VEDUCHI, Russia — Sporting a camouflage ski suit, Ramzan A. Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya, pulled a gigantic ceremonial lever to start this once war-wrecked region’s first ski lift. “God is great!” some spectators yelled as the machine whirred to life.
High in the Caucasus Mountains, a ski resort is rising on slopes that once teemed with Islamist militants. The Veduchi resort, which takes its name from the local village, is a multimillion-dollar development featuring a hotel and spa center, chalets and a helicopter pad. It is the centerpiece of an improbable effort for Russia to ski and snowboard its way out of a long-simmering insurgency.
The potential for winter sports as a method of diplomacy came into focus recently in South Korea, which is preparing to welcome North Korean athletes to the Winter Olympics this month. But Russia has a longer-term strategy: putting winter sports to use as a tool for economic development and pacification in a decades-old conflict in the Caucasus.
A state-owned company, North Caucasus Resorts, is building a string of ski resorts in the restive, predominantly Muslim areas of the Caucasus. Three have opened so far, the most recent here in the Argun Gorge of Chechnya.