If you're looking to enjoy a bit of skiing on your next international vacation but don't have a load of money to spend, Kyrgyzstan could be the perfect destination for you.
The country's best resort is located in the city of Karakol -- a relatively large town not too far from Kyrgyzstan's most famous tourist attraction, Lake Issyk-Kul. According to Ski-Karakol.com, this mountain was used as a training base for Olympic athletes during Soviet times. The actual resort is located about seven kilometers from the center of town.
About the mountain:
The highest run in Karakol, often reached using special transportation, begins at 3,450 meters. All remaining trails stretch down to the resort's base, which sits at an altitude of 2,300 meters. The mountain provides tons of opportunities for intermediate and advanced skiers to enjoy off-piste runs and challenging trails. However, beginners might find Karakol a bit intimidating if it's their first experience on skis.
Flying into the capital city of Bishkek and taking a bus to Karakol is definitely the easiest route. Private cars and vans can be hired if you desire a bit of peace and quiet on your cross-country drive, but an overnight bus is probably the cheapest and simplest option. It should be made very clear that Kyrgyzstan is still classified by most as a developing nation. While beautiful and largely untouched by western culture, it isn't exactly a model of safety and security; the roads can be icy, the buses aren't always reliable, and robberies do occasionally happen. That being said, common sense and a keen eye for trouble should be enough to help you avoid any major problems.
Where to stay:
Once in Karakol, there are a plethora of guest houses and flats available to rent for as low as $10 per day. Nicer accommodation can be found for a higher price, but don't expect to find any super-luxurious resorts anywhere in town. Your expectations will likely be met as long as you keep in mind that this is Kyrgyzstan we're talking about -- not Colorado.
The hotel located on the slopes is a bit pricey, but the rooms and cottages are actually quite nice. An added benefit to staying here is being able to wake up and slip right onto the main beginner trail located just outside the hotel's front entrance.
If the previous information didn't exactly make Karakol sound like paradise, the cost of a lift ticket should make up for it. A one-day pass can be purchased for about $20, and a half-day pass is only about $5 cheaper than that. If you were planning on skiing every day for a week, you would only need to spend around $140 to secure a pass good for seven days.
Renting skis or a snowboard will cost you an extra $10 to $20. If you decide not to travel with your own equipment, take solace in the fact that the high-end gear they offer is actually pretty decent.
If a low-cost adventure is what you're looking for on your next winter vacation, look no further than Karakol, Kyrgyzstan. It should be noted that the information is in Russian, however, more details can be found by visiting the resort's website at Ski-Karakol.com.
B.L. King is an avid traveler, former winter backpacking guide and a certified Wilderness EMT.