Thursday, February 22, 2018

Yurt-based backcountry skiing in Kazakhstan!

With the snow that was falling in Almaty, we headed back to Alma-AkBulak to hit Ak-Bulak back. Snow-Forecast was calling for a bit over 20cm of freshy overnight, so we were both pretty excited. 

We headed for first track since it was the first snowfall in almost 2 weeks. We were joined by only about 4 other persons at the first chair line-up!

Unfortunately for us, even if 20+cm of snow was forecasted, only 10-15 fell…
Nevertheless, that snowfall greatly improved the snow conditions!

And with not people there to take advantage of it, we had a great pleasure to enjoy it pretty much to ourselves!

Ak-Bulak is really a great little resort with a lot of steep and nice little couloirs. One of the problem with this resort is that is it some kind of a wannabee resort. With no daylodge at the bottom, the only place that you can stop for a coffee or pee requires you to remove your ski boots to walk in!
Anyway, even if the new snow wasn't much, it really helps to soften up the conditions.

Since the conditions were the best that we've seen so far on this Kazakh trip, we headed back for another day.

Even if the main under-the-chairlift runs were quite tracked out, it is fairly easy to find good conditions a little while after some fresh snow since not much people are out there getting it, since the area around the resort mostly consists of couloirs that you can access by traversing and a bit of bushwacking,

Ak-Bulak is somewhat lacking a proper day-lodge.
The only place where we could stop for a coffee required to remove our ski boots!...Kind of strange for a day-lodge!

Following our meeting with Vitaliy, we've arrange to go to a yurt, he and a few colleagues are managing for the first year.

With Vitaliy's girlfriend just recently had ACL surgery, we were picked up by Igor and Tima. We were to be joined by Solomon, a guy from Moscow who fortunately for us was speaking a good English for the 3 days we were to spend at the yurt! Once there, we met another group of 3 who were there for the day.

The boys have set up a yurt for the first year about 2 hours from Almaty.

To access it, it was around an hour hike on a fairly solid trail with around 200m vertical.
The yurt is nicely located, just next to a creek and a short distance walk from the mountain.

After dropping our stuff and getting some food in, we headed out for a run.
The snowpack was thin and the trail fairly packed.

It hasn't snowed much since the last people came over to the yurt since the tracks were still quite apparent despite the new snow.

The hike up gave us a great view of the main mountain range accessible from the yurt.
We also had a great view of the nearby mountain range over the next valley.

It was quite great to be in the mountain since we were able to leave the grey smog of Almaty and climb above the inversion.

The old ski tracks were really hard but beside the tracks was some nice snow even if some grass was peeking out of the snow!
We had just one lap and headed back to the yurt.

Once back at the yurt, Igor cooked a meat-less borsch for everyone that we all feasted -on! The yurt was surprisingly nicely equipped. With 8 bunk beds, a wooden stove, a 12V battery for lighting, 2 propane burners for cooking and even a generator for charging the battery; nothing was missing.

Since neither Amelie nor I were expecting such a yurt trip before going to Kazakhstan, we were sleeping-bag-less. We got 2 blankets each for the night which was expected to be cold.

The night was effectively cold with a -22 Celcius in the morning.
It was the coldest night so far this winter at the yurt. With only a felt lining to insulate it, the night was rather cold despite the double blanket…

We waited a bit for the sun to show up before hitting the skintrack.
It was a nice blue-bird day under which it was really nice to skin up despite the cold wind that was hitting the ridge.

Solomon hiked all the way to the top with snowshoes and no poles, making the 1000m vertical journey quite of a trek!

The view from the summit was spectacular; we even had view of Mt Talgar which peaks out near 5000m. But despite being spectacular, the mountains that we were able to see didn't bear too much snow.

For the run down, Igor guided us on a ridge that was falling down from the summit. There again, there were tracks which had harden out since they were put down.

Igor was leading and Tima was tail-guiding and asking us to stay as close as possible to the already put-down tracks. We skied a bit away from the tracks to get some freshie, but we were ask to stay close.

That led us to ski most of our turns next to some already put-down harden tracks onto a ridge that was mostly falling across the fall-line.

We I got at the bottom, I wasn't happy at all with the run we just did and where we were required to ski. It seems to me that we passed so many better slopes on the way up that it was really a waste to ski what we just have skied.

I told Igor that I really dislike that kind of skiing, so we headed back for a shorter run, but with some nicer snow! That run, despite being short-pitch, was really nice and after some really good turns, we headed back to the yurt to finish off the borsch and to get some whisky!
The second night was not as cold. With the whisky helping, we had a much better night of sleep.

Igor got a better understanding of the kind of skiing we were into. After some discussion about the plan of the day, we headed out for some nice really slopes that we walked by the day before. There were some really nice turns in there and we had the best turn of the trip so far on our first lap.

Then, we hiked back up for a second lap.
We headed for a bowl that was offering a few good lines. We were hesitating at first to ski the slope since it was ending up in a terrain trap at the bottom but the stability of the run we did so far encourage us to ski it.

Just when we thought that we had some great turns on our first run, here we were linking even better turns in the open! We all linked great turns and whoop-whoop our way down!

Back at the yurt, we had a little snack and packed our stuff before heading down on skis back at the truck. A little slow-leak gave the chance to Amelie to hang out with the turkey before hitting to road back to Almaty.

All and all, that was quite an awesome yurt-based ski trip.
We had some really awesome turns shared with some great company.

I really don't know how this yurt will turn out in a near future since there was a helicopter that brought some clients in the same area on the last day. Hopefully, it will turn out well as the area has a nice potential despite not seeing that much fresh snow.

Now back in Almaty for a few more days before heading back to Canada!