Introduction to Shymbulak
Shymbulak is the most popular ski destination in Central Asia. Conveniently located, the base lift is 25 kilometers south of Almaty. Additionally, the ski lifts are situated in the upper reaches of the Medeu Valley which is part of the Zailiysky Alatau mountain range. Zailiysky Alatau stretches for about 350 kilometers and it is the northernmost range of the Tian Shan mountain system.
Shymbulak has a base elevation of 2200 meters and the top elevation is 3200 meters above sea level. Most recently, the 2011 Asian Winter Games were held at Shymbulak. In addition, Almaty is also bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Sunny Weather Year Round
The ski area is popular for abundant snowfall. However, they also claim that a minimum of 9 out of 10 days are sunny. Although ski season runs from December until April, the ski area also has high quality lift access for summer alpine hiking.
Lift Access Hiking at Shymbulak
Talgar Pass is reached at the top of the lift. From here, visitors are presented with some different hiking options. As a result, we elected to go and climb to the top of the adjacent ridge line. However, there is also an option to hike to the nearby glacier.
We hiked up this trail and over the second ridge to our ultimate destination. Once we reached the second ridge we continued about another 2 kilometers until we reached the highest point. Hence, we had a great vantage point for some video and photos.
The Ultimate Views at Shymbulak
Also known as Pik Talgar, this is the highest mountain in the Zailiysky Alatau Mountain Range. As a result, the peak is very popular with mountaineers due to it’s close proximity to Almaty. It is named after the nearby Talgar River and city. The most widely quoted elevation of the mountain is 4979 meters, although sources differ.
Talgar Peak is the snowcapped mountain that can be seen in the above photo.
Receding Glaciers in Zailiysky Alatau Mountains
My friend and I were visiting Shymbulak without a guide. However, my guide for Altyn Emel and the Tamgaly Petroglyphs was full of interesting anecdotes about life under the former U.S.S.R. Consequently, one story in particular was concerning the glaciers in the nearby mountains.
The collectivist agricultural policy imposed on Kazakhstan by Joseph Stalin came with very strict and challenging quotas. As a result, the local Soviet administration decided to see if they could increase water flow for crop irrigation. So they coated the glaciers with black ash in the summer in order to speed up the melting process. While this greatly increased the melt water it also depleted the glaciers very rapidly. Unfortunately, the glaciers will take thousands of years to regain any significant mass. Therefore, Almaty and the surrounding area are now faced with water shortage.
The glaciers are still under pressure from previous Soviet policy and modern global warming.
Spectacular Mountain Landscape at Shymbulak