Lined with a mixture of soviet style tower blocks and capitalist condominiums interspersed with wooden chalets and shacks, the road to the Lake was a steep and treacherous dirt track, covered in thick sheet ice. At the bottom we could see the Lake in all its glory. Spanning 636km from north to south, it contains over 40% of the world’s fresh water and it tastes great (as this is the only part of Russia you can safely drink from the tap)!
With the sun low in the sky, we walked onto the thickly frozen lake and strode our way across as a “short cut” to the ski slope we were reliably informed was not far away. Over an hour later, after a very steep climb in the surprisingly hot sun, we arrived at the ski slope, which was 100 Rubels per hour or 500 Rubels for half a day, plus deposit for hire of skis and boots.
I joined the other non-skiers on the baby slope -which was the steepest nursery slope I’d ever seen – and eventually we were pitied by another member of our group (a ski instructor in a former life) who came and showed us what to do. After an hour or so of falling over; inadvertently trying to break the land speed record and dragging ourselves up the “ski lift”; we went to the top to wait for the boys and enjoyed a beer whilst admiring the incredible views.
Not put off by the aches and pains of skiing, the next day had even more outdoor pursuits in store. We took a short walk to the Lake Baikal Dog Sledding Centre for a day of racing around in the woods. Split into two groups, one taking the Snow Mobiles and the other the Dogs to the lunch destination point, we got suitably attired in snow suits, waterproofs and headgear and took to our respective modes of transport.
The snow mobile ride out was fantastic, if not a little slower than we would have hoped. With petrol fumes filling our nostrils and our breath freezing on the insides of our scarves we carved up the track through the forest going over bumps, barely missing branches and revving our motors along the 10km course, whilst zig zagging in and out of the pack of dogs dragging the second group on skis. After about 40 minutes we reached a point in the middle of woods where we stopped and made camp for lunch. Using a billy can and makeshift BBQ, much more of an open fire really, our Russian hosts prepared us a meal of broth with dumplings, dry bread and cakes with tea (which was a bit like dishwater with leaves and berries in). One of the cakes looked suspisciouly like a meatball, but no one said anything, until one of the Russian guys tried it, spat and swiftly removed the rest of the meatball like contents from the cake bag!
On the route back we switched over and took up the reigns of the Husky sleds. Holding onto the handle, with a foot on each of the inch thick skis, we were given very basic instructions from our Musher in Russian/English charades on how to go left, right and brake. The guy at the back gave the signal and we were off at a startling pace, racing around the track, up and over bumps, swerving into corners and sliding across sheet ice.
Fortunately the dogs were a little slower on the way back, which suited me just fine! As the grip on the shoes constantly failed me and my hands and feet turned to solid blocks of ice I had to call time before I killed myself (and those around me!). The kind Russian Musher could see I was struggling and wrapped me in a blanket and put me in a Babushka basket on the front carriage for a coxic crunchingly cold ride back to the start and much ribbing from the rest of the gang whilst we warmed up in the toasty boot room!