When I was first told about Kyrgyzstan’s skiing potential, I was a little sceptical. I thought yeah, it would be an adventure but probably not worth the hassle. I was thinking that it would be challenging to access, difficult to communicate and a lot of hard work for mediocre skiing. But the seed was sown and an idea for a trip was growing. More pictures, more videos, more reading later, I thought, yeah I think that Marjolein and I would love this.
I must admit, before researching for the trip, I did not know exactly where it was. Nestled underneath Kazakhstan and next to China, it is extremely mountainous with peaks rising to over 7000m. Meaning that the “foothills” that we were planning to play in, were between 2000 and 3000m, not bad at all by our European standards. The plan for the holiday was a simple one, get up the mountain by any means possible; with that in mind, we booked catskis, skidoos, lift passes, took touring skis and also checked in with a herdsman and his horses!
Our first destination after a stopover in Istanbul was the Suusamyr Valley, on the Southern side of the Too Ashuu. It was a little bit worrying as there was a distinct lack of snow even as we were climbing to the tunnel that cut underneath the pass of over 3000m. We shouldn’t have worried, as we emerged out to a white, mountainous, snowy vista. It was magnificent, even for Marjolein and I, who live in the mountains.
Destination 1: Suusamyr Lodge, middle of nowhere. Azret and his family run this very cool set up where we were staying for 3 nights. He has imported 2 snowcats from Europe which he uses to ferry the guests up the mountain for a ski down. This means that the 10 or so people in his lodge are the only ones who access the mountains. We were probably about 3 days too late for the best snow, but it was great fun nonetheless. He has a rest on Sundays so we both went for a ski tour. We battled our way up, breaking tail through very deep powder. Sat eating our lunch at the top, we debated whether we were technically in the wilderness or not. Either way, there was nobody else around for miles. Being cautious of avalanches, we chose a safe way down. Perhaps in hindsight, a little too safe as we could hardly move- still, it was a great adventure.
Destination 2: Karakol, East Kyrgyzstan. We had a casual 8 hour transfer from the lodge to the town of Karakol at the far end of the huge Issyk Kul lake. It was an interesting drive and we got to stop of at some hot springs, which were hot. It also had a pool with those fish that nimble at your feet. For a few £s, we had a go at this. The guy allowed us to sit in, up to our necks, whilst the fish fed on our skin cells. A weird experience!
We stayed in a lovely guesthouse in Karakol and our arrival coincided with some snow. Not wanting to risk anything adventurous, we headed for the local ski area which consisted of 4 lifts (one clearly bought from Les Menuires!). The pistes were in good condition and it was not that busy. The restaurant was amazing with some great food, sort of Asia meets Russia- really delicious and perfect for lunch on a snowyBy this point we were about a week into Kyrgyzstan, and we were hooked. The people are all amazingly friendly and genuinely so. They were not desperate to please tourists but happy to do so. The food was great value and very tasty. And, a pint of beer was less than a euro. We did not know though, that the best was still to come.
We planned to go to the Jurgalan Valley, it is based around an old Soviet mining village which saw a rapid decline after the collapse of the Union. Houses devalued so quickly that people started to break them down and sell the building materials to survive. Now, after some initiative from a handful of locals, it is trying to develop as a skiing and hiking destination. Like with the mining, it certainly has the natural resources for this.
En route, we stopped off at a tiny village where we met Omurbek and his family. They are herdsmen and foresters who have turned their hand at allowing people like use to ride up on their horses, fully kitted up with skis to then ride back down to their house. They must think that we are bonkers. Yet another ridiculous experience followed by a hearty meal cooked by his wife….. the simple things in life.
Arriving at the Yurt Camp, we had some time to kill so we went for a stroll around the village and then tested out the sauna tent. It was a tent with a fire in! It worked surprisingly well and once you removed the thought of canvas being flammable, it was rather relaxing. The camp is run by Russians, 3 sleeping yurts and a central kitchen and dining yurt. We settlde down to a lovely BBQ for dinner with the other guests. Getting rather excited for the next day.
The best day that I have ever had on skis! It turns out that all you need is a skidoo, a crazy Russian and an empty mountain covered in snow. It was epic- a skidoo lift through the village and into the mountains. We then lapped a great area with open powder fields and tree lines. When we needed a rest, we just asked the driver to stop, simple! It was action- packed and exhilarating.
After a night in the Yurts, we went to check out the Guest House in the village. A hot shower was welcomed and we got an early night as we were going for a ski tour for our final day skiing in this amazing country.
We headed straight out of the Guest House, following a touring track up the mountain directly behind. This was advisable, the snow was so deep that breaking trail would have been exhausting. The track took us up around the back and then we saw the fresh lines that the previous group had. We wanted fresh lines ourselves. And as this is such an expansive range, we just had to break trail up to the next summit; it was wonderful. We felt so isolated in this enchanting place. Snow twinkling, we reached our summit- we had to dig out a hole to sit in, the snow was so deep. We then had an untracked slope to play on, back to the village. The skidoo day was the best day on skis, and this was the best tour that we have ever done. So the conclusion must be that this is one of the best places in the world.
Frothing from all this excitement, we went back to Karakol to spend an evening remembering all the best parts of the trip and enjoying yet another feast. Before we headed back to the capital, we had the chance to visit the Sunday morning animal market. Quite a sight, busy, noisy and smelly- a true insight into Kyrgyz lifestyle.
Our final day would be sight seeing in the capital, Bishkek. A must, but a far cry from the Winter Wonderland in the Jurgalan Valley.
Same time, same place next year! Fancy joining? Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org to express your early interest.