while children as young as 7 take part in the daily freestyle competition - a high-speed leap off a platform similar to a ski jump.


Snowboarding first arrived in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s.


"For five years we practically did nothing but snowboard," said Khokhlov, who sometimes even used to sleep on his board in his travels in and around Moscow, to the Caucasus and to Kamchatka.


He and his friends made their own boards - at first from wood - before setting up their own company, which survived until the crisis last August.


Now 30, Khokhlov doesn't lead quite the same snowboard maniac life, but the boss in the trading company he works for still gives him time off for special events.


"Other things have appeared - family life - but at the first possibility I try to go off into the mountains," he said.


The simple fact of aging also puts limitations on what he can do.


"Up to 25, people still jump; after that, a fear develops," said Khokhlov, who has suffered numerous injuries. "I've got it as well. That's why I quit [jumping]."


In the past five years the sport has boomed in Russia, and despite high prices, snowboard sales have risen.


"Russian people are like that. They'll find a way - if they're earning $100 or $50 - to buy a $700 board. They won't eat, but they'll buy it," Khokhlov said.


Many new enthusiasts were being born last weekend. Students who'd been through the free snowboard school would often turn up later with newly purchased boards of their own.


The glamour of the freestyle now wins in popularity over slalom among Moscow snowboarders. On Sunday the biggest crowds were watching snowboarders - and later the trial bikers - fly high into the air above the jump.


But Khokhlov's mom, who started snowboarding two years ago, is sticking firmly to slalom. She's 53.


Graffiti arrived in Moscow at about the same time as snowboarding. The judge of the graffiti contest, who goes by the tag name Basket, describes himself as one of the grandfathers of Russian graffiti.


For Basket, the festival is a chance to look at new talent. He says the response to the MTV-sponsored contest, which involves designing a piece of graffiti incorporating the channel's "M" logo, has been tremendous.


Each day of the festival, Basket sifts through a hundred sketches before choosing 10 to paint on the walls.


"I was very surprised that in minus 15 degrees Celsius, 100 or 150 people turned up with drawings," he said.


Frostbite has been common among the artists, who often spend four hours outside painting.


Winter in Moscow is not the best time for graffiti artists, so many keep busy by passing around photo albums of their past masterpieces.


"It's impossible to work in winter," said Shaman, who has been painting graffiti since last summer. "The paint runs."While territorial disputes are common among Moscow's grafitchiki, as they are anywhere in the world, the atmosphere at the festival has been friendly.


"We all support each other [here], said Shaman. "Although there is sometimes war between different artists when they ruin each other's work."


Graffiti is not as common here as in New York or Los Angeles, but Basket says Russia has a few world-class graffiti artists.


"There are five people who are so good they're like Salvador Dali or Picasso. You can't say one is better than the other," said Basket, who also publishes a magazine called Hip Hop Info.


While most seem to be enjoying the snowboarding and the graffiti, the festival's music has been more hit-or-miss. The techno radio station 106.8 is co-sponsoring the event, and Basket was less than happy about it. He and the other grafitchiki plan to head off to Shtrafnoi club - which plays hip hop - this Saturday after the contest.


If snowboarding and graffiti aren't your thing, the festival offers other activities. Festival assistants wander the grounds offering rides on flying-saucer-like sleds. You can sumo wrestle in giant padded snowflakes, pummel your friends with giant Q-tips ? la Gladiators, get your face painted or try to score a goal past a swinging wooden bear.


Lessons in snowblades - a shortened version of skis made famous when Britain's Prince Harry was pictured using a pair in Switzerland last Christmas - have also proved a hit.


The Pure Energy festival takes place every Saturday and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Krylatskiye Hills until March 7. Entry is free as are all the events and the coffee. The easiest entrance is via Krylatskaya Ulitsa, otherwise enter the area via Krylatskiye Kholmy and climb to the top of the ski lift and then down again. Metro: Krylatskoye.