Thursday, February 9, 2012

Discovering Kyrgyzstan's ski resorts!

We finally left Bishkek to check out the nearby mountain in the Kyrgyz Ala-Tau range. Those mountains lay only 35km south of the Kyrgyz capital. From the information I had, there was 4-5 different ski resorts with a vertical ranging from 500m to 1500m.

We arranged a taxi, the night before to pick us up in the morning. Our little russian was enough to make ourselves understood since the guy showed up as planned at 8h00AM. We squished all our gear into the taxi and off we were to finally ski.

As we got closer to the mountain, we had to realize that the snow cover was really thin. It was much thinner than what we thought from the view we were having in town.

It was too thin to ski the backcountry and the resort were certainly not having the vertical that they were supposed to have. In fact, all of the 'resorts' consist mainly of 1 or 2 lifts mainly tow-rope or t-bar.

To add to the beauty, they weren't link together so it wasn't possible to ski all of them with one pass and since we were during the weekdays, there wasn't a lot of skier and much of the 'big' lifts were close.

It certainly didn't qualify as a skier's paradise. With not much good snow to ski, we made the call to just drive back to Bishkek to organize our next journey towards Karakol home of the best ski resort of Kyrgyzstan.

During the drive back, our taxi broke down. I guess this is not quite surprising from a 320 000km beat up car! The suspension tab broke and we had to wait almost a full afternoon until we had one of the taxi driver's friend to come and pick us up. I certainly don't think that one should make the journey to Kyrgyzstan to come and ski to those resorts.

Finally back to Bishkek, we easily arranged a pick-up towards the town of Karakol. To get a taxi to drive you is not hard, but what is hard is to get the right price for the ride. After a bit of negotiation and cross-checking the price, it is finally not so much hard to do.

The following morning, we again left our hotel for the about 400km drive between Bishkek and Karakol. The drive through that really rugged country took us about 6 hours. On the way, we follow the mountain and the lake Issy-Kul. The scenery are certainly really nice and worth keeping your eyes open.

We finally arrived in Karakol without any problem.

This town of about 70 000 inhabitants of eastern Kyrgyzstan lay just north of the Central Tian Shan Mountains. One thing that is really nice in Karakol compare to Bishkek is that we can walk at night without having to worry about being attacked or harassed. It actually feel really safe here; much more than what I had originally thought before coming here.

This range of mountains has various peaks over 7000m that has never been climbed due to their remote locations. It also has the largest of Kyrgyzstan ski resort only 25 minutes south of it's downtown.

We aim straight to the resort the following day. The first view we got was really promising despite the poor visibility and we were both quite excited by our next stomping ground. It certainly looks more like a ski resort than the other one we've seen so far in Kyrgyzstan. With 4 chairlifts bought use from European resorts, we had access to some really nice terrain inbound. The lifts also gave access to some really nice terrain just outside of their boundaries. You could easily took the lifts, ski the nearby slopes and catch the lifts to ride back up.

First thing we did off the lifts was to check the off-piste. As soon as we stepped out to the untracked slopes, we quickly realize that the snowpack was really not stable. There was about 70cm of snow on the ground and most of it was either depth hoar or facets. The 20-30cm layer of unstable snow made it really hard to ski since we were sinking almost down to the ground at every turn. Almost overstep we made in the fresh snow was accompanied by a wumph and some shooting crack in the snowpack.

We played it safe since we didn't had a really good visibility and didn't venture too far out of bounds to get use to the snowpack.

We enjoyed the following morning to check out the animal market of Karakol which is one of the biggest of Central Asia.

There is literary more than a thousands of sheep, hundreds of cows and horse that change hands during that day.

To bring them in and out of the market, the farmers put their livestock in the truck of their Lada or on the back seat. We counted 5 fully alive sheep in the trunk of a single Lada and we also witnessed 3 guys trying to squeeze a calf into the trunk of a sedan! I certainly think that this is a must see for anyone visiting Karakol.

We left the market and catch a taxi to the ski resort where we got around noon.

The visibility was much better this time and we figured it would be a nice to check out a bit the slackcountry. From the top of the resort, it is possible to climb 400m with a snowcat for about 15$. We figured it would be just as nice to simply skin up while enjoying the view of the surroundings mountains.

From the top, the view was fairly spectacular. The nearby mountains had some really nice open slope. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have a much better snowpack where we were. We skied down on a ridge to stay safe and we made it down while having some fairly decent turns.

There are other slopes that we were interested in checking from the resort so this is what we have lined up for the coming days. I'm now just hoping that the skiing conditions will get better!



Anonymous said...

les photos du veau dans le coffre d'auto, pricele$$. excellent mélange de culture et ski

SouthernBoarding said...

The photos are good and story is also good...
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Brian Head Utah said...

This place is awesome.

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All Best Coffee Makers said...

Fantastic photo capturing the best of ski activities and scenery.

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