ASTANA – Astana doesn’t lack for snow or cold weather, but with a paucity of slopes, one would be forgiven for thinking skating or cross-country skiing the only real winter weather option here. However, with some ingenuity, speed and slope lovers are making their own options in and around the Kazakh capital.
The Astana Adventure Facebook group has the motto “We do not complain about boring Astana. We make it fun instead!” And rather than hiding out in the winter months, the group organises winter excursions in Astana and beyond.
“It is no secret that many visitors will find Astana boring in relation to leisure activities – there are no mountains, deep forests [or] seashores, and the climate is severe. We do not complain about it all, but trying to change our environment for the better, to find places of interest and active sessions for any season of the year,” group organiser Dias Baisseitov told The Astana Times on Nov. 24. From November to March, that means snowboarding and cross-country and downhill skiing – as well as kiting or kite-skiing.
The group begins its activities in the centre of town, on natural and man-made slopes. “As soon as the snow becomes thick enough in early December, we start forming a slope near the northern ‘Stonehedge,’ right across the street from Highvill, in the park at the Pyramid [the Palace of Peace and Accord], with some kickers to have fun,” Baisseitov said. Kickers are small snow slopes built for launching snowboarders into the air. A sight group member Rizabek Mukhamedzhanov, 25, told The Astana Times their sport is still a surprise for most Astana residents.
“Snowboarding is not that popular. People on the street look at you like at crazy person, or even ask questions. But it is becoming more popular; at least, people who watch Olympic Games have an idea about it and interest in what it is,” Mukhamedzhanov said in a Nov. 21 interview.
The group also practices on the small slopes leading down to the frozen Yessil River that bisects the city, which becomes a surface for skating, cross-country skiing in the winter; then moves to the gentle slopes of the Burabai resort town about two and a half hours drive north of Astana.
Longer downhill skiing options are also available outside of town. One is the Elikti resort in Kokshetau, about an hour past Burabai. After getting started on city slopes, that’s Astana Adventure’s next step, Baisseitov said.
“The next step is the Elikti ski resort,” he explained. “It stretches over 1,200 metres in length, is equipped with a T-bar lift and has a vertical drop of around 200 metres, which is quite good. We are good friends with its owner, and helped him design two new routes this year, as well as to shape a brand new snow park with kickers, rails and even snow pillow for jumps!”
The group organises minibus trips to the resort on the weekends, with packages that include lessons (English is available) ski rental and slope tickets and accommodation. As the season progresses, the group eventually moves out of Astana’s environs to the taller mountains around Almaty and in other parts of the country.
Kiting – skiing or snowboarding on a flat surface while harnessed to a kite – is one way to use northern Kazakhstan’s flat plains and strong winds to an advantage. “Kiting is good idea for Astana, with its winds and open, flat spaces [and] frozen lakes in the winter,” Mukhamedzhanov said. The group heads to the frozen expanses of Borovoye’s lakes for most of its kiting excursions. He also recommends a variation on water skiing – skiing or snowboarding on a flat surface while being towed by a snowmobile.
Seeing the growing demand for sports equipment in the capital, the Astana Adventure group helped launch a new sports shop, Extremal Astana, in the capital. The shop, a branch of the Almaty-based Extremal brand, also offers rental, repair and training services.
Baisseitov reports that the four-year-old group now has 1,500 members online, but they’re always happy for more. “Foreign members are especially valued by our community for their charging spirits and seeking minds,” he said. “We want them to know that our country is not only just oil, Khan Shatyr and endless steppe. It has lots of surprises for those who venture beyond their comfort zones.”