By Alex Lee
Kazakhstan made a splash at this year’s Summer Olympics, winning seven gold medals and coming in 12th overall, despite having a population of just over 16 million. But with a huge landmass containing vastly different terrains, four full seasons, and a rapidly growing economy, Kazakhstan isn’t just about summer sports. Kazakhstan is blessed with mountains, including the Tian Shan Mountain Range, which has been a bridge between East and West since ancient times. And this new nation’s peaks are finally coming to the world’s attention and attracting skiers from inside and outside of its borders. Kazakhstan was also host to the 2011 Asian Winter Games, which spurred the country to build some of Central Asia’s most cutting edge winter sports facilities. So if you find yourself in Kazakhstan this winter and want to hit the slopes, here is all you need to know.
Shymbulak: Where Kazakhs Go to Ski
Shymbulak is nearly synonymous with skiing in Kazakhstan. The resort is about 30 minutes by taxi from Almaty. The area is surrounded by mountains so tall that they can be seen from most points in Almaty’s city center and the region’s moderate winter and summer temperatures make it a year-round hub of activity. Due to the recent Asian Games, which were hosted by Shymbulak and Medeo–the skating rink that is about a 10-minute car ride fromShymbulak–the local municipality has also spent millions of dollars revampingthe area’s facilities. “New cafes, restaurants, a school and a new chalet type three-star hotel have been constructed,” Shymbulak Marketing Manager Sabina Ainakulova told EdgeKz. “We have four lifts and a new one is under construction now, and hopefully by December we will launch it. We are also building a new gondola run.” Nearly the entire complex has been upgraded due to the Asian Games.
The Shymbulak and the region’sski season extends from about November to May, with winter temperatures ranging from -5 to -10 Celsius, which is average for the region and good for skiing.The weather is mostly sunny during the winter; though the high altitudes occasionally mean foggy days. There are four lifts at Shymbulak, passing between snowy mountains and spruce trees. At an altitude of 3,140 metres above sea level, skiers can catch a long-range glimpse of nearly the entire TianShan range. From there, you can access the resort’s wealth of ski runs, which range from long to short, easy to challenging and gentle to steep. Guests can bring their own equipment, rent or buy what they need at the pro shop on the premises, which is stocked with skis, snowboards, and skiing accessories. Rentals range from 3000 KZ Tenge for children to 5000 KZ Tenge for adults’ accessories.Adult ski lessons run about 6000 KZ Tenge per hour.
To best experience Shymbulak, EdgeKz recommends booking a hotel in Almaty Cityand taking a taxi to the resortas it is only a 30-minute ride from the city. Skiers can also book a luxury ski chaletat the resort itself. For more information about luxury ski chalets please contact staff at the contacts provided.
Shymbulak is truly an outdoor wonderland. So if you find yourself returning to Kazakhstan in the spring, summer or fall you can also enjoy the resort’s camping, horseback riding and trekking. But no matter the weather, Shymbulak never suffers from lack of visitors. “Locals, foreigners, students and businessmen come to Shymbulak to have fun and enjoy the high-end environment,” said Ainakulova.
Info Box information:
Location: 25 kilometres south of Almaty
Estimated Driving Time: 30 minutes
Phone: +7 (727) 390 93 93
There are 4 lifts:
From “Shymbulak” to “Crossroads”
Altitude difference: 2260-2640 meters
Length: 1250 meters
Estimated time to top: ~9 minutes
From “Crossroads” to “20th Pillar”
Altitude difference: 2630-2920 meters
Length: 948 meters
Estimated time to top: 7.5 minutes
From the “20th Pillar” to “Talgarsky Pass”
Altitude difference: 2930-3136 meters
Length: 860 meters
Estimated time to top: 8 minutes
From “Shymbulak” to “Cone”
Altitude difference: 2260-2785 meters
Length: 1730 meters
Estimated time to top: 14 minutes
Altay Alps is located on the Altay Mountain Range in a beautiful remote section of eastern Kazakhstan. Altay is second in popularity only to Shymbulak. But because it is located nearly 1,000 kilometres from Astana, just outside the city of Oskemen, it doesn’t get nearly as crowded as some other Kazakh ski resorts. This doesn’t mean it should be missed, however. Altay Alps mesmerizes with its picturesque nature; gorges, mixed woods and rivers under the clear blue skies that attract visitors from near-by Russia as well as locals.The weather here is mild but windy. Average temperatures during the winter vary between -7 and -12 Celsius, which is great for skiing or snowboarding. “We have been coming here for over a decade,” 57-year-old skier and father of two Sergey Larionov of Omsk told EdgeKz.Larionov has been skiing for more than 30 years in Russia and Kazakhstan. “I have two sons and one daughter, they all love skiing,” he said.
Larionov’s family, however, is not the only one who has discovered Altay Alps. Thirty-seven-year-old Russian entrepreneur Oleg Khramov from Samara, Russia often visits the resort and other Kazakh skiing areas. “I was born in Kazakhstan. It is my motherland, even though I have been living in Russia for 20 years now. Shymbulak and Altay Alps are my favorite ski resorts in Kazakhstan,” he said. “They offer completely different experiences. Shymbulak is more European, I would say, even some staff members speak English and live in Europe. Maybe this is the reason it is very upscale. But Altay Alps is more extreme and the snow is better here; it’s crisper. For real skiers and snowboarders, I would say - Altay Alps,” said Khramov.
Altay Alps also has one night-time ski run that is lit up along its 1,350-metre length. And since you probably didn’t bring your ski equipment to Kazakhstan, you can also rent skis, helmets, ski goggles, sleds and snowboards here.Trained instructors are also available for novice skiers to get started. Altay Alps is also famous in Kazakhstan as the location of national-level ski tournaments, which attract sponsors from across Kazakhstan and the Commonwealth of Independent States.The resort has a hotel that provides standard and luxury suites year round, or you may opt for alpine cottages. In the evening, after a day on the slopes, you can also shake the chill off in the resort’scafé or bask in the hot steam of Altay Alps’ Russian Banya.
INFO BOX INFO
Location: 22 km from Oskemen, eastern Kazakhstan
Estimated time: 40 minutes by car
Phone: +7 (7232) 243 026; +7 (777) 401 53 40
The resort has 2 lifts with 6 ski runs for beginners and experts:
Life One: Estimated time to top: 4.5 minutes. From there guests can choose one of four ski runs; 1,350 metres for amateurs, 660 and 700 meters for experts, and an intermediate 900-metre run.
Lift Two: Estimated time to top: Five minutes. From here guests can choose one of two runs, one 800 and the other 900 meters long. These runs are recommended for beginners.
If regular skiing and snowboarding don’t provide enough of a challenge for you, Kazakhstan also offers the adrenaline filled-sport of heliskiing.
Heliskiingtours – both extreme and slightly more sedate – can be arranged by the K2 Tour Company. K2 will pick you up in their 12-person MI 8 MTV 1, five-person B4 or four-person Eurocopter B3 helicopters. Among the most popular trips are heliskiing in the 4,250-metreDmitriev glacier, which is one of the tallest and most famous in the ZailiskiiAlatau Mountain Range. Another popular trip is to the Korchenevsky glacier, also in the ZailiskiiAlatau range at an altitude of 4400 metres. Less vertical and high-altitude trips are also offered in the mountains immediately around Almaty. Either way, Sergey Guriev, the 54-year-old director of the K2 Tour Company, professional guide-instructor and mountain rescue worker, told EdgeKz that anyone who is going to try heliskiing must “be sure of his abilities. He must be good on pristine, untouched and crisp snow and he needs to be in a good shape.”
Depending on the route the client chooses, the price will vary with it. “We can alter any itinerary. It is all up to the client really, the price will change with it, but our main, one-day program includes2 hours and 30 minutes of flying to the destination and then an hour and a half of skiing, with lunch included and a return trip to the city. A trip for 1-12 people coasts approximately $14,000 USD (for more information se
To Contact K2:e contact details below). So if you think your skiing skills are up to the challenge, give K2 a call or send them an email, to arrange one of the most unique adventure experiences available in Kazakhstan. “I can’t recollect anyone who complained about our trips. Seriously, this is a life changing experience! The first timers are afraid, of course, but onceyou give it a try you can’t stop, and you can’t go back to normal skiing. Most of people scream at first because they are afraid, then they scream because there are enjoying it so much… It is pricey, but after the trip everybody just forgets about the money, it is all about the adrenaline,” concluded Sergei.
Phone: +7(727) 375 83 42
English language website: http://www.k2.kz/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=43&Itemid=43