MOSCOW – It was supposed to be a thrilling ride down a ski slope inside a giant inflatable ball that is to be one of the symbols of next year’s Winter Olympics; it ended in tragedy for the two Russian men inside.
The transparent plastic ball – known as a zorb – veered off course and sailed over a rock ledge in the rugged Caucasus Mountains of southern Russia. The ball picked up speed as it flew down the steep slope, rolling and bouncing. One man was killed and the other badly injured.
The man who died, Denis Burakov, 27, was with friends at the Dombai ski resort where they often snowboarded, on Jan. 3 when he decided to ride in a zorb being operated next to a beginners’ slope. His friend Vladimir Shcherbakov joined him.
An eight-minute video taken on Burakov’s phone by one of his friends shows the two men being fitted into harnesses inside the zorb, which consists of two polyurethane balls with a layer of air between them. The zorb was then released to roll down the hill, the two men spinning inside.
But the zorb bounced off the intended path, and a man waiting for it at the bottom of the hill tried in vain to catch the ball before it popped over a rocky ledge and disappeared down a gorge below Mount Mussa-Achitara.
The person filming the video is heard swearing and asking “What’s down there?” The answer from someone off camera: “It’s a catastrophe down there.”
The Emergencies Ministry said both men were ejected from the zorb as it tumbled and they landed on the snow about 30 feet apart after having rolled about a mile. 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. Shcherbakov suffered a concussion and other injuries.