A 1-hour drive away from the center of Almaty, Ak-Bulak is a little gem of a resort. Despite it being lower than Shymbulak, and with fewer and older lifts (only two main chair lifts), the terrain is arguably more interesting. Definitely steeper, especially at the top; more gullies and trees to play around in; definitely fewer rocky and more grassy slopes; despite the very one-dimensionalness (thin strip up a valley) skiers can traverse across into a couple of other side valleys.
With majestic Peak Talgar looming over the slopes, the views from the top can be spectacular on a sunny day. And with 1000m of vertical to boot (more than its neighbouring resort) this place has to be up there as one of Central Asia’s best snow playgrounds. Extra bonus: there is almost no one around during the week (weekends can get somewhat crowded).
Ak Bulak is a good place for beginners. There is a long, calm, gradual descent for practice and teaching. At the same time, out-of-bounds tree runs with smooth snow running to the valley floor and short pillow-lines curving through the trees make Ak Bulak a winner for the mad skillz, mad thrillz crowd as well. This ski video nicely showcases the beginner slopes. This video on the other hand, is only for the aforementioned thrillz seekers.
Compared to Chimbulak, Ak Bulak is a bit cheaper. Rent good equipment for 5,000 tenge (from 9 to 17.30). An adult ski pass for a day costs 4500 tenge. The card needs to be purchased separately for 1500 tenge.
Night skiing is an option 2 times a week from 19 to 22 at lower prices than Shymbulak. Not recommended if you are in Almaty as the Talgar road is a traffic nightmare during rush hour.
Food and accommodation
All food on offer will be overpriced, of mediocre quality and served in slow motion. Just so you know. I would bring sandwiches.
The simple slope lay-out and the dearth of other entertainment around, coupled with an overpriced hotel on-site makes Ak Bulak an excellent day trip destination from Almaty rather than a weekend stay. If you do want to stay over, I would recommend Alma Akbulak Guesthouse over the on-site hotel as a warmer home.
Getting there is challenging if you do not have your own vehicle. Transport to Talgar leaves non-stop from Almaty’s eastern bus station as well as in front of it, near the horseman statue. Once in Talgar, haggle with a local to get you to Ak Bulak. Not sure what an average price would be nowadays.
If you do have your own transport, check our map of all ski resorts in Central Asia for the exact location.