«Big Wood» is the name of a ski resort in the town of Kirovsk, located at the spurs of the Khibiny Mountains on the shores of the Lake Bolshoy Vudyavr, 175 kilometers (109 mi) south of Murmansk. The skiing trails are located on the southern and northern slopes of the Mount Aikuaiventchorr (I’ll give you a minute to try and pronounce that 😉 ) and start at an altitude of 1.000 meters (3,280 feet) above sea level. This may not seem that impressive on its own, but it actually makes Big Wood the highest ski resort above the Arctic Circle.
Its location at 67°37′N, almost in the geographical center of the Kola Peninsula, pretty much assures that the 45 kilometers of ski slopes enjoy fantastic (and abundant!) snow throughout the season.
If you avoid peak season (more about this later) you can enjoy the slopes almost all to yourself, as there are very few skiers compared to the infrastructures and I have never seen anyone having to stand in line for even a minute before getting onto a gondola lift, a chairlift or a rope tow. In spite of this, and I can NOT recommend it, but I have seen quite a few (experienced) skiers choose to adventure backcountry.
For more than a month around the Winter Solstice (so, from the beginning of December to the middle of January) Kirovsk experiences the Polar Night, a period when the sun never really rises and the night and twilight last for 24 hours a day. This creates a pretty unique chance to ski under a deep dark blue sky all day long and photographers can enjoy a “never ending blue hour”.
Because of its remote location, absence of nearby large town and, therefore, light pollution and the crisp air at 1.000 meter altitude, this is also one of the most ideal, spectacular and unique places from which to admire the Northern Lights in all their splendor.
Because Russians don’t celebrate Christmas on December 25th, the Russian Christmas holidays are from the 1st to the 7th of January, and this is the absolute peak season in all holiday resorts in the country, including Kirovsk. If you can, it is much better to avoid these dates and come when there is much, much less people. I took all the pictures you see in this post around the middle of February, when you can also already enjoy quite a few hours of daylight.
Kirovsk is definitely “off the beaten track”, but luckily getting there is rather easy. the closest large town is Apatity (23 km – 14 mi away), an important mining center named after one of its most abundant natural resources in the area, apatite, the raw mineral used in the production of phosphorus mineral fertilizers. Here you can find both the Kirovsk-Apatity Airport (KVK), with regular daily flights from Moscow–Domodedovo, Moscow-Sheremetyevo and St. Petersburg , and the railway station on the Moscow-Murmansk line (you can read more about the Artika Train here). A taxicab ride from Apatity to Kirovsk takes about 20 minutes and it will run you about 450-500 Rubles (7-8 USD, 6-7 Euro).
In the Murmansk region you can taste fantastic unusual meats, the likes of bear and venison. A great way to experience the latter without putting your holiday budget at risk in a super fancy restaurant is to go and find the V Svoyey Tarelke (В Своей Тарелке) café. The name literally translates as “in your own dish”, but it is actually an expression that means “at ease” and I think this cozy, unpretentious restaurant will make you feel at ease. It is not very easy to find (here’s a Google Map link) and from the outside it doesn’t look like much, but here you can try a delicious venison burger (which I admit I devoured before taking any picture of it) and many other specialities from the Russian Norther cuisine at reasonable prices.
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