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Kazakhstan: Shymbulak skiing

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Shymbulak skiing | Kazakhstan | Asia

[Visited: January 2013 and several times before]

When the overloaded bus nr. 6 worked its way up the road to Medeo, I wondered what the slopes would look like. The weather was beautiful: a blue sky, I could see the contours of the snow-topped mountains through the frozen windows. In Medeo, once famous as being the fastest speed-skating ice rink, I got off the bus, and took the gondola which connects the mountain village with Shymbulak ski area - you don't have to take the road all the way up anymore. At one point, the view widened, and I now had a full view of the mountains, with the slopes on the left. I was surprised by the size of Shymbulak: I remembered one building where you could rent gear and buy something to eat; now, it looked like a small village. When I stepped out of the gondola, I saw outdoor restaurants, hotels, and empty slopes. I hurried to the rental shop, and stepped into another gondola. Memories of my very first hours on skis came back, getting used to the feeling of having skis on my feet, of taking a lift - which at that time had been an old one, for which we had to buy a separate ticket each time we went up. Now, a high-speed gondola took me to the mid station, and I decided to take the second lift to the highest point; the electronic pass in my ski jacket opened the doors to the lifts: the small paper tickets have long been replaced. With a smile, I remembered how the old lady of the ski-lift had sold us a ticket just before 4pm, and then just stopped the ski-lift when we were still on our way up, so we had to climb out of the ski-lift and cross over to the main slope to go down, to find everything closed.

Picture of Shymbulak skiing (Kazakhstan): Skier coming down one of the slopes of the Shymbulak ski area

The sun was still behind the mountain ridge, when I came down the snowed-in road leading to the Talgar pass. After a switchback, the slope widened, and I had more space to get used to skiing down again; I decided to continue all the way down to the lowest lift. Here and there, there was a little ice on the slope that did not seem very well prepared. No matter I had promised myself ski down slowly, before I knew it, I was racing down the fast slope, and reached the bottom of the slope in no time. It was still quiet, and as would happened most of the time, I found I was alone going up for another downhill run. I continued the entire slope from Talgar pass at 3180 metres altitude, to the bottom at 2260 metres, time after time. It struck me, that the snow cover was very thin at the top: an effect of the wind blowing over the mountain range, coupled with the snow-less days; Almaty does not lie in an area where there is very frequent precipitation. A little lower, the cover was thicker, and there were only a few parts where I could see rocks through the cover; I remembered that there had been much more of that on my first ski descents here. Even though there were some people going up without any intention to ski, by far most of those in the ski-lift were skiers and snowboarders.

Picture of Shymbulak skiing (Kazakhstan): Looking towards the city of Almaty from one of the black ski slopes of Shymbulak

When the sun was higher in the sky, most of the slopes looked great in the bright sunshine, and sitting on the ski-lift was more pleasant - even though the daytime temperature was not as low as it has been just one week before: it was around freezing. Where the slopes had been almost empty in the morning, there were more and more people in the afternoon, so I decided to try the black Sukhoy Log slope at the western side of the Shymbulak area. I did see the sign at the entrance of the ski-lift that the slope is not prepared or maintained. Watching the slope from the lift, it seemed pretty easy, and I was trying to memorize the best way to descend. But when I was finally on the slope, it turned out to be much more difficult than I expected, and when I hurt my shoulder when one of the poles got stuck in the thick layer of snow in the narrow valley, I decided to cross over to the main slope; the first time I ever abandoned a downhill ski. I stuck to the main slope, which turned a little icier later in the afternoon. After celebrating New Year's Eve in the former Kazakh capital and a side trip to Astana, I was back to skiing here. The weather was not as good as before, but the snow turned out to be better, and it felt great to be back on the slopes of Shymbulak: even though it is a small ski area, now that it is better organized, skiing has become a real pleasure.

Picture of Shymbulak skiing (Kazakhstan): Talgar Pass, the highest point of the Shymbulak ski area
Picture of Shymbulak skiing (Kazakhstan): The main Asiada slope in the foreground, and a view of the city of Almaty in the background
Picture of Shymbulak skiing (Kazakhstan): Talgar pass at 3180 metres altitude with snowboarder
Picture of Shymbulak skiing (Kazakhstan): The small slope behind Talgar pass
Picture of Shymbulak skiing (Kazakhstan): Tracks in the snow at Konus
Picture of Shymbulak skiing (Kazakhstan): Small valley behind Talgar pass with snowy mountains in the background
Picture of Shymbulak skiing (Kazakhstan): Snow on the mountain between the Greben and Asiasa slopes
Picture of Shymbulak skiing (Kazakhstan): Mountains at the Shymbulak ski area
Picture of Shymbulak skiing (Kazakhstan): Skiing at the top of Talgar pass with snowy mountains in the background

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