A supposedly thrilling ride down a ski slope inside a giant inflatable ball ended in tragedy for two Russian men inside.
One died and the other was badly injured when the transparent plastic ball – called a zorb – veered off course and sailed over a cliff in the Caucasus Mountains.
The sport of zorbing originated in the 1990s in New Zealand and has been adopted as a symbol of the 2014 Winter Olympics, which Russia is holding in Sochi.
The man who died, 27-year-old Denis Burakov, was with friends at the Dombai ski resort when he decided to take a ride in a zorb being operated next to a beginners’ slope. His friend Vladimir Shcherbakov joined him.
An eight-minute video shot by a friend shows the pair being fitted into harnesses inside the zorb. It is then released to roll down the hill, the two men spinning inside.
But the zorb bounces off the intended path, and a man waiting for it at the bottom of the hill tries in vain to catch the ball before it pops over a rocky ledge and disappears down a gorge below Mount Mussa-Achitara.
The Emergencies Ministry said both men were ejected from the zorb as it tumbled and they landed on the snow. Conscious and able to stand, they were rescued by two skiers, but Mr Burakov suffered serious spinal injuries and died on his way to hospital. Mr Shcherbakov suffered concussion and other injuries.
Sergei Loginov, deputy director of Z-orb.ru, the largest supplier of zorbs in Russia, said the run was conducted in violation of all safety rules. Zorbing requires a groomed gentle slope with fences on both sides of the track and a secure spot at the bottom where the ball can be safely brought to rest, he said, adding: “It’s not even irresponsibility. It’s an experiment on life. It’s all or nothing. They either survive or they don’t.”
Kantemir Davydov, an emergencies ministry spokesman in southern Russia, said 20 to 30 tourists are dying each year at ski resorts in the region.
“The causes of the deaths are various, but the root is the same: There is no clear system assuring tourism safety,” he said.