The Karakol ski resort, 7km from the center of Karakol, is the best ski resort in Central Asia. It has the most piste kilometers, for a price similar to the small resorts around Bishkek, and much lower than the resorts around Almaty. The slopes, 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, and in the backcountry, a snow blanket over 1m 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.
A daypass for the lifts costs around 1000 som (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. Nomad’s Land and Ecotrek are purveyors of quality gear.
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.
There is one hotel on the slopes, the hotel Kapriz. Warm, cosy rooms, a decent spa, good breakfast and a high level of service are pluses. On the negative side, it is very pricey, very busy in season and parking and weak wifi need to be paid separate. More budget-conscious skiers can find a variety of good options in the town of Karakol.
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.
Posh 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.
If you are coming from Bishkek, we can recommend Iron Horse Nomads and Nomad’s Land. Both very reliable companies with excellent track records catering to all types of travelers. Prices are very similar: the difference will depend on the number of passengers and the current exchange rate of the Kyrgyz som.