Skiing in Kazakhstan

Skiing in Kazakhstan 

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Skiing in Kazakhstan

Imagine the bragging rights you’d have if you went skiing in Kazakhstan! It’s an incredibly mountainous country with vast peaks in the Tien Shan and Altai Mountain Ranges. Kazakhstan is an up and coming ski destination, with lots of money being poured into some of the ski resorts. Kazakhstan has become more accessible in recent years and intrepid skiers and snowboarders are heading to the Kazakhstan ski resorts and the backcountry. The inexpensive pricing is a major drawcard, and the other allure is experiencing the intrigue of Central Asia and the crossroads of the ancient Silk Road.

Where is Kazakhstan?

Formerly part of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan is a huge transcontinental country. Most of its land mass sits within Central Asia, whilst a small portion of the westernmost part of the country sits in Eastern Europe. It is land locked and shares borders with Russia in the north, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in the south, China to the east, Turkmenistan to the SW, and a small slither of its southern border sits alongside Afghanistan.

Kazakhstan Ski Regions

The former capital of Kazakhstan and the largest city, Almaty, is the gateway to some of the high profile ski resorts in Kazakhstan. Almaty is situated in the southeast part of Kazakhstan in the Zailiyskiy Alatau Mountains at the foothills of the Tien Shan mountains. Almaty is serviced by a major international airport so it’s easy to reach.

The Altai Mountains are in the far east of the country and are home to some small ski resorts and backcountry options. The city of Oskemen (Ust'-Kamenogorsk) is the gateway to the Kazakh Altai. Ridder is a small town that also has some basic ski resorts as well as backcountry skiing. The town of Zyryanovsk is also a base of backcountry skiing in this region.

Other regions that offer fewer options for skiing and snowboarding:
  • Karaganda in the central part of the country, in the Kokshetau Mountains
  • Pavlodar in the northeast has ski resorts like Maybalyk and Akkol
  • Akmola in the northern part of Kazakhstan
  • West Kazakhstan near the city of Uralsk are ski resorts such as Chagan-Uzun
  • Dzungarian Mountains (part of the Tian Shan/Tien Shan) are northeast of Almaty near the China border - backcountry skiing zone
  • The capital city of Kazakhstan is Nur-Sultan (formerly known as Astana) and the ski resorts within driving distance of the capital are small and are unlikely to attract the attention of international skiers and snowboarders.

Snow in Kazakhstan

As to be expected for a landlocked country, the ski resorts in Kazakhstan don’t receive massive snowfalls of Japanese proportions.

The statistics for snowfall volumes per season are generally not cited for the Kazakhstan ski resorts. A few exceptions are the Shymbulak Ski Resort (Chimbulak) that receives 6 metres (which is supplemented by some manmade snow), Ak-Bulak (East Kazakhstan) which receives 2-3 metres, and the little Burabay Ski Resort which only gets 1 to 2 metres per winter.

The mountains near Almaty and the Tien Shan Mountain Range in the southeast (e.g. Shymbulak) receive the most snow, often from storms from the west and southwest that pull moisture from the Caspian Sea. The Altai region in the northeast is also a very snowy region due to the Siberian High phenomenon that pulls cold air and snow down from the north or northeast.

The snow that falls is typically dry “interior” powder snow and despite not receiving huge snow volumes, Kazakhstan is renowned for being snow sure and the cold temperatures maintain the quality of the snow.

Characteristics of the Ski Resorts in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan has 20 plus ski resorts, depending on what you would define as a ski resort! A couple of ski resorts are high profile, whilst others are potentially burgeoning if the government continues to invest in ski tourism.

The size and quality of the Kazakhstan ski resorts varies significantly. There are a handful of ski resorts that are decent sized and have good infrastructure and amenities, yet are still rather small compared to world class ski resorts. Meanwhile most of the ski resorts in Kazakhstan are tiny and consist of one lift for beginners and poorly developed amenities. Some of these are operated by a hotel. These are fine for local beginners, whilst for experienced skiers they are generally only useful for providing initial access to the backcountry, or are supplemented with snowcat skiing or sled accessed skiing.

Whilst it may seem like a mighty lot of Russians go skiing in Kazakhstan, the slopes are usually very quiet, even on weekends. Any fresh snow in the off-piste zones attracts very little competition, and lift queues are usually not a problem.

Affordability is one of the key attributes of skiing in Kazakhstan. Lift passes are cheap, food and other services are economical, and even on-mountain accommodation is reasonably priced, whilst down in the cities or towns the lodging is particularly easy on the wallet.

The main ski resorts in Kazakhstan have piste for different ability levels. Most of the off-piste skiing is in the high alpine areas, whilst the snow volumes in the lower reaches often precludes tree skiing.

Shymbulak Ski Resort (aka Chimbulak) is located near Almaty and is the most popular ski resort in Kazakhstan. It’s also the most developed with respect to lift infrastructure and services such as English speaking ski and snowboard instructors. Despite being large by Kazakhstan standards, you’ll still need to keep your expectations in check with respect to size considering it only has 20km of piste. The ski area goes up to an elevation of 3,180 metres and off-piste and backcountry skiing opportunities are prolific. The ski resort has good ski-in ski-out lodging that’s popular with the Russian oligarchs, or you can stay down in the city because public transport options up to the resort are easily managed.

Ak Bulak Ski Resort in Talgar is also located near Almaty, being only 35km from the city. It has 11 lifts and 10km of piste and is popular with families. The facilities are mostly antiquated but significant investment is slowly modernising the ski area.

Tabagan is also near Almaty and only 17km from the city. It’s a low elevation, small ski area that has a relaxed atmosphere and is popular with families.

Along a similar vein, Oi-Qaragai (Les Naya Skazka) is reasonably low elevation (1,550-1,820m) and has 11 lifts and 13km of piste that are mostly targeted to beginners and intermediates.

Backcountry Skiing

Many of the ski resorts offer lift assisted backcountry opportunities, and there are also lots of opportunities for unassisted backcountry skiing in Kazakhstan considering the immense mountain ranges such as the Tien Shan and Alta.

It’s possible to go for part day ski tours or head out with a guide for muti-day ski touring to yurt camps where you can feel like a nomadic Kazakh.

Mechanized backcountry skiing includes cat skiing (e.g. in Ridder in the east) and snowmobile accessed skiing. Day and multi-day Kazakhstan heli skiing trips are gaining traction too if you fancy riding in an ancient Soviet helicopter.

Other Reasons to Go on a Kazakhstan Ski Trip

Kazakhstan has a rich cultural history and going on a ski or snowboard trip can provide some cultural exploration. You can visit traditional villages and partake in local Kazakh cuisine such as beshbarmak (boiled meat with pasta), attend traditional music performances or learn to play the dombra, or stroll through food markets or the Green Bazaar in Almaty. You can also go shopping to pick up some Kazakh textiles and handicrafts.

You’re more likely to experience the culture in the towns or cities such as Almaty. The culture at ski resorts such as Shymbulak isn’t quite so pronounced due to presence of many Russian visitors, where après ski vodka shots are the norm.

Ski Season

The ski season in Kazakhstan usually starts in late November or early December and continues until late March. Some ski areas such as Shymbulak have slightly longer seasons and it may extend through to April or possibly even May, whilst some cat skiing operations may start as early as mid October.
Kazakhstan Ski Tours

Safari (Road Trip) Tours

Kazakhstan Nomadic Backcountry
10 Nights | 8 Days Guided Skiing
Ability: Advanced to Expert
This Kazakhstan backcountry tour includes ski touring and cat skiing from Ridder in the Altai Mountains, and then staying in a yurt further south and ski touring/splitboarding, plus 2 nights in the vibrant city of Almaty.
Price p/p From price is for 2024 and is based on twin/double-share room in a group of 7. If group is smaller cost will be higher.
Base/invoice currency is in USD inc taxes.
*Displayed price may vary due to currency fluctuations.
USD 4,375
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Kazakhstan Powder Sessions
10 Nights | 9 Days Guided Skiing
Ability: Advanced to Expert
This exciting tour in Kazakhstan includes sidecountry skiing at ski resorts, ski touring & 3 private cat skiing days, plus plenty of time to see beautiful scenery and immerse yourself in the Kazakh way of life.
Price p/p From price is for 2024 and is based on twin/double-share room in a group of 6. If group is smaller cost will be higher.
Base/invoice currency is in USD inc taxes.
*Displayed price may vary due to currency fluctuations.
USD 4,885
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See all Safari (Road Trip) tours that visit Kazakhstan here