Which country first comes into your mind if you got a choice for a winter getaway? Switzerland…Finland…Austria or maybe Japan?
Kazakhstan is probably not everyone’s first destination to have in mind for a winter holiday due to its harsh climate. That’s what we thought too until we discovered how special Kazakhstan can be in Winter. I mean, how many people can tell you they had done ice-skating on the highest ice rink? Or went skiing/ snowboarding in Central Asia?
Medeo (Медеo) and Shymbulak (Чимбулак) are Almaty’s winter-sports playgrounds in the Malaya Almatinka valley. Medeu is a huge outdoor ice skating rink at an altitude of 1,700-meters, whereas Shymbulak, further up the valley at 2,200-meters, is Central Asia’s top skiing centre. The two places are connected by road and a cable car for easy access. Though both are winter sports attractions, they still remain open throughout the year for sightseeing. We were there in June but it was so much colder than the city.
Medeu Ice Rink
Erected in 1972, Medeu ice rink is the highest mountain sports complex at an altitude of 1,700-meters above sea level. The ice surface occupies 10.5 thousand square meters, which allows to hold competitions in speed skating, hockey and figure skating. A gentle climate in the gorge, optimal level of solar radiation, low atmospheric pressure, weak wind and pure glacial water – was said to help with speed and glide. Thus, many world records have been broken at this rink.
Medeu is famous and often a favourite place for the residents of Almaty on weekends. In Winters, it organizes sports and skating competitions apart from public ice skating. In summers and other seasons, it transforms into a track for go carting and other activities.
Entrance to Medeu Ice Rink
Adult: 1,800 KZT (US$4.30)
Youth (14-22 yrs): 900 KZT (US$2.10)
Child (7-13 yrs): 400 KZT (US$1)
Medeu is the starting point for several scenic hiking trails into the mountains. The best time for hiking is around May to October but conditions in the mountains can change rapidly even Summer season. Be well prepared and have adequate supplies and warm/waterproof clothing. Check weather forecasts before heading out into the mountains.
Getting there from Almaty
Bus #12 from the stop across from Hotel Kazakhstan will bring you straight to Medeu Ice Skating Rink. The fare is 150 KZT and the journey is about 40-minutes depending on traffic.
Shymbulak Mountain Ski Resort
Shymbulak is the largest ski resort in Central Asia and popular among lovers of winter sports around the region. It is located on the Zaiilisky Alatau Mountain Range much higher than the famous alpine Medeu skating rink. The ski season starts from December till April, however you can still take cable car all the way up at the highest point to soak in the views of the majestic mountains with snowy slopes.
You can either take the 3 ski lifts from the resort to reach the highest point at 3,200-meters above sea level or reachable by taking the Gondola cars from Medeu with the World’s third longest Gondola with a length of 4.5-kilometres. As the ski lifts do not operate during off-season, we took the Gondola package that brought us all the way up. You may check ski passes and equipment rentals here.
5-minutes walk dowhill from Medeu, you can take the Gondola (4000 KZT/US$9.50 return) or shuttle bus from the ice rink. Alternatively, you can hike around 2-hours uphill starting behind the ice rink and follow the steps.
|Gondola to Resort (one way)
|Gondola to Resort (round trip)
|Gondola + Ski Lifts 1 and 2 (return)
|Ski Lifts 1 and 2 only (return)
|Gondola to Resort + Line 1 + Line 2 (return)
There isn’t a need to stay overnight in Shymbulak given that Almaty is so close, but if you feel you would rather stay in the mountains then there are two hotel options within the ski resort.
- Shymbulak Resort Hotel: The main hotel of the resort complex.
- S.N.e.G Boutique Hotel: An upmarket log-cabin style hotel with onsite restaurant and veranda overlooking the mountains.
Lastly, if you want to keep a track of all my photos and travels, remember to follow @wanderrsaurus on Instagram!