Last winter my friends and I had an exceptionally unique experience snowmobiling the Tian-Shan Mountains of Kyrgyzstan, also known as the Kyrgyz Republic. Most of you have not even heard of such a country – neither did I – not until two years ago when Dmitri(Dima) Kalinyuk sent an email inviting me over for a summer off-road/enduro trip in his country.
For ten days we explored the country by Jeep and enduro-bikes, riding through the Tian-Shan Mountains, not far from the Chinese border. We were amazed at how unspoiled and diverse its natural landscapes are.
Dima already knew I was a big snowmobile fan, which lead to a discussion about a possible winter trip. At that time, they only had a couple of BRP snowmobiles for hunting but he promised there would be additional sleds when we arrived.
Snowmobilers Travel to Tian-Shan Mountains
And so, in the beginning of March, nine of us from Italy, all big fans of snowmobiling, finally landed in Manas International Airport, not far from the capital of Kyrgyz Republic, Bishkek. A big Russian KAMAZ, a converted military truck, was already there waiting to pick us up.
Our group was shuttled to camp, not far from the second biggest alpine lake in the word, Issyk-Kul, which means “Hot Lake” in Kyrgyz language due to the fact that it does not freeze in the winter. The camp itself is located at the altitude of 11,975 feet, compared to the airport that we flew into at only 2000.
The rooms at the camp were nice and clean, the food was as good as any restaurant. Dima told us that in the past they have welcomed many distinguished guests from all over the world, including CEOs, even a famous music performer from the U.S. – Zak Brown.
Eight Arctic Cat snowmobiles were parked outside waiting to be tested the next day. We went to bed early as we were thoroughly tired. Although it was –13F at night, the room was toasty and we slept well.
According to the schedule our first day was supposed to be a “warm-up” day. After breakfast, around 11, we started from the camp to explore the high-altitude plateau named Arabel. Unlike Yellowstone National Park, where I have ridden before, there are no groomed trails here. You ride where you want but always follow the guide. We had two guides, Roma and Victor, both nice guys who were also mechanics.
Kumtor Gold Mine Glaciers
The views were breathtaking. We stopped often to make pictures of the Kumtor Gold Mine, glaciers and frozen lakes. There was nobody except us and the white wilderness. At one point during the day it started to snow but then cleared up suddenly. It was sunny and warm, 30-40F, but as the sun started going down the temperature dropped. It didn’t matter, as we were already in the camp enjoying our dinner by then. The total mileage was around 50 miles and the medium speed was 30mph.
The next day we started from the camp around noon. There was no point in starting too early because the temperature was still low. We crossed Arabel Valley and climbed Arabel Pass (12,467 feet) where we took some nice pictures and video with a drone. The descent delivered unexpected fun! We made our way down a half-destroyed Soviet road cut into the side of the mountain taking us through switchbacks deep into the gorge. We had a picnic lunch there. The weather was nice and the sun was bright.
We resumed our trip down the narrow gorge named Burkhan. As we rode we saw several groups of wild rams called Marco Polo sheep running up the slopes as they saw us approaching.
Snowmobilers Yak It Up
By the end of the day we arrived at a local yak breeder’s place. His name was Tashbek and he lived in a house with two other guys who helped him look after 300 yaks in the mountains. They just roam free, unafraid of wolves. Every four days he sent an assistant to check and count the oxlike animals.
Our host also had several horses, a donkey to carry drinking water from the river, two Taigan dogs, a hen, a rooster and a couple of turkeys in his yard. The house was small but comfortable. It was divided into two parts, one for guests and the other for the owner. In the evening our guides made us a dinner on a coal stove, which served as both a cooking range and a heater for the whole house. We did 50 miles that day.
After a restful night at 9,000 feet we were back on our Arctic Cats following our guides down the gorge. Some of the shallow rivers were not frozen but we had to cross them. As we rode we saw sheepfolds and shepherd’s huts, used in the summer but empty now. Finally, we got to the hot springs and had a picnic.
Snowmobile Tour of Tian-Shan Mountains
We left that gorge and headed to a nearby Archaly Village. On the way we had to cross a valley with lots of horses roaming free, looking for dry grass under the snow. After a series of rollercoaster rides we arrived at the village.
The few people who lived here were cattle breeders. We strolled through the village and saw that some of the houses were empty. There was a club and a building that looked like a school, all abandoned.
Meeting Residents of Archaly Village
Our local host was Aibek, a local game warden. He slaughtered a sheep and boiled the meat to welcome us. In the evening we all had “Beshbarmak,” a local dish – a mix of noodles and mutton cut into small pieces. We were told that this dish is eaten by hand, and so we did. The meat was delicious, as well as the home-made apricot and raspberry jam, bread and tea. The number of miles we did today was 60.
The next morning we said goodbye to our friendly hosts and headed back to the base camp, an 80 mile trek. We were supposed to take a different route but were told that a heavy snowfall made the mountain trail impassable, so we had to take the same route back to the camp. Climbing Arabel Pass with little snow was a bit tricky. Going up one of the machine’s broke a drive belt but our mechanics had a spare and were able to change it. We were back at the camp before sundown and the sauna was already ready for us.
The KAMAZ was waiting outside for us early the next morning for the drive back to Bishkek. In the evening we went downtown with Dima, who treated us to Italian pizza.
All in all the trip was a lot of fun and we found Kyrgyzstan to be a beautiful country! I recommend it to all snowmobile fans as well as adventure lovers.
Before we parted Dima and his partners told us they are going to get another four or five powerful Ski-Doo Summit 800s’ for the upcoming season. I cannot but wish him and his team good luck and encourage them to keep up the amazing job!
Aldo Cereseris, the author of this story for the NH Sno-Traveler, is a dentist from Torino, Italy. He and his wife, Liliana, have a daughter who is also a dentist. Aldo is an avid world traveler and outdoorsman who enjoys motorcycles and snowmobiles. Their family has been to Yellowstone National Park on snowmobile trips several times. They are often joined by their friends from Italy. They have made three trips to Kyrgyzstan with Dima,two Jeep/moto-enduro off-road adventures and one snowmobile trip.
Dmitri Kalinyuk is tour guide and adventure organizer in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. He worked from 2003 to 2014 as a linguist at the U.S Airforce Base in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Since 2016 he has been organizing motorcycle, off-road Jeep tours, snowmobile trips and photography tours in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia. An avid outdoorsman who likes travelling, cycling, hiking and learning languages (he speaks seven foreign languages, including Chinese). Dmitri is happy to show his country to everyone who comes to explore his part of the world. You can contact him by email