Freeriding the endless virgin slopes of the Tien Shan is why you come to Kyrgyzstan. Freedom, powder. Away from the summer trekking crowds, no slopes or villages in sight: this is pure nature.
There are a couple of ways you can approach this.
- Book a bed at the freerider lodge in Suusamyr or Jyrgalan, or start hiking up from a lift at a resort.
- Find some local friends. This guy joined an impromptu ski tour to Ala Archa NP.
- Track down a local mountain guide. This woman horse-ski-toured Karakol.
- Book a backcountry skiing tour with a professional team.
If you are the DIY-type, make sure you are aware of avalanche danger.
If you are not the DIY-type, revel in the fact that there are really cool tour operators in Kyrgyzstan who love the winter and want to take you to places no independent traveler will ever get to see. This is a really cool tour.
Besides standard backcountry ski tours, Samuel’s company also runs their own ski yurt camps in Ak-Tash and Are Bel. The yurts are set up far away from the populated world for a true nature experience in the Kyrgyz wilderness, but they are nice and warm inside after a day of skiing through the forsaken slopes of the Heavenly Mountains.
Bring the following: fat powder skis (115mm+ underfoot…the fatter the better!) and splitboards for snowboarders. Kyrgyzstan’s bottomless continental snowpack is one of the most unique in the world – you must be able to float big turns, at speed. Additionally, be prepared with essential touring and avalanche safety gear.
Definitely bring skis or splitboard, boots, poles, skins, avalanche beacon, batteries, avalanche gear set (shovel, probe, beacon), airbag backpack, skiing clothes, goggles, gloves, helmet, warm clothes and boots for evenings, radios (frs/gmrs or FM), flashlight, sunglasses, sunscreen, sleeping bag, inflatable mat, basic medical kit.
More tips on insurance, health and transport at skiing in Kyrgyzstan.
Popular spots are the northern side of Issyk Kul (especially Chong Kemin), the mountains behind Karakol, Tash Rabat, the northern side of Song Kul, Suusamyr and Arslanbob.
Probably the biggest destination for snowhounds in Kyrgyzstan. Find out all you need to know at skiing around Karakol.
Suusamyr is freerider heaven. Almost 1000 square kilometers of virgin slopes, drops of more than 1 km and powder depth that easily reaches up to 1,5m make Suusamyr one of the top spots for backcountry skiing in Kyrgyzstan.
The Suusamyr valley bottoms out at 2200 to 2500m and is surrounded by the mountains of the Kyrgyz Suusamyr Too range. The dryness of the extreme continental climate combined with low temperatures forms exceptionally dry powder. During the day, intense solar radiation smoothes severe frosts.
The champagne powder is formed due to the cool climate, so be prepared: -20°C is the usual daytime temperature. At night, the thermometer often falls to -35°C.
Backcountry season starts in December and peaks between February and March, with decent shredding possible until mid-April. In late April, there is still a lot of snow, but as a result of warmer temps during the day, a hard crust develops, making both going up and coming down a job rather than a delight.
There is a ski lodge in Suusamyr. You can find reviews online.
From November to May, Song Kul houses a snowfest. The Kilemche jailoo on the northern side of Song Kul affords splendid views over the lake and, with an altitude of 2600m to 3500m and a northern slope face, there is always plenty of powder to go around. Lake curling is optional.
The usual backcountry skiing specialists can take you here – there is no permanent lodging so it will be yurt skiing.
What makes Arslanbob unique is the village homestay experience, which is well-developed, and something you don’t get backcountry skiing elsewhere in Kyrgyzstan. The powder is great, the slopes are untouched beauties.
There is a big variety of routes in terms of elevation and steepness: Arslanbob is a good place for beginning freeriders. You can ski through the walnut forest or on the steeper slopes of the mountains, in gorges or across farm land. Getting to the slopes can also involve horses (this is Kyrgyzstan after all).
To ski here, you must be reasonably fit and comfortable touring for long distances with your own backcountry equipment behind your shoulders – and be ready to winter camp. Ascents are from 500 to 1500 m in vertical gain, maximum elevations circle around 3,800m. In principle, the season runs from November to April, but top powder season is January – March.
Ski gear is available for rent in Arslanbob if you did not bring your own, but gear junkies will be pouting at the second-hand skis on offer. To ski here, you can contact the local tour company CBT Arslanbob, or go with an outside tour operator, for higher service levels and an all-in-one approach (own transport, gear, food, guides, base camps, …).
Skiing in Arslanbob has gotten some good press in the past few years, and more tourists are coming, but that doesn’t mean people are crowding the slopes. You are still likely to be the only one trudging up the snow pack.
- A good wrap-up of a few days skiing with CBT in 2012
- Another ski report from the Jaz Jarym shepherd’s hut in 2012
- Horse skiing some easy slopes
All of these show some of the great powder, friendly people and empty slopes of Arslanbob.
The Chong Kemin gorge is not only beautiful in summer, as the picture above testifies. From November to March, this is freeriding country extraordinaire. Civilization is far away. Capture that blissful solitude, riding in an empty whiteness, as if all of humanity has been snowed under.
Shred the gnar on endless slopes with maximum drops from 3500m to 1600m. An average snow cover of 90 cm blankets unlimited freeriding potential.
Horses get you from base camp to the start of the slopes from mid-November to mid-March.