Shymbulak is the biggest ski resort in Central Asia together with Karakol in Kyrgyzstan. It is definitely the most modern, most comfortable, poshest and most expensive ski resort in Central Asia.
The standard is international. You can find all the usual conveniences here you know from your skiing adventures back home: a hotel, a restaurant, coffee shop, wifi and an apres-ski bar.
The mountain is well laid out with a diverse set of slopes that will appeal mostly to intermediate and advanced skiers. The area can definitely entertain you for 1-3 days, depending on how spoiled you are. It’s not Europe or the US. Beginners have few options on Shymbulak. Then again, they don’t need so many. Snow quality and quantity is generally very good from late December until early March. For backcountry and off-piste potential, see the Almaty backcountry skiing guide.
New, fast lifts make sure lines are manageable on weekends. During the week, it’s quiet enough for large turns or mad-fast ski tucks, whichever you prefer.
Night skiing is possible twice a week from 7 to 11pm, check the website for the current schedule. Only the slope between the base station and Combi-1 hill station is illuminated. It’s comfortably close to the city for those who want to get a few runs in after work. The downside is, it gets very busy.
The 2015 tenge devaluation has made skiing on Shymbulak affordable again. Whereas before the average cost stood at 94$ per day, it’s now only half of that. The economic slowdown also means there are fewer people on the slopes (locals don’t earn their money in dollars and so are still paying the same price).
Equipment rental costs 5000 tenge/day. If you rent it in the city you can get a better deal. You have to drag it up there first, but you don’t lose time waiting in the rental shack at Shymbulak. You can also rent out ski clothes at Shymbulak. Depending on what you need, it will cost you 2000-5000 tenge. Lockers cost 500 tenge per day with a 2000 tenge deposit.
- Crowd level: high on weekends, low during the week
- Lifts: 7
- Slopes: 20 km (easy: 4 km, medium: 10 km, hard 6 km)
- Season: December – April
- Equipment rental: Yes
- Artificial snow: Yes
- Ski instructors: Yes (also in English)
- Opening hours: Medeo-Shymbulak cabin operates from 9.30 to 6pm, but other cabins operate from 10am to 4 or 5pm.
- Altitude: 1600m to 3100m
- Weather forecast
- Website has a webcam, map, prices, online booking and contact details
Shymbulak is very close to the center of Almaty.
From Medeu, you pay for entrance (show some ID) and take the gondola up to the Shymbulak resort (15$ round-trip). From there, the ski lifts start.
Find entrance prices and buy tickets online on their website (the Russian version is most complete). You pay 3 times to enter Shymbulak:
- Gondola Medeu – Shymbulak: for adults, it’s 2500 tenge for the gondola round trip.
- Entrance: Weekends 8000 tenge for adults, week days 5500 tenge. Students, pensioners and kids below 10 get discounts.
- Badge: You need to buy a badge the first time you go to Shymbulak. Price is 1500 tenge.
Food & drinks
There are some nice bars and restaurants at the base and on the slopes. Prices are predictably high, of course, but at least most of them have wi-fi for your Instagram shot. Stay away from the Assorti. My personal recommendation is SNeG for a decent meal and the 3200 Bar at the top for a pick-me-up while basking in the sun.
On the premises of Shymbulak itself, you can find the Shymbulak resort and SNeG Hotel. Of the 2, SNeG is the place to be: great food, unbeatable views. Near Medeu, some other hotels offer soft beds and fresh mountain air. The best ones are the luxury Samal Resort & Spa, which has a unique traditional interior style, and the even more luxurious boutique hotel Donatello. Across the street lies the even more luxurious 5-star hotel Royal Tulip.
Since Shymbulak is so close to Almaty, though, there really is no need to stay anywhere close to the resort. Any place in the center will do. This way, you are close to all the shops, bars, clubs and restaurants and only 30 minutes away from the slopes.
The Alpine club attached to Shymbulak organises buggy tours, paragliding and hiking tours. The gondola from Medeu continues in summer and some of the lifts stay in operation as well. Shymbulak is a popular outing for locals who are keen on mountain air but not on physical exercise, although this is changing. Check hiking around Almaty for hiking routes starting from Shymbulak.