With an average elevation of 3,000m (9,840ft), and 30% of its landmass buried under permanent ice and snow, the Kyrgyz landscape and people are defined by a ruggedness utterly unique to the highlands of Central Asia.
Since a few years Kyrgyzstan is also known for snowboarding and touring. There are some ski resorts, but mainly it´s about splitboarding. Pogo team rider and living ski legend Ptor Spricenieks is guiding for the american backcountry host 40Tribes, in a well-chosen location not so far from the small town Karakol. To crown the new collaboration between 40Tribes and POGO Snowboards it was time to travel east to visit the 40Tribes yurt camp. While founder Martin Sammet could only come for a week, team rider Sophia Neuner, former POGO shaper and now Konvoi Snowboards main man Ben Dietermann and well-earned family member Tim Brodesser decided to do a full roadtrip through this fascinating country.
Enjoy Sophia's minidocumentation and continue reading her trip report for more background information.
1. Week: On the road with Azamad
Ben, Tim and I arrived really early in the morning mid of February and had the pleasure to be picked up by Azamad Joumashov with his great Mitsubishi bus. This was arranged last minute thanks to a hint from linehunter Chris Fuschlberger. After a first impression of the amazing Kyrgyz food we headed east towards the Issyk Kul lake. After a long drive we finally arrived south of Issyk Kul and had some time to get to know the country.
We had the first tea and bread, as a welcome ceremony which is very common all over the country to welcome guests. This routine happened nearly on a daily basis over the 3 weeks nearly. This routine happened almost on a daily basis in the following 3 weeks. Strolling a bit around with the huge lake on the one side and a taste of the Tien Shian mountain range on the other side, we got our first impressions and exiting to shred! On the next day our splitboards tasted the first time some Kyrgyz snow. On the next day our splitboards tasted some Kyrgyz snow for the first time. For that we went up on over 3000 m to Barskoon Pass, to realize that a long-distance flight and lots of travelling and touring up to 4000m is a bit exhausting. We selected some mellow terrain to acclimatize and not mess with the avalanche issue on the first day. After our first Kyrgyz run we tried to check out the gold mine at Barskoon pass. We couldn´t get close and just saw this massive hole from the distance, but it was so disturbing in this white, high alpine and not at all human friendly landscape.
Exhausted from the first day we realized, that there are lot of hot springs around and Azamat knows where to find them and keep everyone in good spirits with a wild mix of music and unique sing-alongs on the way. There´s nothing better than a cold beer after a tour in a hot spring…
On the next day we travelled further east to Jeragalan. Here we got in touch with the strange snow around the south east region of the lake. The snow is dry, really dry, it all seems like rotten/sugar snow and was at the first point really scary for us. But after slowly realizing, that there are just very few wind events and the temperature is kind of constant low, we found hardly any layers in the snowpack. But we were still half baked on conditions in Kyrgyz pow. We had our first splitboard tours and real runs, but we didn´t want to rush one's fences. There are hardly any maps or information available so it was more like start hiking up and see where we get. But we found some nice runs! On our way back from a day of exploring and riding we still had no clue where to spend the night. A horseback rider we came upon offered us to stay at his home and we ended up sleeping with the whole family on the floor of their living room. An experience that really gave us an insight in the rural Kyrgyz lifestyle and readjusted our outview on western standards.
The ski resort in Karakol has some cool runs, although we had no fresh snow there. Beyond the lift there is some great terrain you can get to with a short hike. But the corny snow has to be ridden differently and long big boards are definitely a must have for Kyrgyz powder. The mellow runs towards the town only offer some cruising terrain, but the scenery makes for a well worth ride.
After our first week with great food, people and mountains we had to say good bye to Azamat to meet up with the other Pogo people and friends from to check out the terrain around the 40Tribes yurts. Thankfully we could already arrange a car rental for our last week with the help from our great guide, before he had to go for his next mission too.
2. Week: 40Tribes
After the whole group got together, 40Tribes head Ryan Koupol and Ptor welcomed us in best spirits. We enjoyed the stunning view from the yurts camp, which is based around 3000m. And we even got 25cm fresh snow on that weekend as a welcome present. After the first week with not knowing where exactly the conditions are any good and a lot of questions marks, it was great to hear some proper knowledge about the local snow circumstances. And on top lots of delicious local food prepared with care by Nurbek and his helping hands.
And so, a sublime week of long runs in superdamduu, super delicious in Kyrkyz by the way, powder started….
We stayed the whole week in yurts, where the cooking happened inside and we could make fire and melt snow to get water. The yurt camp is connected to so many runs, from steep to mellow from short to long from tree runs to couloirs. Everything we could have wished for and in good conditions! I think all the skiers with that type of snow, especially Ptor, secretly wished to be snowboarders.
Intensive Yatzee plays at night and a lot of good vibes. The routine each day was great food, lots of touring, lots of sprays and lots of laughs. I have to say thanks to that great crew (Peter, Kurt, Martin, Jost, Ptor, Ryan, Farmer Moen, Nurbek, Ben and Tim)!
A remarkable time in an unforgettable landscape off the grid had to come to an end, which was honoured with a swim in the swan fountain and some great dancing!
3. Week: On the road without Azamad
Back to Bishkek we had to say good bye to our other crew members and got our car. On the next day we left to Suusamyr. We travelled west and as we got closer to the Too Ashu pass we asked ourselves if we made the right decision? It got more and more dry and there was no snow anymore…
Luckily after we passed the peak to the Suusamyr valley, that changed quickly from nearly zero to 150cm of white gold. There is a ski resort at the Too Ashu pass, but it was closed at that time. So we hiked up to the closest peak/ridge to have a really nice run. The snow conditions were quite different then in the east. No corny snow, rather what we know from the Alps. There are more short runs, but with great pillows and little ridges.
We still had to find a place to sleep and there is no AirBnB and there was no Azamad. But we managed to find someone, during -20°, who could understand our 2 words Russian and body language, and explain that we need some food and a place to stay. Once more we found a cozy home with welcoming tea.
The next morning, we really could grasp the beauty of the snow-covered elevated plain of sussamyr before going up to the Too Ashu pass again to check out more fun terrain to play with. Tim and Ben challenged themselves with powdersurfing over and between the pillows, while i went solo for a small peak.
Every trip has to come to an end and so we spent our last day in Bishkek, strolling around Osh market checking out more food and realizing that Bishkek is another world in comparison to the little villages in the mountains.
Kyrgyzstan seems like to have endless mountain ranges, so it probably wasn´t our last time splitboarding there!
Azamad Joumashov, Kargan Voyage
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