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Too-Ashuu | Skiing at the Pass

High above the world, the road from Bishkek to Suusamyr burrows through the mountain for 3 kilometers in a dark, narrow tunnel.   This tunnel, constructed by the engineers that developed the Metro system in Moscow, replaced an original gravel road that climbed all the way to the crest of the 3,594 meter pass.  Now, at 3,180 meters, the tunnel is a bridge between two worlds: the stratified geological wonders of the rocky climb from Chui Valley, and the stunning white expanses of Suusamyr valley (at least in winter).  

Within minutes, a humble ski slope sits just below the pass.  Quite straightforward in terms of rentals and lift tickets, skiiers and snowboarders can gear up and immediately hit the slopes.  A single chair lift overlooks the length of the run, gathering the snow-enthusiasts back up to the top after they complete the hill. 

For the more advanced, a steeper slope drops down from the end of the first one, with a button-lift for returning to the top of the hill.  This slope is definitely for the brave!  Much steeper and narrower, it is also a place to showcase your skills for the intimidating line of people at the bottom of the slope, waiting their turn at the lift. 

It takes a few hours to reach Too-Ashuu from Bishkek, but is absolutely worth the effort and time for the chance to ski in front of these magnificent mountain ranges.   Stopping for photographs or marveling at the view is common, and part of the Too-Ashuu experience.  All levels can be seen, with competenet instructors and lift operators more than happy to lend helping hands as needed.  Kyrgyz hospitality and friendliness extends even onto the ski slopes!

With the oncoming of March, the ski season will begin dwindle.  Already the weather in Bishkek has entered the "unstable" zone, for the next few weeks, anything goes.  The mountains will retain their powder and snow well into June, but hiking and trekking in lower valleys are already starting to replace skiing as the excuse to get out of the city.  To everything, there is a season...

-by Ruby Mitchell, Online Content Editor @ White Leopard Travel Co.

Basking in the glory of good day on the slopes!

Also trying to ignore the pain in my hamstrings while making a plan for walking back to the car. The problem with short chair lift lines is much less time for resting muscles between runs!

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