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Ride to the top of the world

February 26, 2014 - Chris Knight
As I write this, I'm home in Saranac Lake. I'll admit that I meant to blog more during the games, but found it tough to do because there were so many events to cover and so many stories to write.

Even though the games are over and I'm home with my family, I want to share the story of one of the most amazing parts of this journey that I haven't had the chance to write about until now.

Lou and I stayed at the Gorki Panorama hotel in Gorki Village, a cluster of huge, high-end hotels at about 1,000 meters, or 3,200 feet, in elevation. It took a roughly 10-minute free gondola ride from Gorki City, in the valley below, to get there.

From the top of the free gondola at Gorki Village, there was another gondola line that ran up to the Gornaya Karusel ski area, somewhere out of site on the ridgeline above. I wanted to ride it for some time but I decided to wait for the perfect day.

That day finally arrived about a week into the games. It was sunny and clear, and I had no events to cover until that night. I made my way to the ticket booth next to the gondola.

"How much?" I asked.

"950 rubles," the woman responded.

I typed 950 rubles into a money conversion app on my iPhone. $26.67.

"Well, when's the next time you'll be able to do this?" I thought and handed over the money.

I got my ticket and hopped into the gondola. A skier and a snowboarder rode up with me. As we climbed up the slopes, the view opened up farther and farther. Our hotel cluster, which seems so big when you walk around it, now looked like a small enclave of buildings out of place in the mountain panorama. Below it, the buildings in Gorki City and Rosa Khutor village looked so small, like I was flying over them in a plane. The Sanki Sliding Center, site of the bobsled, luge and skeleton track, came into view below me, and further to the north was the Mountain Olympic Village. From above, the buildings housing the world's athletes seemed to sit precariously close to the edge of a ridgeline.

Directly below the gondola, skiers and snowboarders were making their way down a wide, groomed trail. Off the trail, you could see the figure-8 tracks of skiers who had carved through a good six inches of powder. I was chomping at the bit, wishing I had brought my skis or rented some.

The lift finally approached a platform and I realized that this was the end of the line for this gondola. We were at 1,450 meters, or 4,750 feet (roughly the height of Whiteface Mountain), but still hadn't crested the ridge. It would take a third gondola to get all the way to the top. I followed the path up to the third gondola and there was a short escalator if I didn't want to take the stairs – an escalator on the side of the mountain!

From there, the ride up was simply amazing. After two weeks of looking up at these huge snow-capped peaks, I was among them. We reached the summit, at an elevation of 2,200 meters or 7,217 feet, and I was surprised to see all kinds of activity. Dozens of people, many wearing ski gear but others in jeans and sweaters, were talking, snapping pictures of each other and soaking up the sunshine. There was as a two-story lodge with an outside café where people were sitting in living-room-like chairs in the snow. A worker was firing up a huge grill under a covered patio. Skiers and snowboarders were getting ready to ride down the slopes. It was like mid-station at Whiteface on a spring skiing day.

Of course, the most impressive thing was the view from the top, which included a series huge rocky peaks, several of which had large pipes sticking out of them. The pipes are part of an avalanche mitigation system created for the resort and the venues below. I was blown away by the engineering it must have taken to get them up there.

There was a series of four-person chairlifts that went laterally across the ridge, delivering skiers to even more expansive terrain. In the other direction, just past a long horizontal ridge, you could look down to the hotels of Adler along the coast of the Black Sea. Needless to say, I took a ton of pictures, several of which I've posted below. I think I stayed up there for close to an hour.

I've been to some pretty amazing places in my life – Alaska, Hawaii, Glacier and Yellowstone national parks – but I've never seen anything so sublime and amazing. I'll never forget it.

Note the pipe sticking out of the ridge in this shot.

Chairlifts stretch across the mountains.

The Sochi coast and the Black Sea.

The Mountain Olympic Village from above.

Folks relaxing at the summit.

Krasnaya Polyana from above.

The author at the summit.


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