Everything you need to know about touring and skiing in Jyrgalan, the ultimate winter destination in Kyrgyzstan for skiers, snowboarders and mountain lovers.
If you’ve ever daydreamed about carving down untracked slopes, bouncing out of bottomless powder and cutting lap after lap on first ascents, all while being in a remote part of the world that very few skiers or snowboarders have ever heard of, then it’s time to book a flight to Kyrgyzstan.
Having spent weeks and months snowboarding and skiing in Kyrgyzstan myself, along with Jarryd the co-founder of this travel site on his own adventures to his favourite country, I can attest to just how awesome it really is here.
While this Central Asian country is already off the beaten track, for a real unique backcountry skiing and freeriding experience, you can’t miss a little town hidden in the peaks called Jyrgalan.
Jyrgalan is an old Soviet Coal mining village in the far East of Kyrgyzstan, at the foothills of the Tian Shan mountains.
It’s perhaps best known as a summer destination, serving as a base for hiking, mountain biking, and horse riding.
However, it is also growing in popularity as a winter destination due to its amazing backcountry skiing opportunities.
READ MORE: Check out our full complete guide to all the things to do in Kyrgyzstan in Winter!
While ski touring is slowly becoming more popular, it’s still a picturesque sleepy little village.
You are much more likely to be sharing the skin track with some horses or cows than other skiers.
For those that want to escape the crowds, experience Kyrgyz culture, and have an adventure exploring a wild landscape with many previously unskied lines there is nowhere better!
Table of Contents
- Skiing in Jyrgalan – Ski Touring Routes
- Jyrgalan Skiing Guide – What You Need to Know
Skiing in Jyrgalan – Ski Touring Routes
There are countless backcountry ski routes that can be accessed directly from the village.
These range from short moderate angled slopes, to much longer more technical committed routes.
Here are 3 suggested starter routes, which all offer great viewpoints where people new to the area can get their bearings and scope out lines for future days, and some fun but not overly technical down hill skiing.
Char Jon Peak
- Uphill distance: 5km
- Uphill elevation: 800m
- Descent: South facing
This is a classic summertime day hike, but works just as well as a half or full day ski tour depending on your fitness.
Route finding is extremely easy – just follow the obvious ridge up from the North of the Village directly to the peak.
From the top you have beautiful 360degree panoramic views – Kazakhstan to the North, Jyrgalan village with a backdrop of the Tian Shan mountains to the South, and to the East it is even possible to see Issyk Kul on a clear day.
From the top there are multiple options for descent. You can ski back along the ridge or drop either side of it.
The bowl on the West side of the ridge offers some nice mellow powder meadows.
Dropping to the East side of the ridge requires a bit more navigation, so make sure to scope your line out in advance.
- Uphill Distance: 4.5km
- Uphill elevation: 800m
- Descent: North Facing
This was the face used for the 2022 Silk Road Freeride Competition, hence the name.
From Jyrgalan village head West over the bridge. Climb up to the plateau and head towards to big rock (this rock is called Tulpar Tash, and part of the Manas Legend). From there follow the route shown in the photo.
The first summit, “Heli-Ski Peak” is a nice short tour of its own with multiple options for descents on North and East facing slopes.
However continuing on across a saddle and climbing up to the higher peak to ski Competition Face is highly recommended.
The “classic” descent is the north face of the peak, which offers a nice short but steep run (some sections are 55degree pitch).
For an easier route it is possible to return down the ridge a little before joining the same north face but at a more mellow gradient.
Chunkor Tor Peak
- Uphill distance: 8.6km
- Uphill elevation: 1100m
- Descent: North facing
A longer tour, but offering an excellent viewpoint and numerous descents.
Head West out the village, before turning South to the obvious ridge running up to the Chunkor Tor Bowl.
There is often a cat track here making for easy skinning and navigation. Don’t worry the cat can’t reach the peak itself so you are usually guaranteed fresh lines!
Once you get closer to the peak turn off the cat-track and make your way up to the summit (see photo).
The last section it’s often easier to take your skis off and bootpack up.
From the summit you have fantastic views of the Tian Shan mountains and Teresky Alatau range.
The easiest descent is directly back the way you came up. Alternatively continue around the ridge for some more technical lines (see photo).
It is possible to do multiple laps, skiing down from the ridge into the bowl and then skinning back up, picking a more technical/challenging line each time.
Jyrgalan Skiing Guide – What You Need to Know
Let’s dive into the logistics of skiing in Jyrgalan, such as how to get here, where to stay and more.
How Do I Get to Jyrgalan?
Bus number 331 leaves 3 times per day from Ak-Tilek Bazaar in Karakol (08:30, 11:30, and 17:30).
Buses return from the village to Karakol 3 times per day (07:30, 11:30, 17:30).
Alternatively you can arrange a private vehicle transfer through Destination Jyrgalan ([email protected]).
READ MORE: See what else you can get up to in the country with our personal guide to the top things to do in Kyrgyzstan!
Accomodation in Jyrgalan
There are numerous choices of accomodation to suit different tastes and budgets. They can be viewed and reserved through the Booking.com website.
Ala Kol guesthouse is a particular winter favourite due to its excellent banya (Russian style sauna).
The owners Emil and Gulmira are also fantastic people, and have become good friends of ours over the years from us always staying here when we’re in town.
It’s also the most popular place to stay in Jyrgalan, so make sure you book ahead.
Backcountry Ski Yurts
For an even more remote experience it is possible to travel out the village deeper into the mountains and stay in a backcountry yurt.
Tyup Valley and “Jyrgalan Heights” (a summer jailoo located around 9km from the village up the Jyrgalan valley) are the most popular choices.
For enquiries/bookings contact Ryce Travel ([email protected]).
Are There Chair Lifts in Jyrgalan?
There are no chairlifts/gondolas in Jyrgalan, however for those looking to exert a little less energy there are a number of alternate ways up.
Horse Skiing / Skidoo / Cat Skiing in Jyrgalan
For the true Kyrgyz nomad experience it is possible to ride horses up and ski down. A more modern and faster approach is to use skidoos.
Both these options can be organised through Destination Jyrgalan ([email protected]).
Alternatively for larger groups there is the option to use a snow cat (Pistenbully 300 Polar with a handmade cabin that can transport up to 16 people).
For enquiries and reservations contact Ryce Travel ([email protected])
When is the Best Time to Go Ski Touring in Jyrgalan?
The snow pattern for Jyrgalan tends to be one big dump every 1 or 2 weeks rather than lots of regular smaller storms.
This works perfectly as it maximises clear days for ski touring, and there are so few skiers it’s easy to find fresh tracks even 2 weeks after the last storm.
A total 4-6m of snowfall over the winter is normal, with the best time for skiing in Jyrgalan usually being mid-January to mid-March.
Temperatures for this time range from as low as -15 celsius to around 0 celsius. So you need to come prepared with clothing for both cold and relatively mild.
READ MORE: Check out the best day hikes in Jyrgalan if you come in summer!
Can You Rent Skiing or Snowboarding Gear in Town?
Most ski tourers bring their own equipment, and having familiar equipment you are comfortable with is favourable.
However, it is certainly not impossible to find good ski gear from top Western brands in Kyrgyzstan.
Ski/splitboard choice is a personal thing, but something designed with good float in soft powder is recommended.
In Jyrgalan you can rent backcountry safety equipment (transceiver, probe, shovel) and there is a limited supply of skis and split boards available to rent.
Due to the limited supply it’s best to reserve in advance through Destination Jyrgalan to avoid disappointment ([email protected])
A wider selection of skis, for both rental and purchase, is available in Karakol which is the last big town on the road to Jyrgalan.
Backcountry skiing is potentially dangerous. You should be aware of avalanche danger, carry suitable equipment (transceiver, shovel, probe) and know how to use it.
If you are not experienced enough to make safe backcountry decisions it is well worth using a local guide.
We’ll say it again for the people in the back – If you are not trained and experienced with avalanche rescue and backcountry safety, hire a guide who is!
A guide is not compulsory in this area. However, an experienced guide can certainly help make for a more enjoyable trip, finding the best snow conditions, and showing you areas you might not have otherwise discovered on your own, and keeping you safe.
Lydia Zvozikova is one highly recommended and experienced local guide.
She is very familiar with the Jyrgalan area, as well as a previous Silk Road Freeride Competition winner.
You can contact her directly through:
- WhatsApp: +996 555 62 18 41
- Instagram: @Lidiia_guide
Other Winter Activities in Jyrgalan
While this article focuses on ski touring, there are plenty of alternative winter activities for non skiers such as snowshoeing, horse riding, and snowmobiling.
For any questions or further information about all things Jyrgalan, both winter and summer, Destination Jyrgalan is the best contact point.