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In Russia ___
January 9, 2013 10:34 PM   Subscribe

The sport of zorbing (previously) originated in the 1990s in New Zealand and is now done around the world. In Russia, zorbs have been adopted as a symbol of the 2014 Winter Olympics, which is being held in Sochi, Caucasus Mountains. However this video of a recent zorb run in Sochi shows it's not always fun and games. [Caution: Shows events leading to a fatality but not actual fatality.] For background and the rest of the story.
posted by stbalbach (37 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Whups!
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:42 PM on January 9, 2013


Holy fucking christ.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:43 PM on January 9, 2013


Has anyone looked at the resort on Google Earth? I saw the video a few days ago, but it occurred to me that it should be pretty easy to go into Google Earth, figure out the layout, and get an idea of what kind of dropoff there was. I haven't seen any video or photos of the drop area, but I know it definitely wasn't a full 10,000 feet. Whatever the case, hopefully it was over quickly.. it's horrific to think about.

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posted by crapmatic at 10:43 PM on January 9, 2013


I saw this video earlier... I think that a warning that it shows an incident in which someone dies is appropriate. It is heartbreaking to watch as individuals run across the course in an attempt to stop the ball but are unable to prevent it from plunging into a gorge.
posted by HuronBob at 10:44 PM on January 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


I think that a warning that it shows an incident in which someone dies is appropriate.

Agreed.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:47 PM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


This has been big news. One person died. The other person suffered severe injuries. That really out to be mentioned in the post.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:55 PM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Zorbs have been adopted as a symbol of the 2014 Winter Olympics, which Russia is holding in Sochi.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:57 PM on January 9, 2013


Is it weird that I still want to do this? Just lower on the mountain, please.
posted by floam at 10:59 PM on January 9, 2013


Saw this on the front page of Reddit a few days ago. Only afterwards did I learn that it was fatal. Creeped me out.

.
posted by WalkingAround at 11:05 PM on January 9, 2013


"veered off course" implies the thing was under some kind of control.

The thing obeyed gravity. I hope the operators are punished appropriately.
posted by schwa at 11:06 PM on January 9, 2013


This is horrible. I feel so, so sad.
posted by deo rei at 11:07 PM on January 9, 2013


This of course applies.

When I learned about diffuse axonal injury, I was so sad to find out Dredd-style boinging could never work...
posted by meehawl at 11:08 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Added a warning as per request by OP; thanks, stbalbach.]
posted by taz at 11:18 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I started off thinking this was going to be hilarious and travelled through every human emotion on my way to "this is totally fucked up." The guy near the camera had an idea what might happen and watching him struggle through the snow was excruciating.

The article says they were ejected more than a mile downhill. I can't even imagine how fast they were going. I wish the survivor a full recovery.
posted by phaedon at 11:27 PM on January 9, 2013


Even with the warning this feels kind of like snufffilter.
posted by JHarris at 11:57 PM on January 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


It doesn't even look fun
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:21 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, at about the one minute mark I saw the way the mountain was looking over on the left and I kinda knew where this was going. Bloody stupid place to try something like this.
posted by Decani at 12:26 AM on January 10, 2013


I didn't realize until I got to the the end that I was reading an orbituary.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 12:27 AM on January 10, 2013


From Wikipedia:

Jackie Chan is seen zorbing down a cliff in the opening scenes of Armour of God II

After this, "zorbing down a cliff" is an accurate image for catastrophy.
posted by deo rei at 12:28 AM on January 10, 2013


For those of us who aren't Jackie Chan, metaphorical zorbing is much safer.
posted by pont at 12:40 AM on January 10, 2013


What strikes me especially is that we are just sort of trained to expect to see something that looks incredibly dangerous pulled off successfully, without death or serious injury – TAADAA! – and that anyone can and maybe should be doing that stuff.

There are so many videos and TV shows glorifying dangerous "xtreme" sports and stunts that it terrifies me to think of how many kids (and young people still unconvinced of their mortality) are led to believe that they should be doing all these thrilling things that have the excitement of danger but seem to always turn out well (because they're not seeing the resultant deaths and injuries that do occur)... and everybody wants to be YouTube Famous*. I don't know if I would want to horror-bomb my kid with videos of some of the devastating consequences of untrained, unsafe daredevil stuff (even if not-gory), but I would definitely be having some very, very serious conversations about it.

(* Related to that: Stupid Teenage Tricks, for a Virtual Audience.)
posted by taz at 12:41 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Bloody stupid place to try something like this.

As decani says, a quick look at the dynamics of that thing, and the contours of that slope would lead one to seriously question attempting this in an area such as that. As a long term adrenaline-junkie I've learned to stay away from such activities in areas with poor economic conditions, or a lax regulatory environment. This area sounds especially problematic ...
"Until 2006, hundreds of people died every year at the North Caucasus ski resorts," said Kantemir Davydov, an Emergencies Ministry spokesman in southern Russia. "That number has fallen sharply, but still on average 20 to 30 tourists die every year. The causes of the deaths are various, but the root is the same: There is no clear system assuring tourism safety."
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 12:45 AM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


This has been big news. One person died. The other person suffered severe injuries.

What strikes me especially is that we are just sort of trained to expect to see something that looks incredibly dangerous pulled off successfully, without death or serious injury – TAADAA! – and that anyone can and maybe should be doing that stuff.

Oh c'mon. Olympic skiers have been killed. The luge has seen two fatalities. Crashes and injuries amongst professionals are common. Playing with gravity is dangerous. Isn't that what downhill sports are all about? The agony of defeat (0:13).
posted by three blind mice at 12:53 AM on January 10, 2013


Still conscious and able to stand, they were rescued by two skiers, who then pulled both men up to the top of the hill. Burakov suffered serious spinal injuries and died on the way to the hospital.
I don't know how risky where they ended up was, and how long the weather was survivable by someone in shock, but for goodness sake, can I just take this opportunity to remind everyone that if at all possible you wait for a spinal board before moving the patient. Everyone should know this.
posted by ambrosen at 1:07 AM on January 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


Playing with gravity is dangerous. Isn't that what downhill sports are all about?

Downhill sports for most of us really are not about crashes and injuries. The thrill of the adrenaline that makes these pursuits so addicting stops when you wipe out. Do it badly enough, and you'll be unable to continue for an interval that might range from a few minutes or a day to forever. Danger does add a certain extra edge for a few rare individuals, but most pursue these activities in spite of the risk, not because of them. The odd thing for me is that I have a mild phobia about heights. I am more scared of the chairlift than I am rocketing down a hillside through a forest at 60 kph.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 1:18 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I found this video very disturbing. To watch people prepare for a fun winter activity, and know one of them is about to die.
posted by Greener Backyards at 1:38 AM on January 10, 2013


Metaphorical Zorbing is the name of my next band.
posted by eriko at 2:10 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I used to be into extreme sports - I did a lot of bungee jumping and ran bungee jumping events back in my salad days and this looks incredibly amateurish to me. You always worked on a mechanical principle of redundancy - i.e. if something failed you always had a back up.

The people running this, I suspect, believe they have several failsafes:

- the snow is deep enough on either side of the piste that the zorb will either slow or stop completely.
- the zorb will slow down sufficiently towards the end to make stopping it easy.
- the hill incline at the end will stop the zorb. There is also a small barrier to stop the zorb if it ends up going downhill.

And therefore one person at the bottom is sufficient. Note there is a staff member who is at the top of the piste, too far away, who is the only other person to react when the zorb goes out of control.

What is clear is:

- the staff at the top do not appear to be in radio contact with the ones at the bottom
- the snow walls are not high enough to channel the zorb properly
- the piste is not straight, which means the zorb can more easily bounce up the walls and therefore both gain speed and an unpredictable route
- there is no redundancy at all at the bottom - in practice there is just one guy down there and no barriers
- he makes two mistakes - misjudges where the zorb is going and slips.
- the guy at the bottom has the wrong job; he is there to stop and retrieve the zorb, and should not be there to provide any safety function at all.
- the snow is not as deep at the bottom of the piste, and therefore doesn't slow the zorb down
- and the obvious, important one therefore: if the guy at the bottom doesn't catch the zorb, it is possible for it to keep going.

Very sad. Entirely avoidable. Surprisingly common in extreme sports because of the number of people who don't understand how to engineer things so that safety isn't reliant on avoiding human error.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:28 AM on January 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


A newspaper reporter in my hometown in Maine had a similar, though luckily non-fatal, accident while trying out a Zorb at a local ski area for a feature story several years ago.
posted by briank at 5:37 AM on January 10, 2013


Long story short, the business was stolen at gunpoint by the locals from the people who organized it in the first place and knew what they were doing. Then it was ran into ground. Equipment was worn out - there were no handles on the zorb. No trained instructors, complete disregard for safety.

You can read the commentary in Russian here here, or auto-translated here (surprisingly readable).

It boils down to the absolute lack of official law in the Caucasian Mountains region in Russia. The local organized crime is inseparable from the local government and, while sitting on both the ski resort income and the federal subsidies, are practicing what amounts to feudal law.
posted by AtG at 5:40 AM on January 10, 2013 [23 favorites]


Whoah, AtG. Goddamn.
posted by taz at 6:03 AM on January 10, 2013


Heck, you don't need to go all the way to a Lawless Caucasus Winter Playground to get hurt: you can do it right in your own neighborhood!

We took the kids sledding after the big post-Christmas snowstorm this year. We stood on the sidelines of a hill that's big for the area (Diamond Hill State Park northeast Rhode Island), but small in general, and we watched the action before the kids made a few runs from half-way up.

But we left really quickly after seeing one guy go over his daughter's leg as their sled flipped, and then he get rammed in the small of the back by the first person in a four-body-chain of sleds. He was lying there motionless after his own spill, then got the weight of four teens delivered right to his kidneys via a pair of boots. I thought he wouldn't get up at all, and was patting down my pockets for a phone to call 911, when he finally stirred and stood.

We grabbed the kids, checked out the smaller hill next door -- where we saw one teen go into the woods at full speed, and then another fall backwards off a snowboard and curl into the fetal position as his mom hurried over -- and left.

The only saving grace to the day was watching two dudes with cardboard scraps in their hands walk up the hill as one bragged about his clothes, "Man, people just don't know that hip waders are the perfect gear for sledding!"
posted by wenestvedt at 6:54 AM on January 10, 2013


Damn AtG, I favorited your comment, but it's kind of awkward to use "favorite" to mean, "this makes me want to throw up!"

Is that in the YouTube comments, or had you seen that previously, or are you just some kind of Google ninja?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:16 AM on January 10, 2013


man that is... whoa.
posted by nowhere man at 9:58 AM on January 10, 2013


.

Poor guy.

I am really glad to be in my 40s, where my idea of a thrill is staying up late reading on a work night.
posted by freecellwizard at 11:51 AM on January 10, 2013


Just a coincidence. I've heard it in person from another person in the zorbing business in Moscow. The market is pretty narrow and they know each fairly well. The original proprietor in Dombai has lost about 200 thousand USD in equipment and it took him about two years to get back on track. He is doing pretty well now and staying clear of ski resorts.
posted by AtG at 1:48 PM on January 10, 2013


I am really glad to be in my 40s, where my idea of a thrill is staying up late reading on a work night.
posted by freecellwizard at 19:51 on January 10 [+] [!]


Eponysterical.
posted by acb at 4:12 PM on January 10, 2013


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