Karakol is a small town in the east of Kyrgyzstan, most famous for the largest saline lake in the world after the Caspian Sea, Lake Issyk-Kul. However, it was not the lake that drew us to Karakol, but the mountains, and in particular the skiing.
After we concluded that our cycle tour had come to a premature end, we spent little time deliberating and headed straight to the hills for something different. What an amazing decision!
After what felt like a succession of obstacles and difficulties to overcome whilst cycling, skiing today was pure, unadulterated fun!
There is nothing quite like it; flying down a powdery slope, kicking up snowdust on every turn, the snow dazzling in the sunshine. Although I’ll confess it took me a bit of time to get my ski legs and at first I resembled something more like Bambi on ice than a legitimate skier! Thankfully my muscles soon remembered and I was able to enjoy it once more.
It may be Kyrgyzstan’s biggest and best resort, but it still remains small compared to European standards. Only 3 chairlifts to service the entire area, and a handful of pisted runs. As a result off piste is almost more common here than piste, and we found ourselves weaving through trees, in knee-deep powder and in steep gullies, as well as whizzing down the pistes on offer. It may be small, but it is so much fun, and I cannot stop smiling!
The chairlifts were once bright yellow, now faded and chipped to reveal the burnished metal underneath. Some have cushions to sit on, others just wooden slats. When we crouched a little to let it pick us up, it does not slow down one bit, and instead crashed into our calves and knees as it hoisted us into the air. I have bruises all over – not from skiing buy from the old French lifts given new life here!
I have only ever skiied in the Alps before, and it is amazing to be skiing somewhere so different.
The ski resort is on the edge of the mountains, not in the heart of them. As a result, the views are different to anything I have seen on skis before. Look one way and mountains, some over 5,000m above sea level, stretch as far as the eye can see. Look the other and there is Lake Issyk-Kul, still liquid blue thanks to its salty water, with another mountain range deep in the distance. A huge expanse of empty brown plains between us seem like a clash of worlds, mountains, desert and a huge body of water. It is quite extraordinary.
It may not have been in our plan, but in light of the unsuccessful attempt at cycling, it couldn’t get much better right now!!! 🙂