Sochi polishes its pistes ahead of Olympics

Athletes from around the world already have their sights firmly set on the next winter Olympics in Sochi in two years. And the host city, which has always been a lure for thrill-seekers, is making safety a main priority.

­Sochi's avalanche hunters have explosives and cannons on their side. Their mission is to keep the mountain peaks clear and safe. From a helicopter, they deploy a hydrogen probe nicknamed “Daisy Bell” in order to blow up snow banks in hard-to-reach areas.

It has been snowing heavily in Sochi this week and the ski pistes look magnificent. But what most of us see as plain old snow can provide priceless data to avalanche hunters.

Leonid Andreev is the team's leading expert. He uses computers and weather stations to monitor the snowfall. A local who has lived in the Caucasus Mountains for over 40 years, he says his job involves more than reading data.

“The snow is a living being. It has its own life – you just have to learn how to understand it,” he told RT. “And this, in turn, is possible only if you spend your life with it.”

At times, however, the snow can turn nasty. If there are more than 20 centimeters, the chances are high it is going to slide. For real professionals, the clues are easy to discover.

“We build a 30 by 30 centimeter column, a tall one. And we hit it with a shovel exactly 10 times, very slightly. If the column falls apart at some point, it means the snow is too soft and it will collapse,” another member of the team explains.

The avalanche team surveys every nook and cranny of the resort. They say Russians love to push the boundaries, and many skiers like exploring off the beaten track. But safety comes first in the village of Rosa. So as well as giving warnings to free-riders, the team also ensures all areas are avalanche-free.

In February and March, this resort will host international ski competitions, bringing new challenges for the avalanche team. Ahead of the 2014 Winter Games, when the venue faces its ultimate test, learning to tame the white beast will be more important than ever.