The ski resorts of Almaty
Almaty is located in’s far southeast. In the middle of the Ala Tau mountain range are some of Central Asia’s finest ski resorts. Shymbulak, Ak Bulak and Lesnaya Skazka are rapidly growing and facilities are quickly improving. The terrain is challenging and the 2017 Winter Olympiade (the winter Olympics for students) increased the awareness of skiing in Kazakhstan.
During the Soviet era, most of the professional skiers lived in the city of Karakol (present day Kyrgyzstan) for their trainings. Almaty and their ski resorts were less developed. In 1983 the Soviet team finally organized some trainings in Shymbulak, Kazakhstan. It’s only since the fall of the Soviet Union that Kazakhstan took control of their own affairs. It meant that Kazakhstan could finally use their oil and gas revenues for recreational purposes. After several intense years of economic struggles, the ski business has finally grown up.
The Ascension Cathedral, also called Zenkov’s Cathedral in the city of Almaty
Nowadays Shymbulak is the biggest of all ski resorts in Central Asia. In has two gondolas that bring you from 2200 meter till the Talgar pass at 3200 meters. At the top you have an amazing view at the glacier of Pik Talgar (4979m). It’s very dramatic terrain but with a nice gentle slope at the bottom of the glacier. The 3200m bar is one of my favorite hang outs in Central Asia. It has typical wooden decorations, signs of European ski resorts and amazing hot chocolate.
The ski resort of Shymbulak, Kazakhstan
Former Kazakhstan president Nazarbaev has a huge chalet near the resort of Shymbulak. Vladimir Putin even hit the slopes with him last winter. The facilities have improved a lot and there are even plans to construct additional lifts and slopes on the western slopes of the Medeu ice skating stadium.
The ski resort of Ak Bulak is a bit smaller than Shymbulak but it has amazing freeride options. Ak Bulak is also a good resort for beginners. There is a long, calm slope from the top station of the gondola. But from the gondola’s top station there’s another chairlift that take you to a freeride Walhalla. Off piste tree runs and short pillow-lines curving through the trees make Ak Bulak my personal favorite. Above all, the view from the upper chair lift is unrivaled.
View from the top chairlift at Ak Bulak ski resort
The resort of Ak Bulak is about 40 kilometers east of Almaty but it will take you around an hour to get there. If you have the opportunity to come during the week, after a decent snowfall, there’s no better place than Ak Bulak. Accommodation is scarce so it’s better to stay in Almaty and arrange a taxi or transfer.
Lesnaya Skazka (or Oi Qaragai in Kazakh language) is the newest addition for skiers from Almaty. The resort just opened one year ago. The location is a bit lower than the other resorts (1580 meters above sea level) and the highest point is only 400 meters higher. The terrain is quite interesting though with a lot of fir trees and natural obstacles. You can reach a bowl shaped face from the Mountain Spring Plaza. You can have lunch in a traditional yurt and again, if you come during weekdays, you will have the entire resort to yourself.
Private slopes at Lesnaya Skazka resort Kazakhstan
The best place to spend the night is Almaty. All ski resorts are in a 40km radius of Kazakhstan’s biggest city. You can have an amazing mix of city indulgences and mountain treats. Almaty is a global city with more than 2 million inhabitants. Founded as a small village with an abundance of apples, nowadays it’s by far the most developed city of Central Asia. If you want to visit Kazakhstan for skiing you can get in touch with Snowplanner Peter. He’s offering ski adventures to the south of Kazakhstan with his foundation Ryce Travel.
If you are lucky you can even spot a lazy camel
From the first moment that Peter saw snowflakes flutter down, he was enchanted by the winter. After years of nagging at his parents, they finally took him on winter sports at the age of 10. When skiing went smoothly, snowboarding became the next goal. From the age of 16 he went out with friends. First the French student destinations Les Deux Alpes, St. Sorlin and Val Thorens. Then Andorra, Zillertal and Brixental. When his study of Economic Geography entered the final phase, Peter started thinking about a snow-rich sequel. He was allowed to write to the state of Washington in the United States to write his thesis. To be able to stand in the snow himself, he chose climate change and its influence on ski areas as the subject. From the University of Seattle, Peter often moved into the Cascade Range and Olympic Mountains. To conduct interviews in ski resorts but of course also to make the necessary descents. After his diploma he could finally do a season in the snow. He spent a winter in Königsleiten and then in Scandinavia. For Snowboarder MAG, Peter made a tour in a converted van. He wrote articles about unknown ski resorts in Scandinavia, the Baltic States, Eastern Europe, Turkey, Georgia, Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. This was not only about snowboarding but also about the difference in culture and winter sports experience. In Kyrgyzstan, Peter sold his converted van. The Kyrgyz buyer (Maksat) became his best friend. Maksat rented skis from a sea container of 20 years old. He wanted to use the purchased van to bring skis from the city to the ski area (15 km away). Exporting the Dutch van took the necessary time. In the meantime, Peter spent a lot of time with Maksat’s family and friends. He got to know the ins and outs of Kyrgyz life. When he returned to the Netherlands, he wanted to support the local skiers. Peter took a job at Bizztravel in Groningen. As a buyer for winter sports, he spent enough time in the snow. He also met many entrepreneurs from the winter sports industry. In this way, Peter collected material for Maksat in Kyrgyzstan. Skis, snowboards, clothing, sledges and avalanche equipment. He sent this to Central Asia to breathe new life into the local ski rental. Moreover, he regularly went there to freeride. When he started supporting several ski projects, he founded a foundation with friends. This Ryce Travel Foundation helped with the construction of a yurt camp, donated clothing, gave ski lessons and started a football school (because they happened to receive a container with second-hand football clothing). The foundation also tried to bring Central Asia to the attention of Western travelers. When you got there on the slopes you would hear no language other than Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Uzbek or Russian. When Bizztravel was sold in 2015, Peter decided to offer trips himself. These journeys naturally began in Kyrgyzstan. It had to be a trip where the local economy was supported and where travelers would see something of the country in addition to winter sports. It had to be a winter sport that you will never forget. The ski areas are quite limited so Peter was committed to creating a total experience. He convinced local owners to run a yurt camp in the winter and he ensured that the horses came from the stable in the winter. Eventually it became a trip with skiing in a ski area, droppings with a Pistenbully, sleeping in yurts, swimming in hot springs, singing during karaoke, horse riding with downhill, hiking among red rocks, strolling in the capital Bishkek and dancing in a pajama in a spa complex. Everywhere you are taken care of by local people, you sleep in local guesthouses and you eat local meals. And if you are white, you can leave winter sports items for local projects. These journeys have been expanded enormously in recent years with destinations along the former silk route. Ryce Travel now offers trips to Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, Northern Macedonia, Turkey and Lebanon. In addition, the foundation has started building so-called Travel HUBs. In the town of Karakol (Kyrgyzstan) a meeting center for tourists and locals was opened last summer. In the HUB is a ski rental, an outdoor shop, a coffee shop, a pub, a roof terrace and an information center. The same concept will be realized in Peja (Kosovo) and in Tbilisi (Georgia) in the coming years. Peter nowadays spends most of his winters in countries along the Silk Road. This year he even organizes the first Silkroad Freeride Tour where local freeriders can participate in a four-day event in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan. They are trained by pro-riders from Europe and the US. The goal is to prepare local freeriders for the World Freeride Tour. Lees verder