‘Get off the beaten path’ is one of those clichés that gets thrown around a lot on travel websites (including by me on this one), but there are a few special locations where this liberally used turn of phrase is not at all inappropriate.
One such place that jumps to mind is Kyrgyzstan. The small republic is still not a household name, but has earned its moniker –the Switzerland of Central Asia– for its impeccable ski touring.
The former Soviet Republic is home to about six million people. The country, itself, is about the size of Belarus and 90 percent of its land area is covered in mountains.
The region has long been recognised for its excellent ski touring terrain as well. During the Cold War, Russian ski mountaineers trained in what is now Ala Archa National Park, leaving behind several old camps that are now frequented by ski tourers.
This is just one of the many popular ski touring locations in the country. Several of the most popular resorts are near the capital, Bishkek. However, for those with the time and appropriate sense of adventure, the country is full of other remote locales.
Here are a few of our top-rated spots for ski touring in Kyrgyzstan!
The Terskey Mountains or, Terskey Alatau, as they are known locally, is a mountain range within the Tian Shan that stretches for 354 kilometers across the eastern portion of the country.
Sitting at 2.200 meters above sea level, this spot is known as one of the most remote and immersive spots in the whole country, earning the range the nickname of the Heavenly Mountains.
The slopes of this region offer near-endless amounts of backcountry terrain that is perfect for freeride skiing. The powder is generally plentiful and untouched, making it a real treat for skiers used to more frequented spots in Europe and North America.
The scenery is also gorgeous. The mountains are covered in evergreen pine trees, making for intense and beautiful descents. To the north sits Issyk-kul lake, which is the largest alpine lake in the world behind Titicaca.
Most trips to this spot last for about one week due to the remote location and time it takes to arrive here from the Bishkek. Over the course of the week, you will use snowmobiles to from the Karkara base camp to head out to a variety of spots, including the Tup Valley, Tuz Gorge and Uchkaska.
Sitting in the center of the country, just three hours southwest of the capital by car, is the Suusamyr Valley. Rising to between 2.000 and 2.500 meters above sea level, the valley is located in between the Suusamyr Too and Kyrgyz Ala-Too ranges of the Tian Shan.
While close to the capital, this spot does not get much traffic and therefore has undisturbed snow throughout the ski touring season. Surrounded by several 4.000 meter tall mountains, there are plenty of slopes for freeriding and the foothills of the surrounding mountains also offer excellent backcountry skiing conditions.
Spending a week or so in this spot will allow you to properly acclimatise so that you may explore all of the best mountain routes and take advantage of this well-kept secret.
Be sure to pack your camera as well as extra batteries. The region is extremely scenic and you’re certain to get some excellent photos of the rolling hills and pristine lake that occupy this stark, but beautiful landscape.
Along the country’s meandering eastern border sits Arslanbob. The beautiful and quaint little city sits at 1.600 meters above sea level on the southwestern slopes of the Fergana Range in the Tian Shan.
Home to an imposing walnut forest, steep slopes and gorgeous views, Aslanbob is among the most popular ski touring destinations in the entire country. The village and surrounding slopes are right at a spot where cold air from the Tian Shan meets warmer air from the Fergana plains, which leads to incredibly soft and fluffy powder.
Combine this with the 40 to 45 degree slopes and you get the perfect ski touring conditions. Many incredible descents begin right from the village and head down more than 1.000 meters in elevation through enchanting forests. There are also more than a few spectacular vistas along the way.
In order to fully enjoy this top-notch skiing location, you will be required to climb in skins as well. This allows you to explore as much of the hills and mountains here as possible. It is also the way to get the best views.
After an intense day of skiing, this little village offer excellent opportunities to explore the culture of Kyrgyzstan as well. Enjoy the charming architecture, friendly people and unique food here while you recharge your batteries for another day of skiing.
Many of the country’s most popular skiing spots are easily accessible from the capital of Bishkek, which means no need for a lengthy transfer upon arriving in the capital. You can simply settle in and get to skiing right away.
Ak Tash and Ala Archa National Park are the two most popular, and undoubtedly most scenic, spots near the capital. Ak Tash is located in the gorgeous Oruu-Sai gorge just 45 kilometers southeast of the capital.
This beautiful valley is full of great powder, waterfalls, mountain springs and juniper trees. There are several lifts that get you up well over 2.100 meters above sea level and allow you to make long, incredible runs down through the fresh snow. Skiing through the juniper thickets is a must.
Ala Archa National Park is also easily accessible from Biskek, sitting just 40 kilometers south of the capital. The area is considered a prime ski touring spot, both for its ease of access as well as its plentiful and high-quality powder.
Skiing on the glacier is truly a unique experience. It affords stunning panoramic views of the surrounding rocky mountains. It is also not too technically difficult, making it appropriate for skiers of every level with basic off-piste experience.
The ski touring season in Kyrgyzstan runs from mid-November through early April. Snow begins to fall in October and does not generally melt until after May. The country is not very windy, so the snow pack stays in tact and provides excellent skiing conditions throughout.
During the winter, the climate can be quite harsh. Temperatures frequently drop to -30ºC during the day and even farther at night. Temperatures are closer to freezing and sometimes warmer during November and early December as well as from March to April. For this reason, many people come during these two time periods.
The cost of these types of trips varies greatly depending on the guide, where you go, how long you stay and what is included.
For a trip to the area surrounding the capital, you can expect to pay an average of US$100 per day, including guide fees, transport during the trip and accommodation. Prices may vary, with slightly more expensive trips also including half-board meals and visa fees.
For a trip to a farther off locale, expect to pay about US$1.000 per person for a week. This will include transport as well as everything previously mentioned. Some trips may cost more depending on their scope and what is included.
Generally speaking, the more people in your group, the less the trip costs per person.
Whether it is winter or summer, there is no shortage of outdoor activities in this marvelous mountain nation!
Along with ski touring, heliskiing is also quite popular here throughout the winter season. Heliskiing allows you to see many different parts of the diverse Tian Shan range in a small amount of time, but it will cost you.
For those looking to take it a bit easier, hiking is another common activity that allows you to see the country and take it all in at a more leisurely pace.
So what are you waiting for? Start planning your next ski holiday now and prepare for some top notch skiing as well as the adventure of a lifetime in Kyrgyzstan!
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