The Altai mountains are spread out over 4 countries: Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan. There is no ski development in China and Mongolia, but the industry is reasonably well-developed in the Russian Altai.
The Kazakh part of Altai is slowly opening up: resorts and backcountry guides are available to take advantage of the excellent skiing conditions.
The Altai Mountains have some of the most severe winter weather in Kazakhstan, with temperatures dipping below -30 C regularly. It isn’t always that cold though, and on clear days, the mountains are warmer than the plains due to temperature inversion. A big plus is that there will always be snow in winter. Thawing doesn’t usually start before mid-March.
Snow levels in Kazakh Altai*
|End of November||20-30 cm|
|Ust-Kamenogorsk, 300 m||-1||-8||-10||-9||-2|
|Altai Mountains, 800 meters (Ridder)||-1.5||-5.5||-6.5||-5.5||0|
Heavy snowfalls come close to the end of the season: end of February, beginning of March. On average, snow storms in the Altai mountains occur 4 days a month. Freeriders note: the prevailing wind direction is south-east, creating big cornices on the north and northwestern mountain crests.
Backcountry & freeride
Ridder is the place to be for freeriders. There are 3 resorts (see below) with lifts, capable backcountry guides and a real ski spirit pervades in the town. Ridderhutte is the most famous place, sporting daily dumps of champagne powder and slopes of 2000m height difference that can support 1,5 to 2 hours uninterrupted downhill skiing.
Ridderhutte also has a snowcat. Prices are really low considering things like this are usually very expensive in North Kazakhstan. Recommended.
If you are looking for a more extreme form of skiing, contact the people from the Ust-Kamenogorsk Extreme Community: UK Team. They are the experts and can also guide you. Their playground is the backcountry around Ridder, it seems, with the White Serzhinsky Ridge being a favourite freeriding spot.
This is what they do.
There are 3 resorts near Ridder (Edelweiss, Stardust Camp and Ridderhutte), 2 near Ust-Kamenogorsk (Nurtau and Altay Alps), and one deep in the mountains near Ziryanovsk (Oryol).
I pinpointed the location on the map of each of these. I have been to Altay Alps – it is very much a place for locals and beginners. Rooms and spa facilities are quite nice, there is wifi and lots of snow (sometimes even too much and the road gets blocked). The slopes cater mostly to beginners. Advanced skiers and freeriders should look elsewhere.
Others I have not visited, but from my conversations with skiers in the area, they all seem to have something to offer the piste skier as well as the freerider. I will leave you with some links, up to you to contact them.
Edelweiss & Ridderhutte
- Ridderhutte website: pictures
- Edelweiss website: review and pictures
- Stardust Camp website: reviews and pictures
- Ridder ski expedition photoreportage (in Russian)