Friday, March 19, 2010

Skiing Arslanbob

Spring was in the air as I returning to the Uzbek village of Arslanbob in Southern Kyrgyzstan to do some more skiing with children and the local CBT (Community based tourism) guides. Green pastures and grazing animals dotted the landscape on the drive down. I befriended my taxi driver and upon arriving in Arslanbob, tea with his family turned into a four hour dinner, finished only when his wife wrapped me up in her finest headscarf.

My first days rainy weather deterred skiing, but better weather finally got us out with local children. I was joined by several of the guides, as well as Kjartan, a Norwegian telemark skier who spent over a month in Arslanbob this winter working with CBT. With the kids, we headed up into the agricultural fields and walnut forests to work on basic ski skills. The enthusiasm and pride of the children is contagious. Despite their old equipment and having to walk uphill for every turn, they skied the entire day.

Kjartan and I, along with our friend Toby organized a three day winter camping trip for the rest of the week. Local Uzbek guides, Hayat and Mischa, joined us for their first winter camping trip. Several local guides accompanied us as carrying some extra gear. Using horses, with skis strapped on the sides, we rode up through the village of Arslanbob. Passing a game of ulack (like polo but with a dead sheep) dark skies turned into rain. We stopped to drink tea in a manger and let the rain pour down around us. Clearing skies encouraged us to continue up out of Arslanbob into the mountains and to Jaz-Jarym. Here we set up camp in a Shepard’s hut as the rain turned to snow.

Socked in the following morning, Mishca set off for home with his umbrella protecting him from the continuing snowfall. With no visibility we drank tea until lunch time when parting clouds urged us to go explore. Despite the flat light we managed to ascend and ski off one of the main ridges. We then sought out terrain with more features, including a beautiful chute that we skied twice and marked Hayat’s first couloiur descent. Temperatures dropped as the snow continued…

The next morning clear skies beckoned us from our sleeping bags at first light. We managed to eek out enough fuel for tea, water and breakfast during the most incredible sunrise. Completely enclosed by the mountains of Babash Ata and Jaz-Jarym, the ski potential was almost hard to fully grasp. We first headed south, north aspects were holding 30-50 cm of new snow. Stability tests reconfirmed my confidence in the snowpack. We skied two beautiful ridges off the southern ridge of Jaz-Jaryn, working higher each time before crossing the valley and heading up a beautiful unnamed peak. Toby and Hayat skied off a north slope, while Kjartan and I ascended the summit of the peak and skied an aesthetic line of powdery bliss. From our descent, we traversed and boot packed to follow the tracks of our group down into the gorge and back to camp.

The descent to the village took just over an hour, before we gorged ourselves on plov (rice and mutton) and bread. The following day, we said our goodbyes and headed south to Osh where trees were budding, flowers blooming and birds singing. Nestled into the agriculturally rich Fernanga valley, Osh is the heart of southern Kyrgyzstan. Over three thousand years old and it has a distinctively less soviet feeling than the northern part of the country. From Osh, Kjartan flew home to Norway and Toby reunited with his family. I spent two days exploring the city before flying back to Bishkek on a rickety old plane. En-route back north, we flew directly over Arslanbob and Jaz-Jaryn. Once again, but this time from the air, I was overwhelmed by the unbelievable ski terrain which bodes well for fledgling ski guide program in Arslanbob.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

At Bashy Map

A newly produced map of the At-Bashy Range, where I will be spending May-August working on my main research project. Click to enlarge...