When you think of Kazakhstan, you don’t usually think of world-class skiing. I find it hard to believe that anyone has turned around and said Switzerland, Austria, New Zealand, Japan, Kazakhstan: these are the great skiing destinations. Well, I’m not going to chastise you for not believing it as 95% of Kazakhstan is relatively flat, relatively inhospitable steppes.
However, believe it or not, it’s the truth. Kazakhstan has some of the world’s most beautiful mountain areas, but only down in a very small pocket in the southeast of the country. Within 30 minutes of leaving the city centre of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, you can be catching a lift ready to hit the slopes at Shymbulak (sometimes also written Chimbulak). If some serious runs aren’t your thing there are also some smaller resorts nearby such as Ak Bulak, which is more friendly for those wanting to snow play or just need the beginners’ runs.
Almaty also has an extremely impressive Ski Jumping facility almost right in the centre of the city, which has played host to international competitions. And one of Kazakhstan’s most famous places is Medeo, also just outside Almaty. It’s the highest Olympic standard ice-skating rink in the world and the home of more world records in speed skating than any other.
The other thing about skiing in Kazakhstan is it’s relatively cheap. Much cheaper than European resorts or those in Japan/Korea. This goes for lift passes and ski hire. However, there isn’t the same resort feel and certainly not the same culture of great partying at night that you get at the Australian or Austrian resorts.
Which brings me to the subject at hand – Almaty came a very very close second to Beijing to host the 24th instalment of the Winter Olympics in 2022. Losing by 44 votes to 40, Kazakhstan almost played host to an Olympics! Of course, we can all guess how Beijing won that vote. Anyone making a rational choice would choose the location which has mountains, for example, guaranteed snow, world-class facilities, as opposed to the flat normally snowless Beijing. The other contender was Oslo, who decided to pull out before the voting due to financial concerns.
Almaty had been working towards this Olympic bid for a while. They first hosted the Asian Winter Games in 2011 and then the World University Winter Games in 2017, proving they can host international events and do them well. With that in mind, if Almaty in Kazakhstan had managed to win the nomination for the 2022 Winter Olympics, it would have been absolutely horrible hearing constant Borat impersonations throughout the broadcasts. Likewise, it would have made the cost of living in Almaty for locals extremely difficult, so maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing after all.