Top of the Suusamyr Valley, Kyrgyzstan

Skiing Central Asia: Off The Beaten Track

This article is written by mountain guide Shams Eybert-Berard on his adventures across multiple countries in central Asia.

Main photography by Stéphane Guins

www.shamsguidemontagne.fr

@guidehautemontagne.shams

@stephguins

 

Central Asia… Officially, Central Asia is a territory formed with countries whose names end in « stan », all these countries that only a handful of people can place on a map. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

 

 

Map 1 : Central Asia official map

UNESCO gives a better definition in my opinion ; it sets immaterial borders according to climate. We can therefore add South Siberia, Mongolia, Tibet, or more widely East China, North India, North Pakistan, Afghanistan and finally a part of Iran.

Map 2 : Central Asia map according to UNESCO

Skiing in Central Asia is primarily about travelling, in the broad sense. Flying isn’t trivial anymore these days. Morally, we realise that pressure against long distance journeys is increasing more and more. It is everyone’s responsibility to find their reasons, their motivations for doing so. For me personally, it has become evident that I am not traveling only for the powder. It also matters to meet great people, to discover different landscapes, accommodations, and sights.

Evening in a yurt in Mongolia, I’m wearing a wolf on this picture (Photo: Thomas Guerrin)

Charlotte with the crowd in Iran

At a Kyrgyz ski resort, with the local riders

In front of the house that welcomed us in the Kyrgyz mountains

Meal at an Iranian shepherd’s, Neymat

In Central Asia, there are massive snowfalls early in the season (November and December). Anticyclones then set in which allows for the snow to remain cold and light for a long time. So in addition to season-long powder, the weather is mostly sunny. The downside is that the snowpack isn’t stable at all ; you can’t have it all. Frankly, for us Europeans, do we really need to travel this far for some great skiing? Better wait wisely for the perfect window and enjoy THE session of the year in La Grave or Les Grands Montets, or even enjoy the mythic "Retour d'Est" (a weather phenomenon that usually means heavy snowfall) in the Queyras. There are less hazards in skiing close to home, than on the other side of the planet.

Turn at 6000m above the Chinese plain of Muztagh-ata (Photo Stéphane Guigne)

On the slopes of Cirque des Cèdres, Lebanon

Bekaa Valley, on the border to Syria

Suusamyr Valley, Kyrgyzstan

The glaciers of Barskoon canyon, Kyrgyzstan

On the slopes of Mt Erciyes, Turkey

On the slopes near the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek

The beauty of a trip to Central Asia lies in what is different from home ; habits, customs, people, rhythm of life. What an incredible surprise, while touring, to reach a small village with its mosque at prayer time, and to be offered warm tea by an Iranian shepherd sitting on carpets; exchanging a gaze, a smile. What a total delight to be skiing at 4000m on Kyrgyz peaks and an hour later, to be enjoying a ray of sunshine by the Issik-Kul lake while watching children bathe with horses. When the day is over, it is time to dare knocking on a door: привет как дела моя палатка, твой сад (Priviet, kak dela ? Moy palatka, tvoy pak) or "Hey, how are you? My tent, your garden?" and consistently being invited to stay at their homes.

Repairing the engine of our 4x4 in Kyrgyzstan

Camp at Muztagh-Ata, China (Photo: Stéphane Guigne)

Après in Lebanon, time for kebab (Photo: Stéphane Guigne)

Facing the seas in Lebanon (Photo: Stéphane Guigne)

Yurt camp in the far East Kyrgyzstan

White vastness of Kyrgyzstan

Mongolia holds a special place in my heart ; I experienced one of my most amazing journeys there, biking and skiing for a month. Through the steppes, we would sleep in yurts from day to day with the feeling of having reached the end of the known world. There again, I felt more emotions while meeting the locals, sharing moments while milking goats or admiring hunting eagles than when we have reached the summit of the country, Mount Khuiten at 4374m.

Biking in Mongolia, not far from Olgii in the West

Meeting children in Mongolia

In front of the yurt that welcomed us for two nights

Base camp at Mt Khuiten, Mongolia

The future is projects, dreams and wonder. When this crisis is over, my skis will take me to Central Asia again, to Ladakh where the 6000m mountains are everywhere. Or to Kazakhstan, forgotten land, which counts numerous attractive ski areas, and welcoming inhabitants.

Bargah Sevom mosque at the foot of Damavand, an Iranian volcano at 5600m

In the Iranian bazaar

Bright colours in Iran

Incredible landscape diversity in the desert, a few hours away from Damavand (5610m)

Baalbek, Lebanon