If you draw a line on a world map between Kitzbühel in Austria and Niseko in Japan then Kazakhstan biggest city is located right in the middle. Almaty has a rich history of mountaineering and alpine skiing. Sebastian from roninsnowboards.com was exploring the Tian Shan Mountains in the Ile-Alatau National Park near Almaty last spring. Here is his report.
The Tian Shan Mountains have always been on my bucket list, not on the top of it, but it was definitely a place to go. A friend of mine who spent almost a year there kept convincing me to go as soon as possible. Tian Shan makes it possible to extend your winter season until June, so his main argument. With good snow conditions you have chances to ride real powder until the end of the season. I wouldn’t really take his word for granted about this, but indeed, it was worth trying.
As the snow reports were beyond my expectations, I set my journey to the end of May. It was snowing constantly and local riders were amazed by what Mother Nature brought to them this spring. There would be a powder alert every week and people were going nuts scoring the lines nobody thought were rideable. I was so stoked to get there and the waiting period was a nightmare while friends were posting pictures and videos that made your mouth water.
Upon arrival in Almaty it is hard to believe that you can reach powder in just an hour drive from the airport. I was wearing shorts and flip-flops while the temperature was around 30 degrees Celsius. Our first stop was Cosmo-Station, a place set up in Soviet times, where a bunch of scientists and military experts observed the stars, the universe, and made sophisticated experiments. The station 3200m above sea level with a few old houses, some of them abandoned some of them not, is located deep in the Ile-Alatau National Park above Big Almaty Lake. It's almost impossible to get there if you don't know the right people. Luckily our head guide Rustam who is developing the project Snow Lab Shymbulak knows the locals and this place like the back of his hand. We were accommodated in one of the houses there, you get electricity and gas but there is no running water and the toilet is outside.
Our main objective was to get acclimatized and use some of the tie ropes built by the Cosmo-people back in the days. The tie ropes are similar in style to beginner lifts for children you grab the steel rope and off you go. First day on the snow, we set out to reach Pik Molodhozhny which is almost 4000 meters in altitude. Nonetheless the ascent is with 800 vertical meters a perfect warm-up for the first day. But this time we were unlucky with the weather - snow storms, strong winds also a few patches of sun but still good fun.
As we were only about at the beginning of our trip we didn't care much, but the amount of snow was far beyond expectations for May.
After getting back to our base snow kept falling like crazy so after short nap we decided to ride down below our base (3200 m) for dinner. That’s what you’d call a perfect ending to a wonderful day! The inauguration day gave us an idea of what to expect in the following days. Full of good vibes and looking out for tomorrow we went to sleep.
The next morning we got up at 5am to check the weather, it was a bluebird and the 'cosmo-people' promised us to open up the tie ropes from 6am. After fast breakfast we were ready to go. The tie rope isn't the easiest way to go up and as it turned out it's really tiring and you need to work out your own technique to get to the top. Still it's faster and more efficient than a regular hike up on foot, especially when you have 30 cm of fresh snow! A bunch of powder hunters from Almaty showed up real quick but there were so many options and lines to ride that it took us 5 hours to destroy the fields. The weather was amazing and we cruised around with a fantastic view of the city and the endless steppe down below. We finished our day literally destroying the nearest couloirs and getting ourselves ready for the next destination near the biggest ski resort in Kazahstan - Shymbulak.
After quick stop for shopping in Almaty we reached the resort. Our plan was to rest in a hostel, get to a Russian banya to relax our bodies and get prepared for the following days.
Thanks to our friends we were able to use the hut of the rescuers at the top of the resort above 3200m. The valley is enormous and brings a lot of varieties so this was the best starting point for our splitboarding adventures. Our main objective was to find and ride the best powder in the Bogdanovich area above the already closed resort. The Bogdanovich glacier is surrounded by lots of 4000 something peaks such as Fizkulturnik (4068m), Nursultan peak (4376m), Karlytau (4170m), Abaya (4010m), and Pioner (4037), all offering a very diversified terrain with huge fields, steep couloirs and many other options.
We would get up at 5am each morning to have a quick breakfast and start as soon as possible. Even though we were at high altitudes indefatigable sunlight turned snow into slush and we had to be careful of wet slides. Together with Egor who spend the last 30 years exploring those mountains and is the most experienced guide there, our aim was to explore the Ayak and Tiul glaciers. We were pretty excited about it since this tour cannot be considered as one of the popular destinations here in the Tian Shan Mountains. In fact these glaciers haven’t been ridden many years or never before, nobody knows for sure. During the winter the weather is too harsh to even think of approaching this place and during spring there had never be enough snow. Not this year though, luckily we had the best conditions within the last couple of years so we could easily get there and got down safely.
Our next goal was the pass at the end of the valley. That’s where our friends from Snow Lab Shymbulak usually organize heli-boarding. From there you have a great view over the Tuyuk-su glacier that gives you an idea of the vast mountain landscape of the Tian Shan Mountain range without a single soul there. There you feel solitude and enjoy the mountains to the fullest. The highlight of our trip was summiting Peak Fizkulturnik (4027 meter), we made our descent to the glacier that we rode previously and went the same way down again. Snow was a little bit heavier and after spending a couple of days in the wilderness we were keen on getting back to civilization.
To celebrate our achievement we had traditional Kazakh feast and local cognac - I bet you were not aware that they make a pretty bloody decent cognac in Kazakhstan!
Kazakhstan was miles beyond our expectations. You can summit 4000 meters peaks and ride down fresh snow in total solitude. Definitely worth visiting -- with super interesting terrain, nice people and great potential. I like!
Kazakhstan Trip 2017
Snowlab Gudauri offers splitboard journeys to Kazakhstan, so here is your opportunity to explore the Tian Shan Mountains with expirienced guides.
Requirements & Equipment
- Communication in English (or Russian if you can)
- Willingness for adventure
- Solid backcountry riding skills in all snow conditions
- Good physical strength, able to ascend 1500 HM
- Splitboard in perfect technical condition
- Safety equipment mandatory (beacon, shovel, probe, first-aid kit, helmet)
- Optional back protector, Airbag
- 30.4.2017 to 9.5.2017 (only few spots left!)
- 13.5.2017 to 25.5.2017
- Day 1: Arrival in Almaty. Organisation of supplies, transfer to Cosmo-Station
- Day 2: Breakfast, splitboarding, supper, relaxing.
- Day 3: Breakfast, splitboarding, transfer back to Almaty. Organisation of supplies for next stop. Supper and transfer to Shymbulak.
- Day 4: Breakfast, transfer to Talgarskiy Pass, lodging, supper.
- Days 5-6: Breakfast, splitboarding within the Bogdanovich area, supper, relaxing.
- Day 7: Breakfast, splitboarding, transfer to Shymbulak, supper.
- Day 8: Breakfast, transfer to T1-station, getting comfortable in basecamp, supper.
- Days 9-10: : Breakfast, splitboarding within the Tuyuk-Su region, supper, relaxing.
- Day 11: Breakfast, splitboarding within the Tuyuk-Su region, transfer to Shymbulak, farewell dinner
- Day 12: Transfer to Almaty airport.
Additional information and booking at Snowlab Gudauri.
Map: EWP Central Asia – Almaty Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan 1 : 500,000 Topographical Map
Guiding: Rustam Ibragimov, SnowLab Shymbulak www.facebook.com/snowlabshymbulak