As a modern metropolis jutting out of the rural, sometimes decrepit landscape of Central Asia, Almaty usually comes as a shock to travelers on the Silk Road for a longer time. Its ski resorts are similarly better appointed than those elsewhere in Central Asia, although you can still find creaking old Soviet contraptions in its nooks.
Almaty should definitely be a stop on any Silk Road ski tour, not only for the different vibe to the rest of the region, but also for the ski opportunities, which are no less than in Kyrgyzstan. For the expats living in Almaty, they can just enjoy it all winter long.
Ski season in Almaty runs from December to March. Almaty is a sunny place in winter, not too cold either, which makes for delightful days on the slope. On the flipside, thaw is an issue at the edges of the season. The proximity of the mountains gives traveling skiers the opportunity to base themselves in the city center for lower prices and raucous après-ski, and get on the bus the next morning back to the slopes.
There are about a dozen ski resorts near Almaty. Most are very small. Shymbulak is the exception, the most modern ski resort in Central Asia with a range of slopes for skiers of every aptitude.
Beginners and families should have a look at the following resorts: Tau Turan, Lesnaya Skazka, Ak Bulak, Pioneer and Shymbulak. All have ski teachers and ski rental. Lesnaya Skazka and Shymbulak are busier, nicer, and more expensive. Ak Bulak, Pioneer and Tau Turan are quieter and cheaper.
Advanced skiers can also enjoy Tau Turan and Ak Bulak, and will definitely enjoy Shymbulak. In addition, Elik-Sai is a little freerider paradise. Night skiing is available at Ak Bulak and Shymbulak (also elsewhere, but here it’s best).
If you have seen all the above and want to keep exploring, check out Shybynsay cottage and Tau Park, both near Butakovka. To be complete, I will also mention Tabagan, Enbek and Kumbel Hotel, but there is little incentive for most of us to go there.
Backcountry and tour skiing possibilities abound in the ring of mountains surrounding Almaty’s south side. There is a fantastic guidebook made by Vitaliy Rage of powder.kz. Definitely visit to get a detailed view of the lines and locations. Access to these destinations is explained at Hiking around Almaty.
Since I know how hyperlinks in Central Asia tend to go ‘ploops’ after a year or 2, I took the liberty of making a back-up, available here, in case the link is dead. Another good place to start is 5 top backcountry spots in the Zailiskiy Alatau (ru).
300 km north of Almaty lies Tekeli, the gate to the Dzungarian mountains that form the border with China. The skiing here is mostly intended for the people living in nearby Taldykorgan, but explorers might want to venture there for different vistas, the cultural experience and more virgin pow in empty gorges.