Great Video inside! Beep-beep-beep. 6:45AM. My watch alarm chimes and it’s time to start the day. My senses start to wake as I can smell and hear the crackle of the hot fire. Splitboarding
It starts to get warm in our yurt. Akim, local Kyrgyz and yurt caretaker, makes his way around and ignites the woodstoves in each of the 3 traditional yurts that make up 40 Tribes Backcountry's private camp. It’s February 22nd and after 2 long days of travel to the other side of the globe I now find myself in the Central Asian mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Immersed.
What dreams are made of. Traveling into and through this area of the world is breathtaking. After over 20 hours of travel my plane arrived in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. I was greeted by a local partner who loaded me up in his van as we began our 6 hour drive toward Issyk-Kul, the world’s second largest saline lake. Jet-lagged my body wanted to sleep but my mind couldn’t rest as I was full of stoke and soaking in all the beauty of the drive. Russian influence was prominent with old soviet laden buildings, goats, people traveling roads by horseback, and the most stunning of backdrops. I was in awe of such a beautiful place. Not long before and we found ourselves in Karakol where I met and stayed with partners Kyrgyz-Tours. I unpacked some gear, took a shower, and then started to walk around the city as I enjoyed my first real taste of culture. A stop at Karakol coffee and then a Shawarma, yes please.
Animals are part of the daily life
The next morning I wake up and pack up my gear. Loading into an old Russian unimog I was driven by a non-english speaking local to a small village nestled into the base of the mountains. From there I met with Canadian smoke jumper and 40 Tribes yurt volunteer Michael Moen. My overnight gear gets loaded on horseback and brought up to the yurts while we donned the skins and began our trek 2 miles up. Skinning through the village was surreal. Local kids playing in the snow-packed and muddy streets. Men on horseback pulling 20ft trees behind them back into the village from a day of logging in the woods. Blue skies all around and my cheeks start to hurt from grinning around at the views. Not long before we found ourselves at base camp, 3 yurts nestled in a most pristine and secluded location with access to a multitude of peaks and ski descents. Shortly after, lead guide Ptor Spricenieks and 40 Tribes Backcountry owner Ryan Koupal come skiing back down to the yurts with their clients wearing smiles for miles. The exchange of high fives, cracking open of some Baltika beers, and a strong aura of stoke in the air. Home for the next few weeks. The children in the Village where curious about us Westerners.
|Kids are curious - Photo: Justin Ibarra||A different world||Locals harvesting firewood - Photo: Michael F. Moen|
40 Tribes Backcountry has been offering backcountry ski and splitboard trips to Kyrgyzstan and other exotic destinations for the past 7 years. They offer both guided and non-guided tours in Kyrgyzstan, and guided expeditions in Kamchatka, Georgia, and Svalbard. With fully catered yurts, world-class guides, and pristine ski-touring terrain this is a trip that should be on every backcountry skier/riders list. After linking up with Ryan the previous summer and expressing interest in working with him I was honored and lucky enough to accept a position. Working as a guide under Ptor Spricenieks, a legendary backcountry skier and guide, was an experience that will never be forgotten.
Yurt Life - Photo Michael F. Moen
Ptor is the man! So humbled to work with him. Photo: King Nurbek
Base camp consists of 3 yurts; one guide yurt, one cook/communal yurt, and one client yurt. Days typically start around 730AM with hot coffee and tea brought to your yurt while local Kyrgyz yurt master and chef King Nurbek conjures up breakfast in the cook yurt. Breakfasts consist of the American fare with a different variety each morning with things like pancakes, french toast, eggs, ect.. with local grown and made jams, fruits, and nuts. During breakfast we discuss our ski touring plans for the day based on weather, conditions, and the group goals and wants. Then it’s into the solitude of the mountains we go.
After a quick beacon check at the yurts you are off linking up different peaks and ski descents throughout the day and skiing on some amazing powder! The snowpack here is very unique. The cold temperatures, shallow snowpack, and lake effect of Issyk-Kul help keep the snow crystals from rounding lending to a bottomless snowpack of facets and “recycled pow”. Bring your fat skis and powder boards when you come here and you will really see why. Surfs up! The zone reminded me a bit of AK and is packed with great terrain. Tree skiing, big open alpine faces, fat spines. Expansive lake views out to the West and looming 5000 meter peaks in the distance and deeper into the range looking East. And the best part? We have it all to ourselves.
|Mills setting the first tracks. Photo: Michael F. Moen||Onward and upward. Photos: Michael F.||A Snowboarders Dream|
After a maximum day of pow smashing it’s back to the yurts where we have cold Baltika, Russian Vodka, and Cognac awaiting. A quick evening snack of some local meats and cheeses as we wind down. All the while King Nurbek is back at it again with his local culinary expertise. Each dinner consists of a different local Kyrgyz dish, most of them cooked right over the fire on the kazan. Talk about some amazing food! When you’re sitting around the table with a group of folks after just having an epic day of skiing and riding and all you hear is the smacking and slurping of mouths from chowing down on food, you know that the chef did a good job.
Chef Master King Nurbek at work. Photo: Michael F. Moen
Chow Time. Photo: Justin Ibarra
YAHTZEE!!! The staple pre and or post dinner get together. Stoke is high as we high five, crack beers, take shots and reminisce of how great the day was. Then all we have to do is go to bed and wake up to do it again tomorrow!!
If you’re looking for an exotic or off the beaten path ski/snowboard trip then this trip should be at the top of the list. Working with 40 Tribes Backcountry was amazing and the client experience is one that is extremely hard to match. Exotic yurt based trip in the middle of Central Asia where your gear gets shuttled via horseback to a secluded base camp with access to endless bottomless alpine powder spines and faces and all your food is catered to by local Kyrgyz. Hmm.. need I say more?