Tuesday, April 19, 2016

ATK Hits the Slopes!

At the tippy top of the mountain at Karakol Ski Base.

After, I don't know, like a decade of not skiing, I finally got the opportunity to hit the slopes again here in the ole KG (that's Kyrgyzstan, to all you folks who aren't in the know.) Now I am not the best skier. Being from Wisconsin, my ski experiences have been limited to what passes for ski hills there. (And I assure you, they would make people from Colorado and other states with actual mountains laugh out loud. I remember the first, okay only, time I went to Colorado with PapaTK to go skiing. It was the first time I realized that downhill skiing was actually exercise.)

Anyway, back to Kyrgyzstan...

In a country that is 95% mountains, there are, I suppose, ample opportunities for skiing. Especially if you like hiking up the mountain and skiing down it. That's not really my idea of a good time though. Luckily, there are a few ski resorts in the country and over the past month or so I have gotten to experience three of them--Zil, Chunkerchak, and Karakol. It has been quite the experience comparing them to American ski bases (though I freely admit my experience skiing in America is quite limited) and there are definitely some pros and cons to skiing here.

Pro: You get to be creative
Basically, the lift takes you up the mountain and you get to find your own way down. The runs aren't particularly defined (in most places) and there are, of course, no signs or indications of the difficulty of the run.

Con: The runs aren't marked for difficulty... or anything else for that matter
It was pretty fun trying to make my own path down the mountain, but it was pretty nerve racking for this not-so-skilled skier at first.  I'm no daredevil or anything so I took it pretty slow, trying to get back into the swing of things. good thing I did, because there were several times where I would come upon a rock, or a ravine, or a cliff, or plants, or a snow machine, just sitting there in the middle of the run. (Okay, the cliffs were usually the side of the run. Some might say they are nature's border.) In America, these things are usually marked with orange fencing (and usually aren't in the run anyway, unless it's a double black diamond or something.)  Why is the snow machine in the middle of the run? Is it supposed to be an obstacle? But in all fairness, I do think the shallow ravines were supposed to separate runs, but you wouldn't know it because there are no signs. I did get to watch a few people who tried to ski or snowboard through the ravine get stuck in the deep snow and try and claw their way back out.

But yeah, no information as to the difficulty of the runs, which made me pretty nervous to take that lift to the top of the mountain for fear that I would then be forced to ski down something crazy and perhaps ski into a tree or right off the mountain. 

Con: No grooming
No, I'm not talking about people. In my experience (and yes, I realize this is a small-N study) they do not groom the runs here in KG. On one hand, I got to ski through some crazy "powder" (as the ski folks call it) when I went skiing the day after a big snowstorm. That was kind of fun. (Except in the areas where they had inexplicably run the snow machines, which produced hard, icy snow that was really hard to turn on.)

At the top of the mountain about to ski down. The snow was deep.

On the other hand, during my big trip out to the fancy ski resort in Karakol, it hadn't snowed in a while and the runs were all icy and had dirt exposed in certain spots where people commonly turned. (This would be the base where I chose not to ski down from the top for fear of hitting a tree or skiing off the mountains, which did kind of take away half the runs. Perhaps those runs weren't so icy. I guess I'll never know. Quite a few people did run into trees while skiing on that trip, so I do feel like I made the right choice.)

Con: Kyrgyz people ski like they drive...
...with absolutely no regard for anyone else in the vicinity.

(I have no picture of this, unfortunately. Proud to say, I managed to avoid getting mowed down on the bunny hill.)

Con: This cinder block wall will kill someone someday
Death trap at Zil Ski Base

Okay, this is specific to one ski base--Zil--which is pretty close to Bishkek. They only had one lift running when I went and basically this wall is at the bottom of the run to prevent people from going off a small cliff into the parking lot. You can't see it in the picture, but you come down the run and then you have to turn sharply to make it into this little corral to get in line for the lift. When I went it was icy and people would wipe out on the turn and of course you couldn't see them until you came flying around the corner as well. I'm surprised there was never more of a pile up.

Pro: It's absolutely beautiful
Can't beat the views when you are heading up the lift and down the mountain.
Karakol Ski Base

Pro/Con: They let you ride the ski lift up without skis. They also let you ride it back down.
This is nice for those of us who don't want to risk our lives skiing down narrow tree-lined icy runs but also want to go to the top of the mountain. It is weird to see random families standing around at the top of the hill, though. And if you go up with skis and you decide you don't want to ski down, they let you ride down holding your skis and I guess you throw them over board when you get to the bottom and try to get off the chairlift and run out of the way in ski boots. Seems a little unsafe to me, but then again, so is skiing into a tree. 

Pro: It's so cheap!
As far as skiing goes, you certainly can't beat the prices in Kyrgyzstan. A lift pass for the day was under 20 dollars and equipment rental was super cheap too. Also under 20 dollars. I don't know what the going rate for ski rentals is in the U.S. these days, but I imagine it's more than 20 bucks.

The cafe was pretty pricey. For Kyrgyzstan anyway. No wonder so many people did the ole car hood picnic.


Pro: You might get to ride a camel

If you decide you don't wish to go skiing, you could always ride a camel.