When Artem Vladimirov hits the road, he travels by longboard. The photographer and his friends started skateboarding as teenagers, before moving to downhill riding: a discipline that sees thrill-seekers ride their longboards along undulating hills and curves. Most downhillers ride on public roads alongside other traffic, adding both another layer of danger, and extra impetus to keep their board under control.
In the past decade, Vladimirov and his crew have become the most prolific and well-trained downhill community in Siberia. They first tested their downhill skills at a biathlon track in Krasnoyarsk, which are designed with slopes that are perfect both for skiing and for skating. “The ride down the hill is two minutes, and the walk to the next hill is about ten,” Vladimirov remembers. “I loved the speed, the thrill, the closeness of the asphalt, and how the trees brushed up against us on both sides of the road as I rode down.”
The team first travelled to Russia’s Altai region, close to the Mongolian and Kazakhstani borders, about two years ago, as part of a Toyota Arctic Truck expedition. They soon heard that the Chike-Taman passage, not far away from the village where they were camped, had hills suitable for riding. While ongoing road construction meant the team could only take short rides in the area, what they saw was enough to convince them to return next year.
The following trip saw Vladimirov and friends cross 1,250 kilometres in two days to arrive in Chike-Taman. They started riding almost straight away. “[When we downhill], someone stays in the car and follows the rider with emergency lights and a camera. Then the car lifts the rider back up the hill. And so it goes, for up to ten rides a day, from about four to five kilometres each,” Vladimirov explains.
Riders’ schedules also depend on the traffic, and the team will occasionally take longer breaks while waiting for cars to pass. It also takes downhillers time to learn the road, its curves, and the texture of the asphalt. The crew would often wake early in the morning, prepare food, readjust and tune their boards, and head out for the day, spending their daylight hours honing the smoothest, fastest ride possible.
The team ultimately stayed for almost two weeks training, camping by the river in the village of Stepushka, gathering footage for a yet-to-be-released documentary, and testing their handcrafted longboards, which Vladimirov’s friends produce and sell under the brand Basic Longboards. Downhill is not a team discipline but, as Vladimirov admits, “it is certainly more fun to train and ride together than alone.”