Skiing in Karelia without going too far into the middle of nowhere.
To rent skis, or to go skiing, take trolleybus 2 or 5 (or marshrutka 21a) from the stop Prospyekt Lyenina (across the street from the state university) to "Prospyekt Alyeksandra Nyevskovo." Get off. Backtrack 100 meters to the first real road on your left (there will be one mini-road and a couple driveways first), turn left, go to the end of the road (you'll pass a bank with a Western Union office), then turn right, go to the end of the road (you'll pass a dorm on your left and some ghettos on your right), cross the tiny bridge which I assure you will not fall apart although you might slip off, and turn left. By now you ought to see some ski tracks in the snow in front of you. Walk 50 meters to the cabin (on your right) with a sign and the words LYZHI NA PROKAT ("ski rental") on it. You should have to pay no more than one dollar to rent Russian skis for the whole day! Don't worry about attire- most Russians are just hobbyists and wear sporty layers.
Don't forget how early it gets dark in the north!!! Start heading back around three just in case. DO NOT HEAD BACK AFTER THREE. There are no lights on the trails and no patrols. Bring a powerful flashlight, some snacks, and regular hiking emergency stuff just in case; don't forget an extra pair of dry socks.
To get to Petrozavodsk, there are several night trains from Moscow (Lyeningradskiy Vokzal) and Saint Petersburg (Moskovskiy Vokzal). Yours truly recommends using the service centers in all train stations.
In Moscow: Leningradskiy Vokzal. The service center is upstairs from the main ticket hall.
In Petersburg: Moskovskiy Vokzal. You MUST use the Inturist office, which is near the end off the main hall (with Peter's head) furthest from the trains.
In Petrozavodsk (to leave): If you are standing in front of the ticket hall, facing the trains, go to your left about 50 meters. The service center, which has normal business hours with frequent "technical" breaks, has its door *facing the same way you are* and is on your left. It's before the bistro.
The Murmansk trains have not been privatized yet and are notoriously disgusting. Avoid them at all costs. Ask for a Karelia train.
Women travelling alone should request a place in a zhenskiy kupee if they have them, or to travel platzkart, which is a lower class in which there are no cabins. This can be safer because everybody can see if someone begins to bother you, and you aren't locked in a cabin with strangers all night! At LEAST insist that you be placed with another woman. [Ya odna(1 person)/ Mi odni(2 ppl). Ya khochu beet/Mi khotim beet sdrugoy zhenshchinoy, pozhaluysta. Sposibah bolshoyeh.=I/we are alone. I/We want to be with another woman, please. Thank you very much.]