“Siberia” and “sport” are not two words often put together.
But local enthusiasts have carved out some sporting niches which are accommodated by even this region’s brutal climate, where temperatures can swing from 35 degrees in brief, hot summers to -40 in the long, harsh winters.
As snow is rarely in short supply, skiing is an obvious choice. The Kemerovo Region ski resort of Sheregesh really gets going in winter, but recently has been showing signs of life all through the summer. Its slopes play host to a huge bikini parade to mark the traditional end of the ski season in the spring — a very modern take on age-old Siberian festivities that would see several villages come together to celebrate name days. Widely covered by the world’s media, the event sees hundreds of people don swimwear to ski or snowboard down the resort’s slopes, setting Guinness World Records for attendance in the process.
For those who snowboard, ski or ride husky sleighs in the winter, a logical switch is to wakeboarding, longboarding and BMX riding as the mercury climbs for a few short summer months.
Despite the summer lasting no more than 12 weeks, Siberians have mastered the disciplines of surfing, kitesurfing and sailing in every city where there is a river or large body of water. The movement was spearheaded by Novosibirsk kitesurfing school Vetru-Da!, which has got dozens of people out onto the water. Not all Siberian sporting pastimes involve struggling with the elements, however. A few years ago, Krasnoyarsk-based Longboard Market set a trend for longboards, seemingly out of place in Siberia. Now, the youth of every Siberian city can be seen riding their longboards, cruising the streets in full force on summer days.
Skaters and BMXers traditionally rode on monuments or literally dug out spots for themselves to practice their freestyle tricks. But now, almost every city is home to its own purpose-built skate park — SibSub in Tyumen, Eversi in Novosibirsk, and Krasnoyarsk’s Sportex. Until a few years ago, each region had its own branch of the Extreme Sports Federation (ESF) — traceurs, cyclists, skaters, rollerbladers and other extreme sports fans felt at home in their urban environments.
Now the ESF is all but defunct (the huge Alternativa skate park in Novosibirsk burned down in 2014). Its legacy lives on, however, in the many workout spaces lining the streets of Siberian cities, complete with skate spots and skate bars. “It’s great that you can do more than just ride for its own sake, and actually learn too. Almost every discipline has its own school now,” says Konstantin, one of the former directors of ESF. “It may not look like we’re doing it our own special Siberian way, but we’re trying to do something here that people do in warmer places, and that deserves respect. We’re not giving up hope.”
For those seeking more outdoor thrills amid spectacular natural scenery, the Altai mountains lure advocates of all kind of sports. From whitewater rafting to trekking and horseriding, Altai has much to offer. Land and snow can be crossed on any number of different vehicles.
Soon, Siberian sport may even colonise the bleak north as its steppe and forest landscape becomes more and more attractive. Hot on their heels, adrenaline junkies are hoping to conquer the dunes of the Chara Sands, a Siberian desert located in the Zabaikalsky Krai.
More prosaically, Siberia, like all of Russia, has been in the grip of a jogging revolution for several years. This form of recreation isn’t extreme in the least, but in Russia, and especially in Siberia, practising it can throw up a few complications if you don’t want to confine yourself to a gym. In summer it’s too hot, in autumn and spring there is little more than slush and ice underfoot, and in winter it can be tough to force yourself out of the house even in a fur coat and boots, let alone trainers and leggings. Nevertheless, Siberians would be bored without these obstacles. Every major city is home to at least two running schools, and races take place regularly in Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, Tomsk, Omsk, Novosibirsk and Kemerovo. Anything from a five kilometre run to a marathon can be expected to attract thousands of participants.
The ability of Siberians to adapt is their strength. Ambition and energy unites people, and entire movements can spring up around different sports. It is perhaps thanks to this that Siberians are willing to put up with so much — and come to terms with the geography, the weather and the changing seasons.
Text: Anastasia Zakharova
Image: Anastasia Sedih