The Karakol ski resort, 7km from the center of Karakol, is the best ski resort in Central Asia. It is the highest resort (2400 to 3050 m) and has the most piste kilometers, for a price similar to the small resorts around Bishkek, and much lower than that of the resorts around Almaty.
If you prefer to go off the beaten path, the area around Karakol is an excellent choice, with at least 3 spots well-known for winter yurt stays, ski touring and catskiing in virgin powder.
When to go
The skiing season runs from mid-December until the end of March. An early winter can set the lifts a-creaking as early as the end of November. January and February are generally considered the best months to ski in Kyrgyzstan. Above 2500m you can still ski in April.
Karakol resort is busy during school holidays, but almost abandoned outside of the holidays. If you are free to choose your dates, outside of the holidays accommodation it will be a lot cheaper. There will be no shuttle to the ski resort, though; you will have to get a taxi there if you do not have your own transport.
Karakol ski resort
The slopes at Karakol ski resort, surrounded by pine forest, can delight both beginners and experienced skiers, and there are beautiful views to be had over Issyk-Kul lake and the wider Tien Shan range.
Fresh powder is lush, soft and low in moisture. In the backcountry of the resort, a snow blanket over 1 meter is not unusual. Freeriders will find easy-to-access virgin snow to cruise outside of the slopes. A small fun park is the latest addition.
Ski passes and rental equipment
A daypass for the lifts costs around 1200 som, 700 som for kids (see their website for pricing details). If you don’t intend to ski, single and round trip ski passes are also sold. The deposit for the card is refundable. There are no POS terminals, ATMs or reasonable money exchangers, so make sure you bring enough cash.
Equipment rental prices on site depend on the age of the equipment, between 400 and 1200 som. No English is spoken, and you cannot rent skiing clothes, helmets or goggles. If you need those, get them in Karakol town.
Tip for lazy freeriders: for about 15$ you can go up an extra 400m with a snowcat from ‘Panorama’ at the top of the resort.
The slopes are not very far from Karakol town, where you can find a lot more variety in accommodation options.
There are two restaurants at Karakol: a cafe at the bottom and a restaurant at the Caprice hotel. On the slopes a bar offers drinks and hookah, and in front of the hotel Caprice you can find someone frying shashlik.
Both the cafe and the restaurant offer decent food. Caprice offers a bit more than the usual selection of Kyrgyz, Uyghur and Russian dishes with a better execution. Of course, it is still skiing, so prices go up together with the altitude. Think 1000 som for a good lunch at Kapriz, a bit less at the cafe.
At least some people will rejoice at the Western toilets.
We have a map with the exact location of all ski resorts in Central Asia in case you are self-driving. Entrance to the national park where the ski resort is located is 50 som.
From Karakol town, most guesthouses can arrange transport, and there are jeeps leaving from the center of town. 150 som one way for a seat in the car is reasonable. You can arrange transport both ways, but there will be plenty of taxis waiting to take you down at the ski base just as well.
Warning: the road up is not the best, and crashes happen regularly. Don’t get in anything less than a 4wd car.
Backcountry skiing and ski yurt camps
Jyrgalan is one of the most famous spots for ski touring in Kyrgyzstan due to the countless different slopes to discover. The slopes can be from 25% to 35% with 1000 m runs. It’s possible to hire a snow cat or a snowmobile in the Jyrgalan valley.
A great yurt camp to ski in and ski out has been set up near the village. Enjoy the steaming banya, then jump in the nearby river to cool off (real fast). Jyrgalan is a 1-hour drive from Karakol.
Ak-Tash near Chong Kyzyl-Suu is another great spot for ski touring from the doors of your yurt to the high peaks of the red river valley. Ak-Tash is a growing destination in Kyrgyzstan for the quality of the snow and the hot springs (both outdoor and indoor) that are just 4 km from the winter yurt camp.
Ak-Tash is a 40 minute drive from Karakol.
The ski touring yurt camp in the Aksu gorge is just 30 minutes drive from Karakol, but it’s another great spot to enjoy the high mountains of Kyrgyzstan. The camp has heated yurts and an outdoor hot tub that is to die for after a long day on the slopes. If you are snowshoeing or ripping lines in the mountains nearby you must stop over.
Manager Slava has been described to us as “the sweetest man in Kyrgyzstan”, but note that the Aksu camp runs on snowmobiles, not snowcats. Also note that there are wolves. :-))
Prices and booking
Prices for the ski yurt camps run between 60 and 100$ per night, all inclusive. Spaces are limited so booking in advance is recommended. If you want to book, get in touch with Samuel’s team.
More options for ski touring in the backcountry at backcountry skiing in Kyrgyzstan.
Snowshoeing and winter horse riding
If skiing is not your thing but you would still like to get out in the snow, why not snowshoe? All of the yurt camps and backcountry ski bases discussed above are great destinations for the spirited snowshoer. Or head for Altyn Arashan: over-crowded these days in summer, but lovely in winter.
A great spot to enjoy indoor and outdoor hot springs, it takes about 4,5 hours of snowshoeing to reach the alpine hut at Altyn Arashan after a short transit from Karakol. The hut has a large fireplace you can curl up next to with a book or a game of cards.
….or you can let a horse do the work instead and simply enjoy the landscapes from up high. For details about prices and arrangements, we once again recommend you get in touch with Samuel’s team.