Looking To Ski Somewhere New? Head East to Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan is the new ski frontier, says Felix Milns, who finds 900 hectares of powdery potential at new resort Amirsoy
Uzbekistan may not be the first country that springs to mind when planning your next ski trip, but, following the debut season of Amirsoy in the western Tian Shan mountains, it’s all eyes east for the new ski frontier.
Stretching out like a finger pointing towards the heavens, this mountainous strip of Uzbekistan is sandwiched between Kazakhstan to the north and Kyrgyzstan to the south. There has been a rudimentary heli-ski operation here since the early nineties but it has only been properly developed in the last three years, thanks to visionary Ravshan Ubaydullaev who has single-handedly financed and created a state-of-the-art ski resort from scratch.
Having identified the north-facing spurs of the Chatkal ridge as a prime site for development, the only problem was the complete lack of infrastructure, water or power. Undeterred, Ravshan negotiated the land deals and infrastructure, and in October 2018 instructed Andorra-based company PGI Management on a three-year contract to set up and manage the resort.
One hundred million US dollars later and the result is the foundations of a world-class ski resort, built to the highest possible standards of snowmaking, renewable energy, lift infrastructure and service.
Currently there is a two-stage Doppelmayr gondola and a four-man chair servicing ten marked pistes, though the blueprint is to build eight lifts to open up the full 900 hectares of skiable terrain. The atmosphere at the top of the gondola has a carnival feel, with the local gold-teethed ladies dancing with their children as skiers clip into their bindings for another lap.
‘What he has achieved is extraordinary,’ explains Thomas Thor-Jensen, the PGI head of operations and ex-GM of Courchevel, ‘and its only possible because all the decisions were being made by one man. His vision is very intelligent – there are four million potential skiers nearby in Tashkent and the quality of the snow is unlike anything else. And I’ve skied everywhere.’
Accommodation is a complex of extremely comfortable slopeside Alpine-style chalets, complete with roaring log fires and marble bathrooms. This winter the chalets will also have their own spa building and restaurant. Alongside the American-style base station there are several geodome restaurants and bars spread throughout the ski area serving plov, a classic lamb pilau dish that makes a mighty mountain lunch.
While the size of the pisted ski area remains limited until the next phase of development, off-piste skiers have the full run of the mountains. There are multiple shoulders and gladed valleys directly accessible from the gondola, and a short skin or boot pack opens flank after flank of virgin powder. Plus, some of the best value heli-skiing anywhere in the world.
Looking back across the valley the full extent of Amirsoy’s potential comes clear. With its huge swathes of north-facing flanks, three ridges ripe for expansion to the west and all the terrain between Amirsoy and Soviet-era Beldersay to the east, this could easily grow to be bigger than Sochi.
The timing is not by chance either. The birth of Amirsoy is very much part of a wider narrative on the evolution of Uzbekistan. Five years ago travelling to Uzbekistan was like stepping behind the Iron Curtain but today the country and the new international airport in Tashkent is extremely open to both overseas visitors and investment – or at least will be as soon as Covid allows.
Two-bedroom cabins at Le Chalet by Amirsoy cost from £180 per night, B&B, four-bedroom cabins start from £400 per night. Double rooms at the upcoming four-star Apple Tree hotel start at £56 per night, B&B. Lift passes at Amirsoy cost £17 per day. A three-drop heli-ski experience with Asia Adventures costs from £290 per person. Modern piste skis are available for hire but off-piste skiers should take their own, contact local guide and fluent English speaker Kseniya Trebisovskaya for ski guiding. Flights from London to Tashkent with Uzbekistan Airways start from £550 return. For more information visit uzbekistan.travel
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