A beginner’s guide to Mongolia
22 November 2023
For powder hounds, freeriders and backcountry skiers there are few places left where you can experience a ride that hasn’t already been conquered many times over. The Tien Shan mountains are one of the last remaining regions where every suitable peak, slope and valley has not yet been developed for winter sports. So if you are seeking to ski virgin territory, Kyrgyzstan can deliver.
For the rest of us mere mortals who prefer managed pistes and cosy accommodation but feel like an adventure or a change of scene, Kyrgyzstan is equally enticing as a ski destination, and works out to be excellent value to boot. It may involve a longer flight to get there, but the bed and board options are much cheaper than in most European or US resorts.
What you get from a Kyrgyz ski trip is plenty of quiet, snow-sure slopes, basic but fully functioning infrastructure, no queues and a whole new mountain range. From early in the season (usually late November) there is regular snowfall, and the climatic conditions ensure that much of that snow is of the perfect, powdery variety.
The only things you don’t get are extensive, interlinked resorts with hundreds of kilometres of pistes to roam, or much in the way of apres ski. But a major attraction has to be the thrill of the new! Kyrgyzstan has a rich heritage and its distinct culture and scenery can easily be combined into a varied winter itinerary incorporating snowsports and sightseeing. Small ski resorts are scattered around the Tien Shan range and there are several within reach of Bishkek, as well as a handful further afield. We’ve picked out three of the best Kyrgyz resorts to tell you about in more detail.
This is the jewel in the crown of Kyrgyz winter destinations, enjoying the highest altitude and the broadest facilities with pistes totalling 20 kilometres – the longest on offer nationwide. Located just 7 kilometres from Karakol town, it is easily accessible if you are in the Lake Issyk Kul area and takes around 30 minutes from the central hotels. One bonus of the location is the panorama that greets you when you reach the mountain. A sweeping view of the Tien Shan range stretches into the distance while the lake fills the valley and snowy peaks fringed with fir trees occupy the foreground. There are a good variety of slopes for all abilities and various options for ski hire in Karakol town, and a couple of ‘ski-in, ski-out’ hotels on the mountain.
Around a dozen small ski stations cluster among the peaks near Bishkek, making them easy to access if you are flying into the capital. They are all cheap and cheerful, attracting locals on sunny weekends but during the week they are generally very quiet. The Kashka Suu valley has a handful of little ski bases which could make an interesting few days exploration, most with just a couple of lifts and a single accommodation option. Kashka Suu itself has the most scope in terms of pistes, though isn’t great for beginners and the lifts are relics from the soviet days.
The beauty of this area for the adventurous skier or rider is that the various little resorts all offer something different, many have great potential for off piste action if you are an expert with all the relevant equipment and avalanche safety gear. Orlovka is a little further out from Bishkek but it has snowmaking and longer pistes so it gets busy on weekends. There are plenty of options for beginners and the facilities are pretty good by Kyrgyz standards – and it’s a good bet even if the season has poor snowfall.
Ski Suusamyr and you really can claim to be a pioneer. The appeal here is the backcountry skiing and freeriding at high altitude and with the elusive attraction of champagne powder. Predominantly dry conditions coupled with extreme cold – it can be as low as -20°C in the day – create the light and fluffy powder that is the holy grail for expert backcountry skiers, and this builds to around 2 metres deep by mid winter most seasons. The scenic valley itself is also a temptation, featuring towering peaks, scant evidence of human activity, and all that incredible snow. There are lodges in the area offering transport to the virgin snow by piste basher (or snowcat) which makes it a good place to aim for if you are an entry level backcountry enthusiast.
Make it happen
Combine cultural activities and winter sports in the fascinating country of Kyrgyzstan. From beginners to veteran freeriders there is something for everyone, and our expert local partner company based in Kyrgyzstan can combine your list of priorities into a bespoke itinerary tailor made for you. Contact them here to get your Kyrgyzstan adventure started. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.