Terry, Rich and a team of 6 clients recently returned from ski touring in Kyrgyzstan, this is part of their TDC Expeditions endeavours. Check it out for next January/February 2021!
The trip starts with the team meeting in Istanbul airport ready to fly together to Bishkek, the beautiful capital of Kyrgyzstan. A short (6 hours) transfer past the drainless lake Ysyk-kol leads to the sleepy ‘village’ at the upslopes of the Tesky-Ala mountains of the Northern Tien-Shan Range. Here are the base Yurts for the first 2 days of ski touring.
The terrain around the camp is gentle and sparsely forested. Perfect for an introduction to ski touring skills, familiarisation with the equipment, and acclimatisation. The snow is guaranteed to be cold and dry, a mixture of powder and old faceted crystals that ski beautifully.
Temperatures overnight of -15/-30 soon warm to -5 which is perfect for the daily ascension of about 350m, or 1.5 hours in the morning to a perfect spot to cruise the powder back to the yurts in time for lunch.
The afternoon holds a similar pattern, with usually an hour of peaceful uphill followed by a mind-blowing descent back to camp. It’s rare to see other tracks, and even more so to ski near them!
The advanced yurt camp is truly isolated and requires a 45-minute ski-doo commute to arrive. Passing incredible scenery along the way… but concentrate as ski-doo drag skiing is not for the faint-hearted!
With 3 days out of signal/reception/wifi under the stars at the advanced camp, everyone becomes truly relaxed and collectively didn’t want to leave. The sauna provides the end of each day before dinner is served. 2 courses, including a soup/broth to start and then a mixture of different fusion cultured meals each night. The food is outstanding.
The evening’s entertainments involved Terry playing the guitar, Rich falling asleep playing cards, and the team drinking a tad too much fine whisky, rum or vodka… every night!
The trip finishes with a trip to the hot springs located near the central lake of Kyrgyzstan, an eye-opening stop to get superb lunch at a ‘motorway’ services, and then a night in the best hotel in Bishkek. The restaurant for the final meal has incredible feasts to share, this year involved 4 courses, and almost ordering the correct amount of food. Half the team could deal with the soured milk, half couldn’t bear it!
Thanks to everybody that came and made it such a special trip. We’re seriously looking forward to next year… and if you’re interested, check out the website for this trip or more.
In recent seasons ski touring has become more and more popular.
What exactly is this ‘ski touring’ thing I keep hearing about? Is it for me? Well, you certainly don’t need to be an amazing expert skier, and you don’t even need to be that fit…
Let’s go back – a long way – to the origins of what we now call skiing. From relics and cave paintings we are fairly sure that skiing started as a way of transporting people around snowy mountains, going from village to village, or for hunting etc. Walking in deep snow is tricky, walking on skis keeps you up on the snow and allowed people to transport themselves more easily.
Fast forward to modern skiing, we have chairlifts to get us up the hill, and modern skis with waxed bases that allow us to slide down the hill with grace and ease.
But what if you want to get access places where the chairlifts don’t go? You can walk!. There is an issue; if a ski slides down the hill, then when you try to walk up the hill the skis will keep sliding down the hill (backwards).
In modern skiing there has been a system to get around this issue for many years, it is called Ski Touring, or Ski Randonee, or Skin-ing. Skin-ing was a name that came from when seal skins (modern-day “skins” are not made from seals!) were cut into the shape of the skis and tethered to the bottom of the skis. The knapp of the skin was put so that the hair ends were pointing backwards. So with skins on their skis, the skier can slide the ski forward, but it won’t slide backwards, this allows them to walk up gentle hills without sliding backwards while still being supported on top of the snow. Then when the skier gets to the top of where they wanted to go, the skins can be removed and the skier is able to ski down with their regular skis.
To make the action of walking easier, bindings were designed that would keep your heel locked down when you were skiing downhill but were able to be released at the heal for when you were walking uphill – the touring binding was born.
So to go ski touring all you needed was skis with touring bindings and skins. But as you can imagine walking uphill with your normal heavy ski boots on could be quite a drag. So ski touring boots have been developed, designed to be lightweight and suitable for walking.
All these things have been around in a recognisable modern format since the 1960’s and 70’s. So why has it become the new cool?
Technology!!! Fat skis – powder skis have opened up brave new worlds for all skiers to access off piste skiing. New Pin and Frame touring bindings systems that are strong and very light. Touring boots that allow freedom to walk up, and performance when skiing down.
Ski Touring was always about getting away from the crowded pistes and adventuring into new terrain. But there was always a play-off between light and practical equipment to walk up the hill, and having good strong performance equipment to enjoy the run back down again.
In recent years technology has improved in such a way that now skiers have skis, bindings and boots that allow the walk up to be efficient and the ski back down to be performance.
If you are a skier that wants to ski off piste then you will know the enjoyable feelings of skiing untouched powder. But as we know it all gets “skied out” after a snowfall.
Every bit of powder that can be accessed from the chair lift will get skied! But you know there is more, you can see it, but it is always in those harder to get to places.
This is when ski touring can be the solution, you can go on an adventure, get away from the madding crowds and enjoy those fresh lines.
A little bit of walking and new powder fields can be yours.
The TDC expeditions trip to eastern Kyrgyzstan this February was a fabulous success. The team flew from Heathrow/Gatwick/Geneva to Bishkek via Istanbul. Then transfered around the Issyk Kul lake, to within 100km of the border with China and Kazakhstan. The area is dominated by mesmerisingly white snowy hills/mountains visible into the extreme distance through broad valley clefts. The ski touring terrain here is dichotomously friendly and gradual whilst maintaining an aura of dramatic remoteness.
“I would unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone with a reasonable level of fitness and skiing ability who would like to experience something beyond the “everyday” off-piste / tour experience. It’s something I will always remember.”
– Mark, 2019
The trip is 10 days in total, with 1.5 days travel at either end. On arrival at the yurt camp, around noon, the designated Kyrgyz chef provides hot vegetable and meat (beef, lamb, chicken) stew for lunch. The food is extraordinary and cooked on a wood burner, camping gas stove, and portable oven, with dutiful competence by the chef. Breakfast involves milk porridge of ground either milllet/buckwheat/oats/wheat depending on the morning and availability. With eggs (4 for Ian), fresh bread and coffee/tea. Lunch was usually stew based, although occasionally the chef knocked-up some battered sausage hotdogs, or fresh apricot jam doughnuts!
Dinner frequently involved more stew to start, followed with exeptional rice dishes somewhere between fried rice and biriyani. Then at other times involved almost British meat and vegetables, with delectably dressed salads.
The days in Kyrgyzstan revolved around the ski touring. Mornings can be bitterly cold, with the mercury plummetting to -25 at night. Therefore languid breakfasts, coffees and plans are maintained until around 9:30 AM, ensuring the suns rays and temperatures are sufficient. From the main ‘village’ camp, slopes are immediately accessible, touring from 1.5-3 hours to reach summits through ever-green spruce trees. The snowpack is unconsolidated in Winter and therefore requires gentle slopes (<25 degrees) for descents. This also maximises the number of powder turns to walking time ratio.
On return from the morning skin up and ski down. Hot lunch is prepared by the chef, and glycogen partially restored to any wanting muscles. After lunch is a chance for another daily exploratory, or known skin up one of the bountiful tributary valleys. It would be hard, and sometimes impossible not to get fresh tracks in this area. The snow is cold and unaffected by wind in the widely spaced forest areas, it therefore remains powder for effectively the whole Winter. This year we saw another team on a peak 2-3km away one morning, we felt gridlocked.
The advanced camp of 2 yurts (one cooking/dining and one sleeping), requires a 30min transfer via snowmobiles. This is exciting. One puts one’s ski pole through a loop in the rope tied to the rear of the skidoo, and hangs on. The journey percolates through some of the most dazzling alpine glades, cols, and plateaus imaginable. This year with a low orange sun, and long shadows creating a majestic light. This journey facilitates the use of the advanced camp.
From the advanced camp, a non-intrepid sense of isolation prevails. Rich and Terry carry Sat-Phones and GPS locators for safety, receiving weather updates, and occasional updates from Penny, Rich’s daughter. But otherwise, this location is truely remote. The ski touring descents here are possible in a 360 degree vista. So that’s what we do. The same daily format ensues with a longer morning skin, and optional afternoon outings after lunch. One of the journeys on this years (2019) trip involved a 600m ascent through another stunning wide-spaced forest, and along a broad ‘knife-edged’ ridge to a shoulder of a mountain looking down our valley. From there a slightly steeper descent led the group 3 kms back to the yurts. That’s 3km of 20cm cold fresh powder on a smooth base.
The trip involves ski coaching throughout. On day one we provide, transceiver training, skinning/touring techniques, and some navigation awareness. Throughout the trip there are 2 tdc coaches per group of 6 to assist with the skinning up, the transitions from touring to ski mode, and to provide technique and tactical instruction on the ski descents. The camp dog also followed us each day, providing joy for all as he bounded through powder on the descents.
The trip will be running next February 2020, with limited space to keep the instructor to client ratio low. This helps ensure safety, speed across the terrain, enjoyment, and escalates learning curves.
tdc in Val d’Isere, Tignes and the 3 valleys are continually running ski touring and off piste skiing lessons and groups. Please visit the lessons section of our website for more information around those coaching sessions either in view of joining a future tdc-expedition, or simply to learn and enjoy a new genre of the skiing world.