That morning, the weather seemed pretty bad: a blanket of fog had settled over the city of Almaty, and with the mountains in the immediate vicinity, it was hard to imagine it could be very different on the slopes. Still, we went to the rental shop and after solving some language problems, we were on our way to Chimbulak. On our way, the fog suddenly disappeared and a bright sunlight was shining on the fresh snow of the last days. The scenery changed dramatically: this looked like winter paradise, and we could only imagine there would be more fresh snow higher up. Life looked great. Even when we had to stop in a queue of other cars just before reaching the ice rink of Medeo, we were in a good mood. After a while, our driver turned to me, handed me the headset of his phone, and I found myself talking to his boss. She told me that Chimbulak was full, that this had never happened before, and that we could either return to Almaty, or continue to Tabagan, another area for skiing. After she convinced me that the skiing possibilities were similar, and considering the fact that the weather was perfect for skiing, we decided to heed her advice.
To our surprise, the city saw some sunlight as well, and after a short drive towards the east, our driver Yevgeny turned south and drove us up another valley. The road was snowy here, and the only other vehicles we saw were 4WDs. We soon reached the end of the road, climbed down several wooden stairs on our ski boots, before we arrived at the ticket booth. It appeared that there was no day pass, and we had to buy a pass for a number of rides on the chair lift. There was no map of the ski area, and while it did not look like a big area, it was not easy to decide how long a run would be. When we finally found a girl who spoke English, she indicated it took her twenty minutes to come down. While this seemed very long to me, we ended up for 10 rides each. When we boarded the chair lift, we met three Kazakh guys who were here for the first time in their lives, so they could not tell us much more either.
After a slow ride in the second hand Austrian chairlift, we got off - to find out that this was it. There was no higher slope, and we could easily see the bottom of this only one. I immediately realized that the skiing would not be a challenge of any kind here, and helped the Kazakh skier for his very first experience on skis. After a short downhill run, the slope widened and it was a very easy ride down. The other runs, I would take the slightly steeper slope - and because I got bored very soon, I ended up taking my time for the run - slightly over a minute. But it seems that Tabagan is more of a place to be seen for the rich Kazakhs. Already on our first ride up, I noticed ladies with high heeled shoes getting on the chairlift, and saw many people coming down this way, too. They paraded on top of the slope, taking some pictures or lunch, before going down again. When we sat down for a snack ourselves, it was fun to see that the people coming for a walk in their fancy clothes far outnumbered the skiers - which in a way was not even strange as the weather was still perfect. The wanderers became more of a problem when they appeared on the only slope of the area - I had to slalom around the startled Kazakhs who apparently did not expect a skier on the snow. A nice feature on the slopes here is that you can find several places selling hot snacks prepared on real fire stoves, selling cognac and vodka on the side. But what made the experience even more authentic, were the few skiers who had colourful Kazakh caps instead of fashionable ski wear. If not to ski, Tabagan is more an interesting place to see the locals.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Tabagan Skiing (Kazakhstan). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Tabagan Skiing. Read more about this site.