Saturday, February 25, 2012

From the Switzerland of Central Asia to Switzerland!!!

Since my Dad didn't want to go skiing to let his forehead heal from last night cut, we figured we woudn't go skiing. As we were talking to our host, a teacher at the elementary school, about our plan to just wander around town, he jumped on the occasion to ask us to go talk about Canada to the school children.

We kindly accept his offer and arrange a meeting at 14h30. 

Before going to school, we were to meet again with Hayat to conclude our trip. 

We met with him at the CBT office. There was two other fellows who were there to ski. jared (that we previously met in Karakol) from Montana and Julia from Siberia where already there talking about the future of skiing in Arslanbob.

We all left to go to the local restaurant. I haven't completely forgot the day I've spend in bed, but since we were there, I just hoped that I wouldn't get sick! We drank a few beer and cheered with some pretty full cup of vodka to a really nice place.

As we left to go to the elementary school, my Dad and I were quite happy! On our way, we met Jared and Julia who were heading to the bunny hill to teach some kids how to snowboard!

We finally stayed about 1h30 talking about various thing about Canada and also just world travelling. There was probably about 75 children in the classroom and 10 teachers that came over to listen to us!

It was great to have been able to communicate with them a bit of information. We have internet and it seems that whenever there is something that we don't know; we can just google it down but for them, there isn't any good source of information as internet (that is really, really limited in the village!)

We left the following fairly early as we haven't bought our plane ticket yet and the flight was supposed to be at 16h30. After the 3h30 drive, we finally arrived in Osh to finally learn that our plane was to leave at 18h30…. We ended up at the airport with more than 6 hours before our flight! There certainly wasn't much to see. I was really surprised to see how many airlines that I've never heard of were flying to Osh!!!

We finally arrived in Bishkek at 20h30. We had a fairly short night since our flight to Europe was leaving at 5h30AM the following morning. It was certainly a great adventure that trip as been! I cannot guarantee it will be my last trip in this part of the world since the people were so friendly!

View Kyrgyzstan in a larger map

Everything went fairly smoothly and from Bishkek, we stopped for a layover of 1.5hours to refuel in Baku, Azerbaijan, the straight to London (about 6 hours) and then to Frankfurt (only 2 hours). We we bought the plane ticket back in November, we didn't had a clue of where would be the good skiing conditions so that's why we chose Frankfurt. 

After buying a fulfilling lunch, we caught a train to Geneve (about 6 hours). From there we were welcome by my Dad's friend, Antoine and Caroline. We were pretty exhausted from our 23 hours of travel.

We spend the following day shopping and planning our next trip. Antoine and Caroline kindly lend us a car for the 2 coming weeks to roadtrip with. It was hard to try to nail the good skiing destinations in Kyrgyzstan because of the lack of information. Europe is the exact opposite: way too much possibilities!

Fortunately for us, it had snowed just before we landed in Europe and there was about 10-20cm of snow forecast to a resort not too far from Geneve, Leysin. It is so easy to lose the focus on skiing since there is so much to do and so much to see!

By looking at the maps, it also seemed that the resort had some interesting off-piste. Unfortunately for us, those runs were closed due to high avalanche danger.

We wandered around the resort trying to avoid a really bad sunburst that seemed to have affect most of the resort. 

We finally found some good snow in the trees that were left totally untouched!!!

We ripped them all day until the resort closed!

At the time of writing, it is still snowing outside, so we are staying overnight here, and we'll see tomorrow morning what the plan will be!


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Arslanbob. Southwest Kyrgyzstan's skiing paradise!

After a flight that went rather smoothly, we landed in Osh. This city located in the southwest of the country is the second largest of Kyrgyzstan. It was the scene of the ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbek in 2010 that claimed thousands of death. This part of Kyrgyzstan is mostly populated by Uzbek. From what we've been told, even during the violence, not any foreigner were targeted. 

Anyway, we had previously arranged a taxi to pick us up at the airport and drive us directly towards Arslanbob. 

On the way, the driver stopped to let us have a look at a Mosque dating from the 11th century. I'm not usually so interested in those old monuments but it is certainly impressive to see that they have been standing straight up for centuries and with all our modern technology, we are not able to build building that can last for even part of this lifespan!

We finally made it to Arslanbob and we were welcome with a dinner that leave us both appetite-less! 

We enjoy the rest of the day to plan our next trip. To do so, we met up with Hayat who is in charge of organizing the homestay in the village.

He also started in 2006 to develop skiing as a motor to develop the tourism during the wintertime. Since this region is mostly agricultural, the unemployment rocket to 90% during the winter. His passion was really genuine and after talking for some time, everything was now set. We were to left the village to hike towards a shepperd hut where we would spend two nights. This slopes were mostly north facing, so we were expecting some decent snow. Even if my 61 year old Dad has never winter camp, he was thrilled to spend two nights in a 0Celcius sleeping bag in a non heated mud shack!

We spend the rest of the afternoon just wandering around town. 

It was certainly one of the most welcoming town I've ever been. Everyone (including kids) were welcoming us as they were passing by. 

We both felt really safe and millions miles away from the warning to avoid the region at all cost!

I guess I was feeling to safe and comfortable and probably forget the usual advice to be careful about what we eat and what we drink since I woke up with cramp during the night…. I spend the following day bedded doing back and forth trip to our toilet…

Fortunately, that only last one day and I was feeling good enough the following day to climb towards the area called Jaz-Jarym to the shepperd hut for our 3 days trip.

We meet up with Hayat at the CBT office. As we were waiting for our cook, one kid passed by flying on some step-on-metal-ski/skate. That was it! I badly needed to try! My enthusiasm dropped significantly when I realized I wasn't able to stay on the skate for more and half of a split second. I guess I'll have to comeback to sharpen my skills! After packing everything, we were off to our trailhead located about 300m higher than the office.

The hike to the hut is only about 600m and doesn't cover much distance either. We took about 3-4 hours to make it up. The copious meal we had over dinner and the numerous break to chill from the harsh sun has certainly has contributed to stretch the journey. 

When we finally arrived at the hut, we quickly dropped our luggage and climb to the nearby face to have some turns before dinner. The snow was really nice and dry. From the top of our run, we had a really nice view of the north facing slope we were to ski in the coming days. 

We spend the evening drinking vodka and talking about how skiing could help develop Arslanbob. Hayat was certainly really passionate about the coming future and since we were about the 25th people to make it up there, he was welcoming any suggestion to fine tune his operation.

We finally went to bed full of expectation for the following day. 

Our expectations dropped significantly has we realized we were quite fogged up in an alpine only environment. We made it out to the nearby slope. After waiting for almost 2 hours at the top of the run for the weather to clear out, we had to realize it wouldn't get any better during the day. 

We made it back to the hut where we spend the afternoon talking about difference between Canada and Kyrgyzstan and drinking tea…. and vodka!

The following day wasn't clear, but the weather seemed to be just about to clear out. 

Excited as kid, we headed to the main slope…. just to get clouded up just as we got to the top. We had nothing to loose so we waited a bit….. and it cleared!!!

We spend the day cruising the nice untracked north facing ridges and playing hide and seek with the weather. The snow was nice, steady and for once rather stable!

We really had a blast skiing this area even if we had only skied a small part of it. From Hayat, the best time to come to ski this area is January since the sun is not as strong and there is less slope that are getting sun baked.

We sadly made it down after our best day of skiing in Kyrgyzstan. As we were getting down, we got fogged up. Fog + dawn doesn't add up nicely for skier since we weren't able to see much on our way down. 

What should happen finally happen and my Dad finally fell and hit himself with his skis… in the forehead! A quick installation of steristrip was made onsite to stop the bleeding and we eventually made it down all the way to our homestead without any other incident. 

We only have only one day left in Arslanbob before having to leave the area to go back towards Bishkek from where we are flying to Frankfurt to ski a bit in the Alps for 2 weeks.