Kamchatka has long been attractive to tourists who enjoy extreme adventure holidays. There is a new mountain snowmobile riding school in Kamchatka and it's perfect for those who do not like to be on the move and need a hit of adrenaline. It is managed by the tour company Olfi Tour. Olga Pilipenko, its director, told us about its achievements, prospects and the problems faced by those in active tourism in Kamchatka
– Olga, could you tell us about your school; do you have any competitors?
– We work in active tourism. Our school is the only such establishment in the Russian Far East. There are others but they are in Murmansk, Sochi and Siberia. Some tourists are taught from the ground up, others are more experienced fans of active recreation. They ride snowmobiles in winter and quadbikes in summer and autumn. Tour guides and instructors determine students' riding experience level, divide them into groups depending on their training levels, and teach them. The training takes three days. Alongside riding training, there is a course of avalanche-management training, and safety and first-aid techniques. Also, students are taught about the mechanics of the snowmobiles themselves. Three days are enough to cover the training areas and then ride — both for experienced tourists and for newbies.
– How much demand is there for such tours in Kamchatka?
– The demand is growing. Sometimes, people get tired of the seaside and beaches in winter, they seek out drive and adrenalin. They come in groups and do something like team building because snowmobile trips tend to unite people. Also, Kamchatka is beautiful both in summer and in winter — you can ride about on snowmobiles as well as on quadbikes. People wish to see the expanses of Kamchatka and try something new. Last year, we had more than 100 people come through our doors. There are newbies but also there are those who come every year or every other year or so. Our customers come from all over: there are locals, tourists from Sakhalin, the Khabarovsk and Primorye Territories, Siberian cities and even further afield. We get foreigners as well; I can't say that there are lots of them but they do come to Kamchatka. Last year, we had a coach from Finland — he took two groups, discovered the beauties of Kamchatka both for himself and them, it was a different geography and different snow for everyone.
– What areas are particularly popular among tourists?
– Everyone is super keen to see the winter ocean. This is our most popular destination. It is truly, immensely beautiful; the Pacific Ocean amazes everyone. The crater of the Mutnovsky Volcano is popular but it is more beautiful in summer and autumn when everything is green or clad in bright colours. In winter, it is possible to ride up the volcano slope on a snowmobile. Summer and autumn are the time for quadbikes. For those who find helicopter rides around Kamchatka too expensive, quadbikes are a great alternative. The most popular destinations are the trips to volcanoes, rivers, and the Kamchatkan tundra. It's eco-tourism, therefore, you don't need to return to the base camp too often. Instead, you can enjoy communing with nature. But still we have more tourists in winter.
– Tell us more about your fleet of vehicles.
– We have 16 snowmobiles, but not all of them are used at the same time because the ideal group size is six people. We take a maximum of eight. We do not take more than two groups. We have both mountain snowmobiles and all-purpose ones — for amateurs. We work hard to have the most up-to-date equipment all the time. Every year, people ride new models. Sometimes, people who have an old snowmobile at home visit us, ride a new one, and go home and decide to buy a new one. We have eight quadbikes, all of them new — they only arrived this year.
– Active recreation involves ensuring tourists' safety. How do you view this matter?
– Safety is paramount. If groups are in the field, we warn the rescue services every single time. We have an in-house instructor who, as I have mentioned already, reads up on avalanche survival. He attends international courses, continues to study. No one is given a snowmobile until we make sure that he or she can be safely allowed to do so. We issue anti-avalanche equipment to tourists as a matter of course but ask them to take care of the gear themselves. We explain what needs to be taken; if they lack something, we help get the necessary gear here. It is simpler with quadbikes; you need less gear and equipment. The most important things are a helmet and comfortable boots.
– In your opinion, what are the prospects for developing active recreation in Kamchatka?
– In fact, the prospects are great. There are numerous beautiful and interesting spots tourists can visit. In the past three years, we have felt an inflow of tourists, an obvious increase. It is pleasing that attempts have been made to improve, spruce up popular destinations, for example, the Pacific shore, and the lakes in the city.
– What are the difficulties that interfere with development of active tourism on the peninsula?
– If the regional government paid more attention to tourism, assisted business people and companies, the sphere as a whole would be developing faster. There are people who wish to develop the business but they need assistance, some programmes, help with business plan, an investment fund. I know quite a few people who would like to develop further but they lack the capital or resources. They have interesting projects and ideas to implement but no investors. Such people require a joint centre that would help them select an investor. Again, tourist traffic needs to be regulated; it is great that there are more organised groups. Foreign tourists have become more organised as well. There are attempts to solve this problem in Kamchatka. People themselves are more aware now; they won't just answer an advertisement for a jeep tour anymore.