I didn’t know what to expect. At home, I am familiar with the mountains and chase weather forecasts to know reported snow depths and conditions. What would the terrain be like? Is there enough snow to ski?
The language barrier and unfamiliarity with regional to local weather reports made it hard to predict how good the skiing in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan would be. I continued to tell people when they asked why that we were going first for the culture and second for the skiing. My answer formulated from multiple ski trips that were less than the media shows (you know those epic powder shots and not icy moguls).
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We should have padded the schedule to account for lost bags.
Andy and I were worried our bags wouldn’t make it through Russia. Long story short, ours did but the three New York friends had a quick layover in Moscow and their bags didn’t make it.
After an extra night in Bishkek, it was time to transfer to Ak-Suu Backcounty Skiing Yurt Lodge outside of Karakol–a 6-hour drive and 50-minute snowmobile bump. Needless to say it was a long travel day. We arrived at the yurts before dusk as the light dwindled. Our first night was spent getting acquainted with the yurt village and unpacking our gear.
Five nights and four days left us exploring as much as we could. The avalanche and snow conditions were spring-like. The Italian clients staying in the second yurt triggered two avalanches along a ridge at once while our group triggered one on the third day. All remote triggered with no skiers being affected by the slides.
Traces of snow was in the forecast. The warm days and cold nights created a breakable crust depending on the slope aspect. Midday usually provided best conditions before the snow became sticky and heavy.
Ski day one: Following the group away from the yurt village to start our climb.
Day one: The group climbs above the valley for gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains. The elevation made it hard to breath as we booted up a section with skis on our backs at roughly 11K feet above sea level. My lungs begged for more air. Half the group decided to continue onto the peak while I was happy to ski down for more oxygen.
Day one: The first 1K feet was icy and made it hard to turn aggressively. However, lower down, we enjoyed our turns as the snow softened with more consolidation.
Day two: Andy and I go out solo (Kevin joined on one of the trips). Today, we were more concerned about the avalanche stability and decided to do two short tours–one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
Day three: Both client groups get a tow bump up the valley to ski. The conditions were less than ideal with icy uphill and breakable crust over deep faucets. I learned how to ski down a compact skin track. Skiing isn’t always pretty, but it is crucial to be able to get down anything even if it means snowplowing.
Day three: Hitching a tow back out the valley to the yurt village.
Day four: One last chance to get some turns in before departing Ak-Suu. Andy and I went up the town hill with a similar route on day two.
Day four: Andy getting some fresh turns before heading back to the yurt to finish packing.
Day four: Group photo outside of our yurt for the past five nights. Left to right: Phil, Greg, Tim, Angela, Andy, and Kevin.
Day four: Andy skiing out Ak-Suu valley after the snowmobile ran out of snow to pull us through. Here, we’re skiing through cow and horse pastures while patching snow and avoiding poo patches.
Lift bumps are easier than skinning.
After quick stay in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan, it took 11 hours to transfer to Almaty’s Shymbulak Ski Resort, including a shuffling of vans and drivers at the border crossing. With such a long day, we arrived at the resort in the evening and had a late dinner at the hotel.
It snowed 6 inches overnight, so the group decided to do a resort-only day. The fresh snow and blue skies had us giddy for good powder skiing. Most of the images below are from the first day.
As the locals enjoyed carving the groomers, we found good powder stashes throughout the day and lapped the goods a few times which meant ending out at a road below the resort with a short little hike back to the lifts.
Kevin takes his turn slaying fresh powder after traversing from the top lift.
Next, it was Phil’s turn.
Andy skis an ungroomed patch near the gondola. The gondola lifts have cabins and regular chair lifts. The nice weather meant we were keeping our skis on and soaking in the sun up the mountain.
Kevin creating snow clouds down the mountain. I hear it was pretty tasty.
Greg slaying down a moderate slope.
Kevin does enjoy his jumps.
So many untouched slopes to paint.
Kevin and I traversed higher than the others to get a nice, long descent back to the base.
Greg redeems himself with these beautiful turns after crashing moments before. If you ain’t falling, you ain’t trying.
After getting a bump up the gondola, Andy, Phil, Greg, and I do some sidecountry. The conditions were a little concerning with avy debris in the distance.
Phil and Greg getting in an uphill workout.
Phil skiing down a moderate slope as we high-tailed away from steep and warming slopes.
After we returned back inbounds, a local waited to introduce himself, “Hi, I’m a local steep skier.” His name: Vitaly. His friends call him Rage. We recognized his name from the guidebook he wrote of the local ski resorts we referenced when planning the trip. He insisted we meet him in Almaty for beer in the evening. It was an offer we couldn’t turn down.