Kyrgyzstan Ski Touring

I recently went on a group trip to the Tien Shan mountains in Kyrgyzstan organised by Alpine Guides. Had an amazing time with a great bunch of people, half of whom I didn’t know, in a part of the world that I’d never been to. The snow was excellent, the terrain was really fun and the guiding top notch (both Al of Alpine Guides and our in county guides Nikolai, Denis and Artur). Combine that with a different culture and great food and you have a memorable trip.

The day tours all followed a similar pattern. A 1000 to 1300m climb with the guides breaking trail the whole way, then some lunch and then about an hour skiing down. Quite often we would skin back up and do the top pitch or two again before descending all the way. It was completely untracked as far as the eye could see for us, truly amazing, and everyone got some time being first after the guide. Alpine Guides ensure that everyone is the correct standard for a trip like this, and I thought the average skill level both up and down was really high. The terrain is not that challenging in an alpine sense but there is no rescue service and limited medical assistance so best not be too gung-ho. What you get is miles of moderately angled untracked powder and some nicely spaced trees, with just a little combat skiing above the camp to highlight how good everything else is.

The Yurt Camp is a little oasis. Lots of good quality food with hot drinks and snacks available 24/7 in the dinner yurt. BBQ chicken wings and chips provided after skiing! A sauna tent with plentiful hot water each afternoon with optional icy stream plunge. The 4 person sleeping yurts have a coal stove for heating and charging facilities for devices. My pallet futon bed even had a bedside light. Yurt heating with a coal stove is an inexact science but the too hot definitely outweighed the too cold. The yurts were aired and swept each day whilst we were out skiing. Pretty similar to hut life but much better food.

I have a standard touring kit list that works for just about any trip. That kit did pretty well in Kyrgyzstan with a couple of tweaks to cope with the cold, -5C during the day and -15C at night. It was good to see the decisions of eight experienced ski tourers. You’re never too old to learn a new trick and talk kit. Here’s what I learnt or was glad I did.

Take 3 pairs of gloves / mitts.

Standard behavior for some winter climbers. I took some skimo race gloves for the ups and downs. A good pair of reinforced liners or cross country gloves do the same job. If these gloves aren’t enough I have some waterproof shell mitts accessible at the top of my pack to chuck over the top. Mine are OR but OMM do some nice but inexpensive Kamleika Mitts that are also good. These two are generally enough. For serious cold or accidents I keep some warm mitts at the bottom of my pack. Mine are little windstopper down ones but lots of choices out there. A pair of superlight silk liners wouldn’t hurt either.

Use a large pack.

I took the 38L Blue Ice Firecrest pack as my day touring bag. I thought about taking something smaller but was so glad I didn’t. For day touring you don’t actually have much less stuff than for a hut to hut trip, especially if it’s cold and you are carrying an extra warm layer. Repacking an overfull bag is tedious and doesn’t sit on your back nicely so take a larger bag and don’t fill it. The Firecrest is a great bag. I love the vest style front to keep the essentials handy. The side zip gives easy deep access without digging and my water bottle is always right there. I find it very stable and comfy. My only complaint, common to many packs, is the plastic waist belt buckle. The buckle on ANY pack over 25L should be of the 2 piece metal ‘pass through’ design. The airbags from Scott, Mammut and BD all use this design because it shouts ‘safety buckle’ but they don’t often make it onto regular packs. It’s simple, light, completely resistant to icing up and very robust. Considering how many buckles get trodden on or slammed in car boots, it seems such an obvious improvement. I’m trying to find them as spare parts and will put them on the site if I do. Chest buckles also ice up and using the hook style ones common on compression straps rather than a plastic buckle seems like a good idea.

Hot drinks.

A small flask is a great addition in cold conditions. Perhaps a stainless double walled travel mug with a screw top lid might be even better. The thermal performance is a bit worse but still fine and you can use it whilst travelling unlike a flask. Available in more sizes and shapes. Don’t trust the leak proof sip lids though, get a screw lid. The downside is that if your drink is too hot you can put some snow in your flask cup to cool it. Not possible without a separate cup

Too hot or too cold!

Amazing that you get too hot even when it’s -5C, and how quickly you chill. I underestimated how warm it would be skinning and only took wool thermals, I wish I had taken a thinner synthetic top. I had 2 light insulated jackets with me, a Rab Xenair Alpine Jacket and a Patagonia 900 FP Down Jacket. What I needed was a light uninsulated jacket to keep the wind off. I have a Rab Borealis and should have taken that and ditched one of the insulated jackets. Maybe added an OMM Core T Shirt for optional warmth. For the legs people seem to fall into 2 groups, non membraned legwear with back up shells and membraned legwear with no back up. Both work fine but I’m in the first group. Top tip – when you get new boots do check that they still fit inside the cuff of your trousers or you’ll spend a week with packed snow in the top of your boots.

Cheat sheets and low tack skins.

Another polarising topic, I never knew how many people despise cheat sheets. I don’t think they are that bad in the wind if you are careful but add in thigh deep snow and it’s a bit of a pain. If you go without, then pulling apart a set of wide skins when warm is quite a challenge. However the Contour low tack skins my mate had were a dream. They held on just as well as traditional tacky glue but you can fold them up without cheat sheets. You can also remove the edge debris easily and use a wipe to clean them.

Tool kits and spares.

So 10 people touring for 7 days. We had 1 x broken belt buckle, 1 faulty toe piece, 1 x ski brake not staying up in walk mode and 1 x boot walk mode coming loose. Make sure you carry a little tool kit. You don’t need much but you do need it. I will add a little plastic scraper for de-icing and it seems that any skier worth their salt now carries their ski tie wrapped around a pole.

Stu’s kit.

Blue Ice Firecrest

Contour Hybrid Mix

OMM Kamleika Overmitt

Al Powell & Alpine Guide offer a wide range of specialist ski touring holidays and backcountry ski courses, developed over many years skiing throughout Europe and further afield.

One thought on “Kyrgyzstan Ski Touring

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *