When we met Sergey from Bear Powder Surfs at ISPO he told us about his recent splitboarding and powder surfing trip to Siberia. Of course our powder department had a some questions..
The Chamar-Daban (or Khamar-Daban) mountain range at the southern coast of lake Baikal gets the greatest amount of precipitation in the region and offers - thanks to stable cold temperatures - low-density Japow in early winter. The most accessible place for splitboarding is the valley of the Bolshoy-Mamay river, just 10 kilometers south of Lake Baikal.
With whom you where there and what was your motivation?
We went to Mamay with my friends: Vitaliy, a local guy from my home mountains Sheregesh, Ivan a professional photographer from Moscow and Kristina from Irkutsk and local to Mamay. So our crew was pretty well fitted for this trip. Our Motivation was a movie called "Здесь Можно Жить" (Here I can live), that our friend Igor Popeliukh filmed a year ago. So this was kinda it, we saw this tons of pow in the movie and we all were super stoked to do this trip.
OK, this sounds great, how do I get there?
Well, basically you fly to Irkutsk, or as we did - we took the train from Novosibirsk to Irkutsk, because we were traveling from Sheregesh(*) to Novosibirsk. But because of the super low temperatures and long drive, plus we got in a little accident on the way to Novosibirsk, we decided to take a train which is 32 hours or 1850 kilometers ride. Then from Irkutsk you have to take a car (some local guy or taxi) and drive 200 more kilometers to Lake Baikal, after that he will drop you on the side of the road and you either walk up to the valley of Mamay river with all your stuff for about three hours or pay for a snowmobile ride. We did it the cheapest way - we droped our stuff on the sleds and walked the distance without bags. But as you can see in our video, it was already dark and the place is super wild and we had about -30° Celsius.
How is the access to this kinda wilde place, is it long? Any dangers?
As I said before there are a few ways. Splitting or taking sleds and when you go there, there are some super small huts that you can rent with some kind of local guy who is not a real mountain guide but knows the spots. For any experienced riders I would recommend to not pay these guys and just rent a hut just because it is not necessary. I don't think there is much danger besides avalanches. The southern exposition has steeper terrain and hence is more prone regarding avalanches. The terrain on the north-west side is a bit more mellow and safer, offers more snow and more fun.
What makes this place so special?
This place is a powder Mecca! I never experienced that much snow, even in Sheregesh which is pretty damn deep pow from season to another. Plus there are pillows everywhere - Mamay is like a pillow paradise if you know what I’m talking about! Also the valley has quite an exceptional micro-climate where the north-western exposition is protected by mountains from all sides and there are not so strong winds. Hence the snow keeps longer fluffy and it all makes this place ideal for powder surfing!
Wow, this sounds super exciting. Can you describe the terrain in more detail?
The mountains there are generally around 1600 meters in elevation and the average run is about 600 to 700 vertical meters. It has everything from forests to small chutes super packed with a deep, deep pow! Approaches are easy and take an hour to two - depending on the mountain so you can make two or three rides a day depending on your fitness level.
Sounds good, so what is the best time of travel?
We were there at mid January and I think it’s the best time because every day from the top of the summit we saw with our eyes how lake Baikal was slowly getting frozen day by day from the coast to a complete ice covered desert – it’s an incredible thing! The biggest snowfalls are in November and December. But be warned in January it can be quite cold with average temperatures around -20°C but as already mentioned, we had -30°C as well.
How long should I stay?
Oh that’s a question! We had super limited time but I would say, stay there at least for a week or two to explore more. Plus you have to put extra time for travel and other moves...
OK, do you have any tips for accommodation?
You can rent small huts with a stove. You will be sleeping in your sleeping bag and preparing food by your own, toilet is outside. So you have to bring some of your camping gear too.
General comfort level: LOW
So can you recommend any local guides?
I would recommend to call Krista - she is local to that area and knows everyone plus she speaks English and can translate for you. Don't forget when you travel to Russia, its pretty hard to find someone speaking English or any other language besides Russian and some native dialects. You can always text me on facebook and i will connect you to some locals.
Are traverses from valley to other valleys possible?
It might be possible but in the surrounding area there is no infrastructure. So, not really.
Are there any maps available for this area?
I don't think so.
Special considerations regarding bears?
It seems like there is a lots of wildness going on around but in January all the bears are sleeping and during our trip we didn't notice any sign of wolves too. But Mamay is well known and loved by hunters. It’s Siberia!
PS: Sergey is starting a crowdfunding campaign (Russian language only) to start producing splitboards and powder surfers made in Siberia. If you want a split or pow surfer get in touch with him! Splits can be ordered now for about 430 EUR(**) and will be shipped in November. If you are more flexible with the delivery date, there is always someone traveling to Europe and additional shipping costs could be saved.
(*) Sheregesh is also one of these crazy Japan-powder like locations, but this is another story, coming soon.
(**) Additional customs charges might arise.