Kyrgyzstan is a fantastic winter-sports destination. If you want to discover the best ski resorts in Kyrgyzstan as well as the best spots for backcountry skiing in Kyrgyzstan, this article is for you!
I spent my teenage years skiing in Canada and often thought that no other place in the world could compete with the wild backcountry slopes we have there.
But after spending a winter in Kyrgyzstan, I can tell you this country has some serious potential for winter-sports!!
In Kyrgyzstan, you can look forward to some adrenaline-filled days on more than 93 kilometers of marked slopes as well as thousands of backcountry trails.
The country also has an extreme continental climate, making most snowfalls light and fluffy. Combine this with endless mountain ranges and you have a paradise for powder-loving skiers, snowboarders and winter-sports enthusiasts.
For a long time accessing these hills and mountains in Kyrgyzstan was problematic. There wasn’t a very good infrastructure and the ski lifts, dating back to the Soviet era, were limited.
But all of this is changing now with more and more young Kyrgyz entrepreneurs realizing their country’s potential for a great winter-sports destination.
What to expect when you go Skiing in Kyrgyzstan
Skiing in Kyrgyzstan is extremely affordable. You’ll have access to gorgeous mountains at a fraction of the price you would get anywhere else around the world.
While the facilities are not as developed as in Canada or Europe, they are becoming better and better every year.
The food in ski resorts is relatively simple. It’s possible to order dishes with lots of rice, meat, and noodles. It’s not gourmet but that’s usually the type of food I need after a whole day on the hills.
Accommodation is quite good for Chunkurchak ski base (it’s close enough to Bishkek to stay there at night) and for Karakol ski base.
However, for other ski bases around the country, lodges are very simple and functional and don’t offer many luxuries. But that’s not a problem as they’re often located right next to stunning mountains and no one would organize a skiing trip to Kyrgyzstan to spend the whole day in a lodge anyway.
Getting to the ski bases is usually possible by hopping into a Marshrutka (minibus) or it can be arranged with local travel agencies.
You could drive there yourself providing you have a good 4×4 vehicle with good winter tires but I wouldn’t recommend it as the road can be quite slippery.
Is it safe to ski in Kyrgyzstan?
Skiing in Kyrgyzstan, just like anywhere else in the world, comes with certain risks. However, it’s not more dangerous to ski in Kyrgyzstan than in other countries.
The common dangers of skiing are smaller injuries like tear and bone sprain. The knees are especially at risk. After years of skiing, I tend to avoid big jumps and high drops because I know they can be extremely painful on the knees.
Injuries to the head amount to 15 percent of the annual ski accidents worldwide so it’s extremely important to wear a helmet. Luckily, it’s possible to rent helmets in most Kyrgyz ski resorts. No one wants to end up with a concussion in a foreign country.
There are a few ski schools operating in the Kyrgyz resorts and the smaller hills will often be full of beginners. They might not know how to stop or turn very well. The best way to avoid accidents is to diminish your speed as you approach the gentler slopes of the resort.
Backcountry skiing in Kyrgyzstan comes with its own particular sets of risks. Notably the high avalanche risk in mountainous areas.
You’ll need to travel with an avalanche safety kit that includes a beacon, a shovel, and a probe and more importantly, you’ll need to know how to use this kit.
A safety kit that includes all the essentials is absolutely necessary when backcountry skiing in Kyrgyzstan…
Never go backcountry skiing alone in Kyrgyzstan and never backcountry ski after it gets dark!
Since cell phone connection is not the best in the Kyrgyz mountains, it’s very important to let someone know you will be leaving and for how long you will be gone.
Some backcountry skiing trails of the Tian Shan mountains are very remote so another very important thing to consider is to bring a personal locator beacon and leave one at your hostel or Guesthouse.
Planning to visit Kyrgyzstan in Winter?
Where can you rent backcountry skis and downhill skis in Kyrgyzstan
In Kyrgyzstan, it’s possible to rent high-quality skis, ski boots, poles, goggles and helmets directly at most ski resorts. You can also rent this equipment at different shops both in Bishkek and in Karakol.
If you want to ski either in Zil and Chunkurchak and you have your own vehicle or you’re joining a tour, I would recommend renting ski equipment directly in Bishkek.
The skis there will be much better than those you will find at the resorts but for a similar or better price.
One ski rental shop I highly recommend is Gergert Sport. Their skis are brand new and regularly sharpened.
This is where you’ll find this shop in Bishkek:
Karakol ski base rents out very good equipment. Their skis are rather new and they’re very good. One thing I would recommend there, however, is to insist they sharpen the edges of your skis a bit before you hit the slopes.
If you need some backcountry skis in the Eastern part of the country, there is a great shop in Karakol called Extreme Tours. It’s located at 154 Karasaevа street (Telmanа), at the intersection of Gor’kogo street.
This is what the ”Extreme Tour” shop looks like from the outside…
Have a look at their equipment rental prices here.
The Best Ski Resorts in Kyrgyzstan
Karakol ski base
Let’s start this list with my all-time favorite ski resort in Kyrgyzstan: The Karakol ski resort. This resort is located in the Issyk-Kul region 400 km away from Bishkek and very close to the city of Karakol.
It’s a fantastic place for skiing and snowboarding with 20 km of slopes for people of all skill levels. There are 5 ski lifts that bring you up to an elevation of 3040 meters.
Once you’re all the way at the top, you’ll have the option of riding well-groomed snow or fresh powder.
The average temperature at this ski resort in winter is about -5 C°. The resort is surrounded by a beautiful panorama of mountains reaching 5 000 meters.
I spent some time riding in Karakol with my brothers and filmed our trip. You can see what the hills look like in this video.
Ski pass prices: A day ticket for adults is 1200 som (around 17 USD) while a ticket for children is 700 som (10 USD).
Operating time and opening hours: The Karakol ski base is generally open from early November until late April.
The ski resort is opened from 9 AM until 4:30 PM.
You can rent skis, boots, skiing poles, goggles and helmet at the ski base at the bottom of the hills.
There is a small cafe halfway up the mountain that serves coffee and different Kyrgyz dishes and there is a restaurant at the bottom.
How can you reach Karakol ski base from Karakol?
To get there from the city, you could get on Marshrutka number 101. It drives all the way until the beginning of Karakol valley. From there you’ll need to walk for about 40 minutes before reaching the resort.
This Marshrutka costs around 10 Som.
Another option could be to take a taxi directly to the base. A taxi to Karakol ski base costs around 1000-1500 KGS for both ways.
You can rent very good skis at the Karakol ski base…
How can you reach Karakol ski base from Bishkek?
To get there from Bishkek, you will first need to get to Karakol. From the Western bus station (see map below) you can hop on a bus to Karakol. The bus will cost around 350 Som and it takes 5 to 6 hours to reach the city.
Here is the location of the Western bus station in Bishkek:
Where to stay after a day of skiing at Karakol ski base?
After a day of skiing, I would recommend heading back to the city of Karakol and staying in one of the various cozy guesthouses in the city center.
This is a guesthouse where Cynthia and I have stayed many times:
In Karakol, Cynthia and I usually stay at Argo Guest House. The owners are super friendly and welcoming and the food they cook is absolutely fantastic.
The guest-house is decorated with beautiful flowers and there are a few couches in the main lobby where we usually nap in the afternoon.
The guest-house is in a very quiet neighborhood and all the rooms are very luxurious and sparkling clean while still super cheap.
The owners are very knowledgeable on backcountry skiing trails around Karakol and can give you some good advice on where to go to get the best powder.
Chunkurchak is the closest ski base to Bishkek. It’s really convenient to drive there for a day of skiing from the capital of the country. It’s also a beautiful mountain to hike during summer.
It’s the perfect ski resort for beginners and for children as the slopes are a bit flat in some parts and don’t have many curves or turns. Chunkurchak is a place where local families usually come for a day or a weekend of family recreation.
For the convenience of the guests, all lifts have their own names and have different colors.
For children under 12 years, there is also a special children’s lift, a belt tractor with a length of a hundred meters.
There is about 10 km of slopes at Chunkurchak and the elevation of the resort is between 2070 m and 2440 m.
Ski pass prices: A day ticket for adults costs 1200 som while kids pass cost 800.
Operating time and opening hours: The base is opened from 9 AM until 4 PM. It’s open from November to March (depending on the amount of snow).
You can rent ski and snowboard equipment at the base but I would recommend renting the equipment directly in Bishkek instead (see above).
There are small restaurants on the resort where you can get barbecued sashlicks. And apparently there’s also a place which sells really good German bratwursts but I still haven’t got the chance to try them there.
How can you reach Chunkurchak ski base from Bishkek by public transport
Chunkurchak is only 40 km from Bishkek but there’s no public transport going there.
If you have your own car, it takes about 1 hour to cover the 41 km that separate Bishkek and Chunkurchak.
Where to stay after a day of skiing in Chunkurchak
These beautiful eco-huts are just 5 minutes away from the ski base. They mix the rustic charm of ski lodges with Kyrgyz decorations. They’re surrounded by a small forest in the perfect setting to relax after a day of skiing.
What I particularly liked about this place was its utter serenity – especially in the evening. All I could hear was the muffled sound of snow falling from the pine trees. Have a look at these lodges here.
Zil ski resort
Just like Chunkurchak, this resort is conveniently located very close to Bishkek (It’s only 35 km from the capital).
It’s in a very photogenic area, 1850 meters above sea level. From the highest slopes, it’s possible to see all the way to Kazakhstan. It’s a great ski resort for the whole family and you’ll find slopes for beginner to intermediate skiers.
If you travel with kids, they will love the tobogganing (2×350 m pistes), the 600 m zipline, and the children’s playground.
You can rent ski equipment directly at the resort.
Ski pass prices: adults – 800-1200 som, kids (under 12) – 500-700 som
Operating time and opening hours: 10 AM until 4 PM from November to March.
How to get to Zil ski resort from Bishkek
If you have your own car or if you’re renting one, this is the road to get there from Bishkek:
Suusamir (Too Ashu pass)
This ski resort is located 150 km South of Bishkek in the direction of Osh. It’s located at 3000 meters of altitude and always gets tons of snow. It’s very popular among foreigners since it’s rarely crowded, the tracks are wide and there’s always plenty of fresh powder.
The snow can reach up to 2 meters at this resort. Have a look at the pictures of this ski base on their official website.
What’s great about this resort is the possibility of heli-skiing. Helicopter skiing or heli-skiing is a type of backcountry skiing that uses helicopters to access remote areas covered in fresh powder.
This takes place away from the groomed slopes of Too Ashu ski resort but within the same mountain range.
Using a helicopter will allow you to quickly reach incredible heights and parts of the mountains that would be harder to access.
Heliski in the Suusamyr Valley begins in mid-January and lasts until April.
The resort organizes car transfers from Bishkek to the slopes every day of the week.
Ski pass prices: Adult ticket: 800 som, Kid ticket: 600 som
Operating time and opening hours: This ski resort is opened from 10 AM till 4 PM from early November until late April.
Where to stay after a day of skiing in Too Ashu
How can you reach the Too Ashuu ski base from Bishkek
If you have your own car or if you are renting one, this is the way to reach Too Ashuu ski base from Bishkek:
Driving there will give you the freedom to take amazing pictures from tons of viewpoints in the mountains and you won’t be squeezed in the back of a shared taxi or Mashrutka.
Although the road there is beautiful, some parts can be slightly slippery and dangerous. I would recommend buying good travel insurance before driving in Kyrgyzstan.
To get to the Too-Ashuu ski resort from Bishkek, you’ll have to follow the highway M41 south of the capital city.
Backcountry Only Areas in Kyrgyzstan
There are a few areas in Kyrgyzstan where ski lifts are not needed to experience the winter powder in its full glory. Mountains and trails that are totally off the beaten path just waiting to be discovered.
As there are no chair-lifts to access the highest peaks in these different parts of the country, you’ll need skis equipped with climbing skins to go uphill. These different areas also present a certain risk of snowslide, so only go there with avalanche gear.
If you’re wondering what are the best places to go backcountry skiing in Kyrgyzstan, here are some of my favorites:
Cat machine skiing in Jyrgalan
Jyrgalan is an incredible destination for winter sports. Until recently though the problem was accessing the highest mountains that surround the village during winter. Even with climbing skins, the most beautiful peaks were still too far away for the expedition to be a simple day outing.
In the last few years, however, a new company has appeared in Jyrgalan offering a brilliant solution to this problem: Snowcats.
By converting a piste basher also known as a snowcat and installing a passenger cabin on it to shuttle skiers to the top of the hills, a company called Ryce travel has quickly become the go-to for backcountry skiing in Jyrgalan.
Even though there are other places in Kyrgyzstan where it’s possible to do catskiing, the area surrounding Jyrgalan is one of the best in the country.
You can find more information on booking this activity for your next winter trip to Kyrgyzstan here.
How to get to Jyrgalan from Karakol
You can find more info about reaching Jyrgalan by public transport or with your own car here.
Backcountry skiing in Boz-Uchuk
The whole range of mountains surrounding the Boz-Uchuk valley and the valley itself are fantastic places to do some backcountry skiing in Kyrgyzstan.
The trails of this valley go up a gradual ascent to an altitude of 3000 meters above sea level.
It’s possible to do a day of backcountry skiing from the village of Boz-Uchuk and sleep in a small yurt camp at the end of the valley. From there, you’ll be able to access gorgeous mountain ranges and admire stunning views.
This is one of just three places in the world where it’s possible to do a day of backcountry skiing and then sleep in a cozy yurt while surrounded by snowy mountain peaks.
The yurt camp is located in a pine forest and close to a river that never completely freezes in winter. Reaching this yurt camp by backcountry skiing takes about 3 hours from the village of Boz-Uchuk.
The local CBT also offers the possibility of reaching this yurt camp combined with an 8-days backcountry skiing adventure. Read more about it here.
How to get to Boz-Uchuk from Karakol
To get to Boz-Uchuk from Karakol by public transport, You can take Marshrutka 331 from the Ak-Tilek market in Karakol.
This market is located at the Aldeshev/Derbishev intersection in Karakol, and Marshrutka 331 leaves from it 3 times a day every day of the week.
If you have your own car and want to drive to Boz-Uchuk, you’ll have to follow the road A363 south-West for about 40 minutes.
We hope you have a fantastic time skiing, backcountry skiing and exploring Kyrgyzstan in winter!
If you have questions concerning the different ski resorts mentioned in this article, let us know in the comments below.
In case you’re also planning on visiting more places, definitely check out our other guides on Kyrgyzstan!
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO – KYRGYZSTAN TRAVEL TIPS:
- Everything you need to know about traveling independently in Kyrgyzstan (visa, how to get to and around Kyrgyzstan, where to stay,…):
- Kyrgyzstan travel costs:
- Plan your trip to Kyrgyzstan:
- Hiking and horseback riding in Kyrgyzstan:
- The Complete Guide to Trekking in Kyrgyzstan with 14 of the most beautiful hikes of the country!
- Hiking near Osh in Kyrgyzstan – Be a Nomad hike
- The Ultimate Packing List for Trekking in Kyrgyzstan + What you need to know before you go hiking
- Going on a Horse Trek to Song Kol in Summer and Winter – Everything you need to Know
- Things to do around Bishkek: 8 great day trips and hikes
- Top things to do around Lake Issyk Kul
- Hike Independently to Song Kol Lake in Kyrgyzstan with Two Itineraries
- Border crossings
KYRGYZSTAN TRAVEL RESOURCES:
- Accommodation & Lodging in Kyrgyzstan: Booking.com
- Car rental in Kyrgyzstan: Iron horse nomads
- Travel Insurance for Kyrgyzstan: World Nomads
- Books and guides about Kyrgyzstan:
*This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you purchase a product or book a room through one of these links, we’ll receive a small commission at no extra costs for you. Thank you!
**This publication is made possible by the Sustainable Winter Tourism Development Project financed by the Government of Switzerland through the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and implemented by Helvetas Kyrgyzstan as well as by the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Competitiveness, Trade, and Jobs Activity in Central Asia. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of Nicholas Danis Bertrand of Journal of Nomads and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of Switzerland and Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation or USAID and the United States Government.