So, you’re thinking about skiing Kazakhstan huh?
Great choice. While central Asia’s biggest country may be primarily comprised of the world’s largest and driest steppe, it is also home to some of the region’s best skiing. As a result, winter sports have long been popular here among nationals as well as visitors from Asia and Russia. Recently, more and more guests from around the world are starting to take notice, drawn to the mystery and unique offerings of the region and of course the unbeatable prices.
While Kazakhstan might not be the first place you think of when it comes to skiing, the geography and long cold winters create a paradise for skiers and snowboarders planning a trip to Central Asia. Beyond great skiing conditions, Kazakhstan also has a great winter sports culture, modern facilities, and extremely affordable prices.
We spent a month in January 2023 discovering some of the best skiing and snowboarding Kazakhstan has to offer.
Is Kazakhstan Good for Skiing?
Kazakhstan is really good for skiiing. Proximity to mountain ranges including the Zaiilisky Alatau and the Altai Mountains in the far east of the country, make Kazakhstan a great option for skiiers and snowboarders looking for a new challenge.
Long, cold winters mean that although Kazakhstan might not be the snowiest ski region, it remains predictably snow-sure throughout the ski season thanks to reliable temperatures in the mountains.
Kazakhstan has a long history as a winter sports hub as part of the former USSR. Since independence, skiing in Kazakhstan has seen a resurgence in popularity. Many visitors from Asia, Russia, and around the world now visit Kazakhstan each winter to ski in the resorts or explore the back country.
As more and more people flock to this winter paradise, ski culture continues to develop as do the the facilities and services available to visiting snow birds.
Kazakhstan Ski Season
The Kazakhstan ski season usually begins in mid to late November or early December and runs until late March or even April. The best skiing conditions are often between December and early March. Kazakhstan is a huge country and different regions receive different weather and snowfall. The best place to check past, current, and future conditions is snow-forecast.com.
What to Expect Snowboarding And Skiing Kazakhstan
Skiers and snowboarders coming to Kazakhstan for the first time, without experience skiing in other Central Asian or former Soviet states, might find idiosyncrasies between ski resorts and ski culture found in North America, Europe, and East Asia but they will also find many similarities.
Kazakhstan has one world class ski resort and a number of other small ski bases and ski regions where different infrastructure and machinery like lifts, snowcats, and snow mobiles are used to take advantage of the natural terrain.
For those who enjoy on-piste skiing, Kazakhstan’s premiere resort, Shymbulak, is modern and well developed. It features the same level of infrastructure that you might expect to find at ski resorts in North America, Japan, or Europe and at a fraction of the costs. The level of the facilities and services available within Shymbulak is also impressive with efficient ski shops, delicious and affordable restaurants, comfortable ski-in ski-out accommodation and reliable public transport. However, even the biggest Kazakhstan ski resort is small compared to other resorts around the world.
One of the best parts about the ski resorts in Kazakhstan is the lack of crowds. Even on weekends at the most popular resorts there is rarely a queue and any ski runs away from major thoroughfares are generally uncrowded.
Another benefit of skiing in Kazakhstan is the price. Compared to most other ski regions in the world, Kazakhstan is extremely affordable. Lift passes ($10 – $25) and on mountain services like ski rental ($10 – $20), lockers ($2 – $6), ski school ($20 p/h) are all a fraction of the price you might expect to pay elsewhere.
For those prepared to work a little harder for their powder fix, there are a number of smaller resorts, ski bases, and tour companies that will allow you to ski in some of the more remote and far flung areas of Kazakhstan. Often these ‘resorts’ are no more than one or two lifts or a snow cat, operating from a small base or hotel. The various opportunities for back country skiing, heli-skiing, and cat-skiing are considered one of the major draw cards here.
The price differential carries over to ski touring with some of the most affordable back country skiing in the world. With cheap guides ($150 per day) and back country accommodation as well as cheaper access to heli-skiing (from $800) and cat-skiing (from $100).
Aprés-ski in Kazakhstan is not popular and those more interested in post ski adventures may be disappointed.
Snowfall in some parts of Kazakhstan is not as heavy as many other ski destinations, however, the cold winters mean that the resorts here retain snow well and are very snow-sure.
Aprés Ski Kazakhstan
Aprés-ski is not really a thing in Kazakhstan. Most bars on the mountain close well before sundown, and there aren’t a huge amount of options when it comes to keeping the party going within the Kazakhstan ski resorts.
For those who get their thrills after the skis have come off, you’ll likely need to travel away from the resorts to the closest town but don’t expect to find shot skis, lodge-themed bars, or skiers dancing on tables in their leg warmers.
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The Best Ski Resorts in Kazakhstan
Almaty is Kazakhstan’s biggest city. With proximity to many of Kazakhstan’s ski resorts, Almaty has become the capital of skiing in Kazakhstan and most people coming to Kazakhstan to ski will travel through Almaty.
Almaty makes a great base for skiers. It is a large, multicultural city with hundreds of great restaurants, bars, and retail including many ski rental shops.
The city is also home to several cultural and historical attractions, including the Central State Museum, the Green Bazaar, and the Zenkov Cathedral, all of which are worth a visit during a rest day.
As aprés ski is not popular within the ski resorts, Almaty is the place to find spas, restaurants, bars, and night clubs after a day on the slopes.
Many people who come to Almaty to ski or snowboard choose to stay in the city and travel to the Kazakhstan ski resorts. With fantastic services including restaurants, public transport, and tour and guide services, Almaty can make a great base to tour some of the ski resorts in the area.
It also has some fantastic accommodation options to suit any budget. Check out the hotels below, or if you prefer something more private, self-contained, and with kitchen facilities, see what is available on Airbnb.
The Wanderlust Hostel
Those looking for comfortable lodgings at a great price need look no further than the Wanderlust. Located conveniently in central Almaty, you’ll be close to public transport, restaurants, bars, and attractions. The hostel features a shared kitchen and a shared lounge, along with free WiFi throughout the property and 24-hour reception. The rooms are comfortable and cozy.
Rooms start around 12,600 ₸ per night or $28 USD. Dormitory beds start around 6,500 ₸ per night or $15 USD.
Renion Park Hotel
The Renion Park Hotel is well located in downtown Almaty and connected to Almaty and beyond by public transport. The Renion Park offers comfortable, modern rooms at great prices. With services including an indoor pool and spa, daily breakfast, a small fitness center, and a restaurant and bar, it makes a great base for skiing in the mountains surrounding Almaty.
Rooms start at around 35,000 ₸ per night or $75 USD.
DoubleTree by Hilton Almaty
The clean and comfortable DoubleTree by Hilton offers comfortable rooms, fantastic facilities, and a more modern feel than some other Almaty accommodations. With onsite restaurants, bars, and a premium spa and fitness center, you’ll have everything you need when you aren’t skiing. It also has a great downtown location.
Rooms start around 100,000 ₸ or $230 USD per night.
The Ritz Carlton Almaty
If you’re looking for five-star luxury then the Ritz Carlton Almaty has it in spades. Large, elegant rooms and first-class services including bars and fine dining restaurants. An indulgent spa featuring saunas, steam rooms, and a variety of treatments and an indoor pool and fitness center make this a wonderful retreat after a hard day in the mountains.
Rooms start around 200,000 ₸ or $440 USD per night.
Getting to Almaty
Almaty is serviced by a major international airport as well as a national train and bus network so it’s easy to reach. See Rome2Rio for routes, availability, and prices.
Getting Around Almaty
The cheapest way to get around Almaty is using the local bus service which is cheap and reliable but often very crowded. The Yandex Go app will show the real-time location of your bus, so you never need to miss a bus, or wait around in the cold wondering where it is.
The number 12 bus runs through central Almaty on its way to the Shymbulak Ski Resort each day. It cost 150 ₸ ($0.30) and takes approximately 45 minutes to reach the mountain from town. The bus is often extremely crowded so be prepared to get squished up and note that traveling with skis may attract an additional charge and attract some dirty looks.
Taxis are also remarkably cheap and can be booked using the ride-share app Yandex Go.
For more information check out our article on transport in Kazakhstan.
Shymbulak Ski Resort
Shymbulak, sometimes written as Chimbulak, is the largest and most popular ski resort in Kazakhstan and is located just 22 kilometers from Almaty.
Shymbulak served as one of the USSR’s premier ski destinations in the 50s when it was used as a training facility and ski resort. It later fell into disrepair, however, since then it has been developed into Central Asia’s premier ski resort with high-speed lifts and gondolas, snowmakers, well-groomed runs, terrain park, medical services, and ski-in ski-out accommodation.
The resort offers a selection of slopes for skiers of all levels from easy groomed runs to more challenging off-piste terrain. It has about 20 kilometers of marked, groomed runs.
A collection of lifts including one main gondola, two combination gondola/chairlifts, two chairlifts, and a number of smaller drag lifts and magic carpet lifts are used to transport skiers and sightseers around the resort.
A modern terrain park and a steep un-groomed section will keep more advanced skiers busy at least for a few runs.
There are also lots of opportunities for ski-touring around Shymbulak and many guide services and inclusive tours that allow you to explore the backcountry of Shymbulak
The resort is equipped with modern ski lifts and has a snow-making system that guarantees excellent conditions on the slopes even in the event of low natural snowfall. Although the resort is quite small, it is rarely crowded, and queuing for a lift rarely takes longer than a couple of minutes. However, the main gondola back to Medeu station can get busy after closing time on weekends.
In addition to skiing and snowboarding, Shymbulak also offers a variety of other winter activities, including snowmobile tours, snowshoeing, and ice skating in the huge outdoor Medeu Ice Rink a little further down the valley.
Bars and Restaurants in Shymbulak
There are a number of dining options available on the mountain from a casual hotdog stand slinging horse meat hotdogs for a couple of dollars in-between combi lifts 1 and 2 to the private dining room on top of the Oblaka Restobar* at the highest point of the resort.
In total there are about 12 restaurants, cafes, and bars on the mountain plus some pop-up bars and stalls. The restaurants serve a variety of dishes including local soups and dumplings, as well as western fares such as pizza, burgers, sandwiches, and pasta. Most meals cost between 3,500 ₸ ($7.50) and 10,000 ₸ ($20). Beer on the mountain costs between 1000 ₸ and 2500 ₸ ($2 – $5).
*In late January 2023, the Oblaka Restobar burnt down overnight.
Although Shymbulak is Kazakhstan’s biggest and best ski resort, the options for ski-après on the mountain are somewhat limited.
The best place to party in Shymbulak was the Oblaka Restobar before it burnt down in January. Although the bar and restaurant closed at 4:30 pm they usually had a good crowd of people dancing on tables anytime after midday on the weekends. Once it opens back up I am sure it will reclaim its title.
There are also a number of restaurant bars surrounding the gondola stations and lifts at the base of Shymbulak Resort but they generally close around 6 pm or earlier. On evenings when night skiing is available (Thursday and Saturday at the time of writing), the ski base bars are open later. The hotel bar at the Shymbulak Resort Hotel stays open later however the main gondola back to the Medeu station and the bus station stops running around 6 pm on days when night skiing is not offered.
One popular activity for after skiing activity is the Medeu Ice Rink which has nighttime ice skating available.
There are plenty of bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and spas back in Almaty where you can find something to do post-skiing but dedicated ‘aprés-ski’ does not exist.
There are a variety of hotels, chalets, and yurts offering ski-in, ski-out accommodation available within the resort.
Shymbulak Resort Hotel
The large, comfortable Shymbulak Resort Hotel located right next to the combination lift 1 offers a variety of different accommodation options. Rooms are cozy and well-appointed and include breakfast each morning. The hotel has a bar and restaurant, a heated outdoor pool, and a sauna.
Rooms start around 40,000 ₸ or $90 USD per night or from about 10,000 ₸ or $22 USD for a dormitory bed.
Tenir Eco Hotel
Enjoying prime position at the resort’s highest position saddled in the Talgar Pass and with glorious views through floor-to-ceiling windows over the surrounding peaks and valleys, the Tenir Eco Hotel is one of the most impressive accommodations in the area. Ten individual buildings house comfortable and beautifully appointed rooms featuring queen beds, a bathroom, an individual Finnish sauna, and ski storage. Enjoy the breathtaking scenery from your window and the ultimate ski-in, ski-out experience of waking up on top of the resort.
Rooms start around 214,000 ₸ or $270 USD per night.
Namaste Shalle 2000M
Close to Shymbulak, just 2 kilometers below the resort, Namaste Shalle 2000M offers a variety of rooms and chalets for between two and seven guests. The comfortable ski lodge features an onsite restaurant and bar, room service, and daily breakfast.
The chalet starts at around 36,000 ₸ or $80 USD per night.
Alpine chalets – Nero & Bianca
If you are visiting Shymbulak and interested in booking ski-in, ski-out chalet-style accommodation for a larger group, consider the beautiful Nero & Bianca chalets, right next to the ski lifts.
The two cozy three-bedroom chalets can accommodate up to 8 people each and both feature three ensuite bedrooms, dining and living areas, a fully equipped kitchen, a swimming pool with sauna, and maid service. Accommodation starts from 600,000 tenge and can be booked directly through the website.
Chalets start at around 600,000 ₸ or $1,300 USD per night.
Hostel Shimbulak offers some of the most affordable accommodation on the mountain whilst still providing a true ski-in, ski-out experience and comfortable lodgings. While you can’t book directly through their website, they are responsive on Whatsapp. Call for current prices.
Whatsapp +7 700 245 1545
Other Things to Do in Shymbulak
Other popular activities to do in Shymbulak outside of skiing and snowboarding are
- Ice skating at the Medeu Ice Rink, ‘the highest ice rink in the world’
- Winter hiking in the mountains
- Take the cable car to the top of the resort to see the view
- Dining at the restaurants in Shymbulak.
Other Kazakhstan Ski Resorts Near Almaty
Ak-Bulak Ski Resort
Ak-Bulak Ski Resort is a small resort 40 km from Almaty. It features five lifts and around 10 km of official runs. The facilities and infrastructure are quite dated here but it can provide a fun alternative to Shymbulak, especially after some fresh snow. There is also a hotel with spa, restaurants, and ski rental shop available here.
Oi-Qaragai is another small ski resort located in a picturesque gorge 25 km outside Almaty. Oi-Qaragai has 3 chair lifts and some drag lifts to help skiers traverse the 13 km of runs here, enough to keep you busy for a day or two. Oi-Qaragai also features accommodation and a handful of restaurants and cafes.
Pioneer Ski Park
Featuring a single 3 km run and a single lift to reach it, this family-run resort is 25 km from Almaty. There is also an onsite canteen, hotel, Finnish sauna, ski rental, and ski school.
Ski Touring In Almaty (Backcountry Skiing or Freerider)
If you want to stay close to the bustling city of Almaty but still get off-piste, you can book a one-day tour with FrozenRocks Backcountry Adventures. This one-day tour is perfect for just getting your feet wet (well, let’s hope not) into backcountry skiing. The tour guides at FrozenRocks Backcountry Adventures are knowledgeable, friendly and extremely helpful (even for novices like us). They take safety very seriously which is a good thing and one of the reasons why we recommend them.
Skiing Kazakh Altai
In the northeastern corner of Kazakhstan, the Kazakh Altai is a mountain range found at the intersection of Kazakhstan, Russia, Mongolia, and China. The region is known for its natural beauty, its cultural heritage, and as a popular destination for outdoor recreation, especially in the winter. Although the ski resorts are not large or well-developed, the lack of crowds and access to unspoiled wilderness to ski draws people from around the world. The Altai is also Kazakhstan’s snowiest region so if fresh powder is your thing this may be the place to go.
Getting to Kazakh Altai
The best way to reach Kazakh Altai is through Oskemen. The city of Oskemen known locally as Ust’-Kamenogorsk is the gateway to the Kazakh Altai. A short flight or long train or bus ride from either Almaty or Astana will get you to this eastern city. From here you can reach the popular Altai Alps Ski resort or head deeper into the Altai to reach a number of smaller ski bases or explore the backcountry.
Getting Around Kazakh Altai
Once in Oskemen, taxis and private transfers are the most reliable ways to get around. The easiest way to organize a transfer is to contact your accommodation, tour guide, or host to arrange.
Ski Resorts in Ust’-Kamenogorsk (Oskemen)
As the largest city in the area and with proximity to the premiere resort in the area, Oskemen is ground zero for skiing in the Kazakh Altai.
Accommodation in Ust’-Kamenogorsk (Oskemen)
There are lots of accommodation options in Oskemen including cheap, basic apartments for less than $20 USD a night, right through to high end hotels with suites and spa services.
Here are our top picks.
Lux Home на берегу Ульбы
With wifi, a bedroom, a living room and a fully equipped kitchen, Lux Home is a great option if you are self-sufficient and on a budget.
The chalet starts at around 14,500 ₸ or $30 USD per night.
7 Boutique Hotel
Great for skiers, the 7 Boutique Hotel offers ski-to-door access and a ski pass sales point, and even equipment hire. Guest rooms are equipped with air conditioning, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, a minibar, a kettle, a bidet, free toiletries, and a wardrobe. There is an onsite restaurant and bar.
Rooms start around 20,000 ₸ or $44 USD per night.
Clean, comfortable and modern accommodation conveniently located in central Oskemen, The Royal B also offers daily breakfast as well as a bar, restaurant, 24-hour front desk, airport transfers, a shared lounge and free WiFi throughout the property.
Rooms start around 40,000 ₸ or $88 USD per night.
Dedeman Oskemen Tavros Hotel
Large suites with lounge areas as well as nice finishing touches like cable, mini-bar, and robes. The Dedeman Oskemen Tavros Hotel also has a spa and fitness center plus an onsite restaurant and bar.
Rooms start around 45,000 ₸ or $100 USD per night.
Altai Alps Ski Resort
Featuring four lifts, twelve groomed slopes, a hotel as well as two cafes, and ski rental shops, the Altai Alps is the largest ski resort in the Kazakh Altai region. Thanks to their northern location, they receive and hold snow for longer than some southern resorts and do not rely on the use of snowmakers. An onsite sauna and spa provide post-ski relaxation and recovery. With daily lift passes under $20 USD, the Altai Alps offers incredibly affordable skiing.
Ridder Ski Resorts
Ridder is a small town in eastern Kazakhstan with a handful of ski bases with limited infrastructure as well as backcountry skiing, heliskiing and catskiing.
To reach Ridder, you will need to travel to Oskemen and take a private transfer or taxi for the remaining three hours.
Ridderhutte is a simple ski hotel offering ski touring and cat and snowmobile-supported freeride skiing and snowboarding, sauna, and basic accommodation.
Stardust Camp is a small ski base using one chairlift and snow cat to transport visitors to and from the 15 kilometers of runs. Stardust also offers a hotel, sauna, equipment rental, cafe, and parking.
Edelweiss is another small hotel and ski base with a simple drag lift as well as snowmobile or snow cat transfers, sauna, and a cafe.
Zyryanovsk Ski Resorts
The town of Zyryanovsk also offers access to the wilderness of the Altai.
Oryol Ski Resort
Oryol Ski Resort is 17 kilometers outside Zyryanovsk and is another small ski base offering a ski lift and access to free riding. The resort is open between December and March and has an onsite cafe and sauna.
Kazakhstan’s capital has been known by many names, but it has never been known as a prime destination for skiers or snowboarders. Located on a large flat steppe, the absence of mountains make this region naturally unattractive to winter warriors.
However, if you find yourself in Astana and need to scratch the itch but can’t make it to Almaty or the Altai then there are still some options.
Getting to Astana
Astana is the capital of Kazakhstan and is well serviced by a major international airport as well as a national train and bus network so it’s easy to reach. See Rome2Rio for routes, availability, and prices.
Getting Around Astana
The cheapest way to get around Astana is using the local bus service which is cheap and reliable but often very crowded. The Yandex Go app will show the real-time location of your bus, so you never need to miss a bus, or wait around in the cold wondering where it is.
Taxis are also remarkably cheap and can be booked using the ride-share app Yandex Go.
For more information check out our article on transport in Kazakhstan.
Astana Ski Resorts
Elikti Ski Park
This small snow park features a lift and five runs of varying degrees of difficulty. Freeriders will also have the opportunity to get off-piste and weave their way down between the trees. In addition to skiing, Elikti has an onsite ski school, restaurant, and equipment hire. Elitki is more than 300km north-west of Astana, so if you are traveling from the capital, you may wish to stay overnight in the hotel.
Two hundred eighty kilometers north of Astana, the Nurtau Ski complex features a chairlift, ski school, ski rental, chairlift, cafe, and hotel. With several routes, plenty of trees, and even a snow park, it makes for a good weekend getaway for skiers and snowboarders traveling from the capital.
Check out their website or contact them on Whatsapp on 87773080777.
Lyzhnaya Baza Tsska
This cross-country skiing complex is an opportunity to get a walkout if you are into nordic skiing. Find them 250 km north of Astana.
Снежинка / Snowflake
Three hundred kilometers to the east of Astana, near Ekibastuz, there is a small hill where locals come to sled and ski. Only really good for small kids or learners wanting to muck around in the snow for an hour or two if you are already in Ekibastuz. Equipment rental is available.
Contact on Whatsapp for information.
Мырзашоқы / Myrzashoki
A small base on the edge of the Bayanaul Range with a single chairlift, this ski base appears to be quite new. Besides being a very small ski lift and run, Myrzashoki is 400 km east of Astana and unlikely worth the drive for the skiing alone.
Although they don’t appear to have a website, they occasionally post updates and information on their Instagram.
Back Country and Ski-touring Kazakhstan
While many of the ski resorts in Kazakhstan are small and somewhat antiquated, they do offer a gateway into some of the country’s great backcountry skiing opportunities. For all the same reasons listed above, Kazakhstan offers some of the best backcountry skiing anywhere. It is beautiful, uncrowded, snow-sure, and extremely affordable.
Ski-touring and Freeriding Almaty
As described above, Almaty is a great base for skiing in Kazakhstan. There are many opportunities for ski-touring and free rides in the mountains surrounding the former capital.
One great resource to begin your research, especially if you are planning to visit Almaty and the Ile Alatau backcountry, is powder.kz. This website and an online guidebook written by local expert Vitaliy Rage has a wealth of knowledge about the region’s backcountry.
Ski-touring and Freeriding the Kazakh Altai
Ridder is considered the capital of free riding in the east with the small ski bases described above supporting back-country skiing. Contact the lodges directly for more details.
Guided Ski-tours in Kazakhstan
There are a variety of guided ski tours available in Kazakhstan to suit most budgets and experience. Tours are primarily carried out in the Alatau ski regions near Almaty and the Kazakh Altai in the east.
Kazakhstan ski tours can be anything from half-day tours out the back of popular resorts to multi-day wilderness adventures. Backcountry yurts are a popular accommodation to support ski tours and can be an authentic and cozy way to spend evenings between days of exploration.
Some of the popular tour agencies in Kazakhstan include:
Heliskiing in Kazakhstan
Heliskiing in Kazakhstan is popular and can be slightly more affordable than heliskiing in other regions (although the price difference is less noticeable). Heliskiing can take place after the ordinary Kazakhstan ski season has finished and heliskiing the glacier zone is possible as late as July.
Snowmobile and Cat-skiing Kazakhstan
Cat-skiing is most popular in the east of Kazakhstan (in particular Ridder) in the Altai mountains where there is limited lift infrastructure and a strong free-riding culture. Get in touch with the ski bases to enquire or organize a tour with a guide service.
Hopefully, you found some helpful information about skiing in Kazakhstan. If you have any questions or comments about the Kazakhstan ski resorts, backcountry skiing and free-riding in Kazakhstan, or anything else, please let us know in the comments below or send us an email at thevanabonds(a)thevanabondtales.com .
Looking for cheap skiing destinations? Check out Bansko, Bulgaria.
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