To talk about Karakol without describing in detail how the Karakol ski slopes work is pointless. This is because some of the most outstanding slopes for this winter sport are located here, due to their configuration, geographical location, and climatic conditions. I won’t hide the fact that as an experienced skier, I was even afraid to start my acquaintance with Karakol on the slopes. The risk of not being able to withstand the spirit of speed and getting stuck on steep snowy slopes for several days was so great that I preferred to carefully explore the diversity of the city and its suburbs.
You may ask, “what’s so special about skiing and, more broadly, mountain skiing holidays?” From my point of view, it’s quite easy to answer – skiing and yachting are sports where you deal with high speeds. There is no intermediary between the speed, you, and the beauty of nature. For example, in the form of emitting smoke and even more noise – engines, large structures, other living creatures with their own will and character (sorry, riders).
Advantages of the Karakol slopes
If you are familiar with the basic rhythms of downhill skiing – braking by turning and starting movement like a determined push straight towards the slope – then the large number of local slopes and the nature of their inclines will not let you get bored throughout the day (the main period of the base’s operation is from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm). The 700-meter descent that forms the main slopes has both wide sections where there is room for any form of maneuver and variations with high-speed descents, and interesting and picturesque transport corridors that connect different slopes. Very steep sections will help you discover the secrets of courage in this sport. The places are striking with incredible mountain panoramic views where you start right on a hill surrounded on three sides by light like an amphitheater, with the five-thousand-meter peaks of the real Alpine beauty – Karakol, Djigit and Przhevalsky – and on the fourth – from the north – you see a cozy bowl of the Issyk-Kul (“warm lake”) valley and the next wall of the highest snow-capped peaks separating this area from the old capital of Kazakhstan. “Fasten your seat belts, departure straight into one of the most outstanding views of the planet.” Starting skiing here, you personally “fall into the picture”, the scale and beauty of which are so close, so indisputable, and have survived all possible tsars and states that you inevitably understand: there are completely different angles to look at typical problems.
Skiing appeared as a form of entertainment for wealthy people. Those who could afford to fly across the continent to a resort when the price of hydrocarbons was low. Much water has flowed under the bridge since then, and logistics plays a big role in the real survival of resorts. If it is cheaper for people to get to you, they are much more likely to get to you. Even if they are interpreted by surrounding people as perfect rich people. Over the past decade, many new wealthy people have appeared not only in China but also in India and Indochina. And now “attention to the pattern”: the only ski resort available to them in terms of ticket price and not covered by the power of a strange government that may have questions for you or people like you is Karakol. Yes, to the southwest of here are the “countries of classical Islam”, which is a “religion of tradition” for Kyrgyzstan. And to the northwest and north are many Russian-speaking tourists, whose language everyone here not only understands but also uses without any problems.
Against the backdrop of climate change, many resorts “on the brink of alpineism” – like areas in the Western Alps – have been left without snow and, consequently, tourists. The lack of snow on these slopes will objectively not reach here anytime soon. If you can earn income correctly and reinvest it correctly, then it will not reach you – there are technologies. At the same time, the geographical location is closer to the capital of India than to the Volga region. “The Himalayan mountain system (to which the Tien Shan belongs) is not child’s play.”
Instead of getting loans and building expensive lifts, the ski base continues to operate lifts that were built in the mid-20th century. As a result, the prices are affordable and many residents of Almaty, where the resort has been “reorganized expensively,” enjoy skiing here. Additionally, they note that Kazakhstan enforces dry laws, while Kyrgyzstan does not. A full day of skiing here, including renting high-quality equipment and transportation to and from the base by private taxi, cost me less than a day at a modern spa complex in Nizhny Novgorod.
The lack of alternative transportation in Kyrgyzstan is a problem. During the ten-day New Year holiday, there can be traffic jams on the ski slopes because “people in regular cars cannot move forward or backward without a passing lane.” An international airport is being built near Karakol. However, in the long term, the launch of routes similar to Istanbul or Budapest trams in the city would be more valuable for the development of the resort – with lines through the city to Przhevalsky’s landing stage and dachas, to the ski base with a transfer to the funicular that goes straight up to the ski slopes, to Jeti-Oguz, and to Aksu.
Now, let’s return to skiing. There are many professionals or at least people who understand the basic maneuvers on the slopes, but occasionally there are characters who say things like “I know how to ski, but I don’t know how to turn.” They are like a “pilot who doesn’t know how to land a plane.” Now, take a look at the map. After skiing a bit on the lower slope and gaining confidence, the most enthusiastic skiers rush to the next lift and end up at the top, surrounded by views that stretch for kilometers. They have many questions about how to start, how to use their skis in such an environment. More attentive skiers first learn that there is a second lift (to the right of the first one on the map), lower down, and decide to start with it. Note that on the map, the upper part of the slope under it is green, and the lower part is “more dangerous.” It is a very steep slope, and many are afraid to ski down it, getting stuck on this separate upper green section. At the bottom, there is an intermediate lift station and a cafe that is more expensive than the one at the base. The thing is, the lifts do not take skiers down, only pedestrians who come to watch. These are tourists or local couples who are diversifying their leisure time. You can also pay a good amount and hire a guide to help you ski down. But it is much better not to show off and, from the very beginning, order lessons or a guide – for those who can think first and then act, it will be cheaper and more enjoyable.
For those who live and breathe skiing, the slopes of Karakol are a true pleasure. As you ride the lift, you pass by towering fir trees that are three times the size of those on the plains, and you’ll see plenty of squirrels who aren’t afraid of the lift and are busy gathering nuts just a few meters away from you. The mountain air is pure and in Kyrgyzstan, you can even smell the scents of pine and mineral springs. The wind here can be chilly as you ride up, so a good winter jacket with a hood, a warm hat, and thermal underwear will come in handy. You can rent skis at the base or in rental shops in the city of Karakol (which are concentrated on Karasaev Street, leading to the slopes), which will be a bit cheaper.