Why ski in Kyrgyzstan? It’s likely to be a long way from your home country, and there are snowy mountain ranges closer to home. If you are from Europe, the US or Japan, there is no reason to travel so far to witness the little resorts in Kyrgyzstan. It’s more fun at home.
Skiers from Southern Asia on the other hand might enjoy the adventure of taking up a new resort every day in true winter conditions. In 2 weeks, you can ride slopes in a vast region and break in so many different slopes, including around Almaty, the ski capital of Kazakhstan.
But: powder freaks, fear not!
There is still something called the backcountry, and this is what it’s all about in Kyrgyzstan if you are an experienced rider looking for a new winter thrill in a culture at odds with your own. The powder is deep and fluffy, the slopes are virgin like a nunnery, and the après-ski vodka never seems to run out.
Climate and when to go
Average daytime temperatures in winter around Bishkek are quite high. Snowfall is frequent, but strong sun makes it thaw again quickly. Foggy, cloudy days happen more often than in the rest of the country. This means that the resorts around Bishkek are not the greatest in terms of snow and weather. Let’s just say there are great days and other days.
Once you get off the plain Bishkek is situated on and into the heart of the country, temperatures go down, snow stays on the slope, and the dry continental climate creates the low moisture ‘champagne powder’ beloved by freeriders. There are also more sunny days.
All of this leads to high avalanche danger on many freeride slopes, so keep that in mind.
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.
There are about 20 ski resorts in Kyrgyzstan. They are all very small to the standards of destinations like the Alps: slope length usually stays under 10 kilometers. Around Bishkek there are about a dozen of them.
The most interesting place around Bishkek for advanced skiers or boarders who don’t want to do freeriding is the Kashka Suu valley. It contains 7 resorts: Kashka Suu, Ak Tash, Oruu Sai, Kyzyl Beles, Kolgookar, Edelweiss, Polytech and Uzun Bulak. Separately they don’t amount to much but as a whole it’s worth staying over for a few days to explore. We recommend Ak Tash as your base. In a place like Europe, these resorts would all be connected by cable cars but here you have to drive around yourself, so rent a (winter-ready) car if you plan this.
About 100 km east of Bishkek, Orlovka is a tad bigger than the resorts around Bishkek. The biggest ski resort in Kyrgyzstan, with 20 km in slopes, is Karakol at the eastern edge of lake Issyk-Kul. Works well as an extended weekend trip from Bishkek or Almaty. 120 km south of Bishkek you can ski on the slopes of Too Ashuu. Not very big or very challenging, it gets a lot of points for its high scenic value and freeriding potential.
If you for whatever reason (if any) happen to be in Bishkek in the winter time, but without skiing experience, you can try one of the resorts tailored to beginners. All are close to the capital. Chunkurchak and Zil are the easiest to get to without your own transport. They are also the busiest and most expensive ones. Other options are Norus, Uzun Bulak and Ski Tatyr.
We haven’t mentioned Toguz Bulak yet, a place for intermediate skiers who have done everything else or happen to pass by. There are also tiny beginner lifts at Almaly and Fizkulturnik. There’s also Chon Tash.
Prices and closing hours
Prices in Kyrgyzstan for a lift pass for a day range between 400 and 1200 som, with a 50 som charge for the pass that you usually cannot get back. If you come after lunch, you can often go half-price for the remaining hours. You can rent equipment on site if you need it, but it’s usually cheaper and better quality in Bishkek.
Most places start at 9 or 10 and close at 4pm. The bigger resorts like Orlovka and Karakol offer night skiing, but we don’t have a lot of information about that.
Some of the bigger resorts have a bus service going up and down once a day. For the others, you have to arrange transport yourself. You can always talk to a taxi driver on the street. If you are in a group, we recommend Samuel’s ski taxi – they also have a Swiss quality store of ski equipment for rent. It’s a better service than the taxi on the street and the price is the same.
The group tours from the Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan are a good option for solo budget travelers and young expats stuck in Bishkek. They head to a different resort around Bishkek every weekend.
Freeriding the endless virgin slopes of the Tien Shan is why you come to Kyrgyzstan. Pure freedom, fantastic powder. 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.
If you are the DIY-type, make sure you are aware of avalanche danger.
If you are not the DIY-type, there are a good number of tour operators who operate backcountry skiing tours. Every tour operator has their favourite spot. Most 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. One tour operator offers the chance to ski down Peak Lenin in summer.
40tribes recommends 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.
Health insurance and medical care
Winter sports are dangerous. You are in Kyrgyzstan. Make sure you have sufficient medical and evacuation insurance. It might get very costly if you have a serious injury and need to be transferred to Almaty, China or Dubai.