2 AM, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan: Stepping out of the airport in the middle of the night, fully loaded with ski bags, two heavy trolleys, backpacks and ski boots in our hands, we were cordially welcomed and immediately surrounded by a crowd of taxi drivers who offered their service. They couldn’t believe us not being in need of a taxi- but this was reality. Instead we were searching for a stranger, who should hand over the keys for the Toyota Hilux, we had rent from a friend’s mother for the next two weeks.
There he was, standing in the cold with a handwritten sign, saying ‘Dominik’. Great! We stepped into the dark and couldn’t trust our eyes. We expected it to be bitter cold outside, but instead it was around -10° C and heavily snowing. What a welcome! Finally snowfall- thick flakes we were the whole December waiting for back in Europe. The trip could not have started more fortunate! 10h ago we begun the journey to Kyrgyzstan in snowless Munich, where the sympatric guy at the check in counter of Turkish airlines did not charge us for the 30kg of excess baggage. Don’t get us wrong, most of the baggage was stuff we wanted to leave in icy Kyrgyzstan as a present: Warm cloth, gloves and beanies, some pairs of no longer needed skis. Our own luggage instead, as usually, was just reduced to a minimum.
In front of some police officers we loaded the entire package into ‘our’ car. The road trip was ready to start with Suusamyr as our first destination. Azret, the young owner of the Suuslodge, had invited us to spend New Year’s Eve with his family and friends.
Dominik, started the right-hand drive car, and did not even go for 20 m on the road (most of the Kyrgyz cars have the steering wheel on the right, even if there is right-hand traffic, as these cars are cheaper). There the police man was again, stopping us. Luckily we had an international driving license, something that makes live definitely easier when doing a road trip and driving by yourself in Kyrgyzstan. Still there was some discussion and as we can only speak very basic Russian we had no idea what was wrong. After a while we were allowed to continue our journey through the snow. The trip again was stopped abruptly, when we got a call by Azret, telling us that the mountain pass leading to his lodge was closed to due heavy snowfall. We decided to stay in Bishkek overnight. Being flexible and being ready for the delays facilitates staying in Kyrgyzstan definitely.
The next morning we finally started our trip to the mountains of the western Tien Shan. We purchased the last groceries in one of the big and modern supermarkets in Bishkek, knowing that there are only few mom-and-pop shops with limited variety of goods outside town and especially in the remote valley of Suusamyr. Especially fresh fruits as well as that tasty smoked cheese Chechil (try this!) was placed in our shopping cart.
After 2h on the road, passing some smaller towns and villages, we made a last fuel stop (knowing that the next gas station is on the other side of the pass), before finally driving up into the mountains. There was no snow on the street of the M41, the Pamir highway, that is leading all the way from Kyrgyzstan via Tajikistan, Uzbekistan to Afghanistan and also the mountains were hardly covered in snow.
We were wondering if the decision to stay in Bishkek overnight has been exaggerated and hoped to find some more snow on the south side of the mountain chain. After many winding up serpentines the Too-Ashu Pass summit at 3130m above sea level, appeared in front of us. Here the street was snow covered, and we could image the pass was in chaos yesterday, as there were many broken down trucks along the roadside. At the end of the pass there was a small hole in the mountain- the entry to the Too-Ashu tunnel and the main access to the South of the country. We were excited! What is going to wait for us on the other side of the tunnel? Are we going to find more snow than on the north side of the mountain?
The tunnel was quite narrow, but nothing to the tunnels we experienced in Albania and Montenegro two years ago.
Finally we made it through the 2500m long dark tunnel! Leaving the dark behind us, we had to get used to light again, but then we found ourselves in the most impressive Kyrgyz winter-wonderland. Having a car with four-wheel drive was definitely a good choice, as the street was finally properly snow covered.
While going down to the valley of Suusamyr, driving past more broken down trucks with snow chains, we spotted the small Too Ashuu ski resort, with its two chairlifts- but did not stop as we knew that the Suuslodge was near.
Finally we arrived and were warmly welcomed by Azret and his family, as well as by a great 3-course meal. In the evening the other group- a family from St. Petersburg arrived as well as some more of friends of the family from Bishkek. We were really looking forward to spend New Year’s Eve and the next couple of days with them skiing.
The next morning we had an amazing and very relaxed three course breakfast, before we slowly packed our skiing gear: The mornings are with below -20°C freezing, and everybody was happy not to start before sun was completely out.
Finally we started the first run with the snow cat into the mountains. After some minutes ride through the wide flat land of the valley of Suusamyr, the snow cat slowly started going uphill.
In a group of ten we were full of excitement sitting in the cabin of the snow cat, where it was comfortable warm. After another 20min ride the snow cat had made it to our first starting point- we were even more excited. What an amazing view down to the valley of Suusamyr and to the mountain chain on the other side of the valley. All mountains deeply covered in snow, the whole mountain range untouched. We jumped from the cat into the fresh and fluffy powder, could not believe the beauty of the scenery.
Bluebird!The skis were unloaded from the box outside and we were all ready for the first powder turns in this incredible terrain. After a check of our avalanche equipment we followed Azret and skied down the untracked mountain full of joy.
After skiing down the 500 meters in height down to our start point we waited for some minutes, soaking up the beautiful landscape, until the green snow cat had made its way down to collect us again for going up. What a perfect combination: Skiing down in the cold and than coming back into the warm snow cat, for going up again.
The day past quickly and after some rides tasty lunch was served.
Is there anything better than enjoying burgers, hot tea and chocolate in this impressive landscape? Some more rides, every time in fresh snow, passed quickly and we went back to the Suuslodge to prepare New Year’s Eve.
After relaxing in our cozy rooms, we went into the huge living area, where Aida and the chief had already prepared an impressive amount and great variety of great looking traditional Kyrgyz dishes. Paired with some mild Kyrgyz Vodka (to our surprise the Kyrgyz friends preferred Whisky) we enjoyed different kinds of salads as starters and a great turkey as main dish.
Similar to Europe, the guys had bought fireworks, and at 12 o’clock we went out into the freezing cold to celebrate New Year! What an awesome way to start into 2017!
After the flash visit to the Kyrgyz night everyone was happy to be inside in the cosy warmth again and we were very touched by an eastern tradition: After 12 it is a custom to exchange presents- and also both of us got presents from the Russian family. Some more Vodka and we fell into our bed and slept late, knowing that we are not going to ski the next day we took the chance to compensate for the jet lag due to the 5h of time difference we were still suffering of,.
The next day, feeling not too hangover (the Kyrgyz vodka is great!), we decided during breakfast to drive to Suusamyr, the next village about 30km from the Suuslodge.
The landscape with the mountain chains, the suddenly appearing plateaus and the many horses with heads in the snow searching for grass were impressive.
Suusamyr instead was a sleepy little village, where there was not a lot to explore. Still it was interesting to see that the people, who live in summer as nomads, settle down in the winter month to withstand the cold. Instead of cars, most people were riding horses, or were using sleighs.
Coming back to the Suuslodge we took the snowmobile to discover more of the area- driving through untracked snow we found a beautiful river delta, impressive plateaus, that from a distance looked like descending fog, but coming closer turned out to be elevated plains with more kilometres of length.
Just nature and no traces of other living beings except traces of animals in the endless snow. What a beauty this Suusamyr valley in Kyrgyzstan is!
After coming back and being chilled through, we were looking forward to a great dinner and to some rounds Ping-Pong with the Kyrgyz chef- who almost was invincible.
We were excited about some more days of skiing. Every morning we woke up in our cosy bed and already could see the sun rise over the mountain, knowing that another great day of skiing in Kyrgyzstan was about to start.
Every single run, some longer due to hikes, turned out to be a blast and made us wish to stay longer.
But there was so much more of the country to explore, and we just had one week left. With a heavy heart we left the Suuslodge and the terrific valley of Suusamyr to explore a little bit more of stunning Kyrgyzstan. But since we have left Suusamyr we are thinking about returning for next New Year’s Eve to the beautiful valley of Suusamyr and the awesome Suuslodge, where the next time we will try to only use the snowcat occassionally, but explore the mountains more with the skins below our skis.