Skiing in Kyrgyzstan

Skiing in Kyrgyzstan

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Skiing in Kyrgyzstan

Are you bored with skiing in North America and you’ve already been to Japan, Kashmir and Georgia and you’re looking for the next adventure ski destination to put on your lust list? The Silk Road of Central Asia is gaining some traction as a spot for intrepid powder hounds, and skiing in Kyrgyzstan certainly has an allure. Kyrgyzstan ski tourism is a long way from hitting its boom, so at the Kyrgyzstan ski resorts you’ll find uncrowded slopes and untouched powder turns, along with cheap prices, especially compared to the ouch worthy costs for lodging and lift tickets at high profile US ski resorts. A lift ticket in Kyrgyzstan costs less than what you’d pay for a burger at Vail Resort! Even snowcat skiing in Kyrgyzstan is really cheap.

Officially known as Kyrgyz Republic, Kyrgyzstan holds a certain fascination because it is very mountainous. Over 80 to 90 percent of the country is covered in mountains (so it’s sometimes called the Switzerland of Central Asia), and has many peaks exceeding 4,000 metres and a few higher than 7,000 metres. Most of the mountains in Kyrgyzstan are part of the extensive Tien Shan Mountain Range, which translates to “Heavenly Mountains”.

Like other Central Asian countries, Kyrgyzstan is an off-the-beaten-path skiing and snowboarding destination where you can immerse yourself in the culture, which has a rich nomadic heritage. You can even stay in a mountain yurt if you like. The Kyrgyzstan ski resorts are not highly developed unlike Amirsoy in Uzbekistan or Shymbulak in Kazakhstan, but it’s more of an up and coming destination, so it hasn’t become touristy yet and is typically just frequented by Russians and the local Kazakhs.

Where is Kyrgyzstan?

Kyrgyzstan is located in the heart of Central Asia with   to the north, China to the east and southeast, Uzbekistan to the west, and Tajikistan to the south. It is a land locked country, although it has many lakes including the massive alpine Lake Issyk-Kul.

The capital city of Bishkek is in the northern part of the country near the border with Kazakhstan, and it’s not too far from the city of Almaty in Kazakhstan. Flights to the Manas International Airport in Bishkek originate from Dubai, Istanbul, Moscow and Seoul. You can look at flight options on Skyscanner or google flights.

Backcountry Skiing Kyrgyzstan

Backcountry skiing in Kyrgyzstan is the prime reason that hard-core powder hounds visit the country. It is a burgeoning area for adventure enthusiasts and yurt camps are popping up for multi-day ski touring or splitboarding assaults.

Jyrgalan is the new “it” place for backcountry skiing and riding. Jyrgalan Valley is situated in far eastern Kyrgyzstan in the Lake Issyk-Kul region in a pretty spot that’s opening to tourism. In addition to splitboarding/ski touring there are mechanized backcountry skiing options of sled skiing, snowcat accessed skiing, and heli skiing.

Close by, near the village of Ichke Jergez, is Jalpak Tash, the renowned yurt base for ski touring.

Another good spot for backcountry pursuits is Suusamyr Valley which is in the Chuy Region near the border with the Talas Region. As with Jyrgalan, you can stay in yurts, go ski touring, cat skiing, snowmobile accessed skiing, or there are multi-day heli skiing options.

Kyrgyzstan Ski Resorts

There are 20 plus ski resorts in Kyrgyzstan, most of which are very small, and all have less than 20 km of slopes, so they’re tiny on an international scale. You can see the map of Kyrgyz ski resorts via the map icon above.

At most of the Kyrgyzstan ski resorts, which locally are called “ski bases”, the facilities are limited and some hand-me-down lifts from European ski resorts date back to the soviet era and grooming can be sub-par. Roads to the ski resorts can be snow covered and challenging, even in a heavy duty 4WD. Infrastructure is improving at some of the Kyrgyzstan ski areas, although it still lags behind other countries in the region, and you don’t come to ski in Kyrgyzstan expecting luxury food.

Issyk-Kul Region

In the northeastern part of Kyrgyzstan is the Issyk-Kul region, which includes the massive Lake Issyk-Kul.

Karakol Ski Resort is the most well-known ski resort in Kyrgyzstan and is a 25 minute drive from the town of Karakol (which is 400km east of Bishkek). It’s the highest Kyrgyzstan ski area, with elevations ranging from 2,300 to 3,450 metres. It has 5 fixed grip chair lifts and 20km of slopes. The terrain is somewhat steep and includes some tree skiing and cat skiing. It’s particularly renowned for its views across the mountains and the lake. There are various on-mountain hotels at Karakol Ski Resort or you can stay in a hotel in the town of Karakol.

Chuy Region

Chüy Region is the most northern region of the Kyrgyz Republic. This region surrounds the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek. South of the city is a collection of ski resorts including Kashka Suu, Ak Tash, Oruu Sai, Edelweiss, and Polytech that attract the locals escaping the city.

Zil Ski Resort is very close to Bishkek so it’s the most frequented Kyrgyzstan ski resort. The ski area has 5 lifts and 12km of slopes. The terrain is pretty mellow and unlikely to hold the attention of a powder hound for more than 5 minutes, but it’s ideal for those learning to ski and snowboard.

About an hour away from the city of Bishkek is Chunkurchak. This is a decent ski resort with 5 lifts and 10km of slopes between 2,070 and 2,240 metres. Whilst the piste is mostly beginner and intermediate terrain, it has sidecountry off the top lift that offers some steep pitches in the alpine and trees.

The Too-Ashuu Ski Resort is near the Too-Ashuu Pass (meaning “camel mountain” pass) on the highway between Bishkek and Osh. The ski resort is reasonably new and has 1 chair lift and 1 surface lift. It’s at high elevation (2,520 – 3,000m), and whilst there isn’t much piste terrain, it offers lots of freeride options including road drop lines. Heli skiing in the area is also possible. It’s near Suusamyr and 127km southwest of Bishkek.

Orlovka is in the east of the region and about 110km southeast of Bishkek. It has 4 chair lifts and 10km of slopes and is reasonably low elevation (1,200-1,800m). It compensates with some snow making facilities and has north facing slopes.

Snow in Kyrgyzstan

As you’d expect for a land-locked country in this region, Kyrgyzstan has an extreme continental climate that produces light dry snow that typically falls in small volumes. That being said, the large alpine lake, Lake Issyk Kul, is renowned for producing lake effect powder in early to mid winter that hits the backcountry zones near Jyrgalan. The nearby Karakol Ski Resort receives an average of 4 to 5 metres of snow on average per year, whereas further west near Bishkek, the Too-Ashuu Ski Resort usually receives about 2 to 3 metres of snow per season.

Cold fronts from Siberia and western parts of Central Asia help to keep the snow in pristine condition, and with little competition for freshies, it doesn’t turn to chowder.

Like classic interior snowpacks, the snow doesn’t bond incredibly well so it has the increased risk of sluffalanches.

Kyrgyzstan Ski Season

The ski season in Kyrgyzstan can be long in some zones. For example, at Too Ashuu the season begins at the end of October and finishes in April, whilst for other ski resorts the season is from late December to mid-March. However if you’re heading there for great snow then you’ll want to go in February when there is adequate snow base and it’s still the height of winter.

Practical Considerations

Whilst tourism continues to open up, independent travel has some challenges, so it’s not surprising that many skiers and snowboarders head there as part of a tour to get support and have the logistics taken care of.

In some regions, English proficiency is very limited and the locals only speak Kyrgyz or Russian. Have google translate at the ready, although don’t expect great data service on your phone.

Some of the roads to the ski resorts need a hardy 4x4 with good winter tyres, whilst getting to ski touring trail heads and yurts may be snowmobile if you’re lucky or more likely on horseback.
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