Over time, living conditions in the “zimukhas,” the so-called dwellings adapted for living in the cold, began to improve. New buildings can hardly be called zimukhas: They are two-storey houses with double windows, a stove for heating and several gas stoves for cooking. Almost every house has a generator, outlets and electric lighting, and some even have sinks.
There used to be an unspoken rule at Mamai: don't lock the house. However, this rule had to be abandoned because of various people vandalising the premises in the absence of riders.
Ski season at Mamai lasts from November to March. From 60 to 120 people gather there each weekend.
Freeriding is a dangerous sport and getting to the nearest hospital isn't easy. In 18 years, six people have died in avalanches.
You can meet people of completely different professions, ages and social groups at Mamai. All of them are united by their love of skiing in wild places.
There are usually three main topics of conversation in the zimukhas: equipment, places for riding and neighbours. Only owners and their guests live in the houses. You can either rent it through an owner or find one of the few tours on the Internet.
In 2015, the film “The Great Siberian Traverse” was released, which documents famous Western freeriders in the Siberian mountains, including at Mamai.
Mamai evenings can be fun. Sometimes there are even fireworks and dancing. A special joy for a freerider is to go to a Russian bathhouse after a hard day on the slopes.
Snowmobiles appeared at Mamai in 2010. Initially, freeriders and snowmobile drivers were in the same places, spoiling each other's slopes and mood. They finally agreed to divide the space and now there are about 200 people in the local community of snowmobile riders.
Freeriders use either snowshoes for climbing or special skis with skins, which are devices from animal fur that do not allow the skis to roll backwards, as well as special fastenings and light boots. The cost of such equipment can reach several hundred thousand roubles, so it is not accessible to everyone.
Climbing to an acceptable skiing place takes anywhere from 40 to 90 minutes.
The height of Mamai Vostochny mountain is 1,600 metres above sea level.
The highlight of the Mamai development is two cottages with saunas, showers, heated floors, plasma TVs and an energy distribution system built for an Irkutsk entrepreneur who is fond of snowmobiling.
The community in Mamai is divided into several groups: Penguins, Raccoons, Conductors and the Mamai Backcountry team. Community members either came up with these names themselves or they got them because of the shape of their zimukha or the peculiarities of their owners.
An Irkutsk entrepreneur plans to rent his property out to VIP guests who periodically come here by helicopter.
Sergey Klimov, nicknamed Avalanche, lives in Ulan-Ude, the capital of Buryatia, and has been going to Mamai for 15 years already. In addition to two houses and a bath there, he has built four more in other mountains. At Mamai, Klimov is engaged in the popularisation of the culture of skiing and behaviour in the forest. He installed several information boards on the trail and regularly tracks the situation on the slopes for avalanche danger, and he also studies new places in the vicinity and gives them names.
Life-saving equipment: an avalanche probe, a beeper helping to find a skier buried by an avalanche, a walkie-talkie, a textbook telling you whether it's safe to ride on a particular slope and an airbag (a backpack with a kind of airbag that pushes the rider out of the snow). Unfortunately, even the most modern avalanche equipment does not guarantee safety. In February 2017, an avalanche buried three snowmobile drivers. Two managed to survive but the third died, despite having an airbag and a device for breathing under the snow.
At the end of last year, the leader of Buryatia was passing by Mamai and noticed expensive cars and snowmobiles at the foot of the mountain. Learning about the construction there, he gave instructions to study the terrain and "to start developing a plan to attract tourists there." Freeriders assume that means building a ski resort. Lifts are expected to open at Mamai in the next two years.
Mamai, a unique place with natural, un-groomed terrain, became a real catch for freeriders.
There are various slopes, a good amount of snow and its relatively easy to access. It's not surprising then that Mamai topped the list of the best freeriding resorts in Russia, according to TourStat.
Mamai is located 195 kilometres from Irkutsk in the Buryatia Republic. Mamai is a small village in the mountains about ten kilometres from the nearest train station.
It all started in 1999 when a group of snowboarders organised a tented camp here. Five years later, they built the first two-by-four metre house without windows for spending winters. Photographer Anton Klimov went to Mamai to see what an ideal place for freeriding looks like.