SKI AREA IN THE SPOTLIGHT: ALMATY, KAZAKHSTAN
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