5 outdoor winter adventures in the Russian Far East

The Russian Far East is feared for its long and harsh winters, but frequent snowstorms and a temperature averaging around minus 25 degrees Celsius create a winter wonderland with long stretches of undisturbed nature.

The right clothes and a sense of adventure are enough to see some spectacular sights and enjoy the great outdoors. RBTH presents 5 activities that are off the beaten track.  

1. Ice fishing on the Sea of Okhotsk

Photo credit: Lori/Legion-Media
The top layers of the North Pacific Ocean, or the Sea of Okhotsk as it’s locally known as, freeze over as ice floes move south towards the Japanese island of Hokkaido.

Fishing on the frozen sea is a favorite pastime of residents of Sakhalin and Primorye. One of the hotspots for fishing from January to early March is the Mordvinova Bay, off the southeast coast of Sakhalin Island.  Fishermen take drills, rods and nets and walk long distances on the sea to find the right area to fish.

There are occasional stories of ice floes breaking off and fishermen getting stranded for hours before getting rescued by Emergencies Ministry teams. But these are usually people who ignore official warnings and set off when the ice is not strong enough.

A few tour agencies in the city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk can arrange winter fishing trips. 


2. Walking across the Tatar Strait

Photo credit: Alamy/Legion-Media
The Tatar Strait separates Sakhalin Island from the Russian mainland in the Khabarovsk Territory. At their closest point the island and the mainland are only 7 miles apart. By late December, the layers of ice on the strait are usually strong enough to walk on.

While the actual distance doesn’t look daunting, please keep in mind that you’re likely to face minus 30 degree Celsius weather and strong and howling winds. Walking for such a distance on the sea requires a good deal of training. Also make sure an experienced guide accompanies you.


3. Dog sledding in Yakutia

Photo credit: Alamy/Legion-Media
The Russian internal republic of Yakutia is one of the coldest places on earth with temperatures falling as low as 50 degrees Celsius below zero. It also has some of the most untouched nature in the country. To see the untamed wild of Yakutia, go on a dog sled excursion through forests and on the Lena River.

The sleds are pulled by the big, beautiful and blue-eyed Yakutian Laika, who are known to be aggressive to predators but sensitive to humans. Tours conducted by Visit Yakutia train you to ride the 6-dog sled. The season begins in November and lasts until February.


4. Winter sports at the foothills of Kamchatka’s volcanoes

Photo credit: Elena Safonova
Kamchatka’s volcanoes look their majestic best when completely enveloped in snow. The foothills of two of the most famous volcanoes are easily accessible by road from the capital Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.

Drive to the foothills of the Avachinsky (2741 meters above sea level) and Koryaksky (3456 meters above sea level) volcanoes. Part of the journey is by car and the rest by snowcat.

You can snowboard or ski on the foothills of the volcanoes or just go on an exciting snowmobile ride.  Experienced mountaineers can also attempt to climb the Avachinsky volcano.

If you’re looking for a greater thrill, than try heli-skiing in the region. Kamchatka Tour and the Lost World offers a variety of packages for adventure sports in the winter.


5. Ski touring the mountains of Primorye

Photo credit: Alamy/Legion-Media
The Primorye Territory, which borders North Korea and China, has several mountains that offer breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.  While a winter climb up these mountains is not as demanding as a trek on a Kamchatka volcano, the climb using skis requires a particular level of training and fitness.

The most scenic mountains in Primorye are on the Partisan’s Ridge. The Belaya and Lisaya peaks both stand around 1500 meters above sea level, and offer great views of the forests and the ocean.

NGOs and nature clubs from Khabarovsk organize excursions on the ridge, which include camping out at night, even in the middle of winter.

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