’40 Tribes’ is a reference to the ancient warrior legend Manas, who united Kyrgyzstan’s 40 tribes against Chinese and Mongol invasion. A 40 ray sun is the central image on the national flag and Kyrgyzstan is still a place where long-held traditions still run deep within the nation’s culture. It’s clear that Ryan Koupal, the founder and director of 40 Tribes Backcountry, had the history and culture of Kyrgyzstan at the forefront of his mind when he conceived 40 Tribes Backcountry, his yurt based backcountry ski project.
Kyrgyzstan is a former Soviet Republic situated in Central Asia. It borders Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to the north and west, Tajikistan to the south and China to the east. The Tien Shan, its major mountain range, forms the final north-ward sweep of the Himalaya and contains the world’s most northerly 7000m peaks. It’s a wild and remote part of the world that doesn’t feature on the radar of most western based skiers and snowboarders. What’s pretty obvious however, is that for anyone looking for a backcountry experience a little away from the norm, Kyrgyzstan and 40 Tribes offers something quite special.
40 Tribes’ set up is built around a permanent yurt situated amongst the tree line at 2650m (8700ft). The yurt is accessed via a 6km skin track. It’s a warm and stable winter shelter that is in keeping with the traditional Kyrgyz way of life. All over Central Asia yurts have been used for centuries within nomad communities and are often passed down generations, from father to son. It enhances the cultural experience at 40 Tribes and also simply provides a great base camp for exploring the local terrain. As Ryan says, “there are undoubtedly adventures you never think you will have. Skiing big mountain lines by day and huddling round a wood burning stove in a cozy Kyrgyz yurt by night is probably one of them.”
40 Tribes run both guided and self guided programs throughout the winter. Both options are fully catered, so guests can sit back and enjoy some local cuisine in the evenings. Avalanche Courses and Ski Mountaineering courses are also run for those looking to improve their skills in the mountains. Legendary ski mountaineer Ptor Spricenieks and ACMG qualified Greg Johnson ensure guiding and instruction at 40 Tribes is of the highest standard.
The mountains surrounding the yurt are ready-made for ski touring and splitboarding. Graceful ridges enclose deep bowls that feature open faces, couloirs and mini spines. Lower down the mountains, well spaced trees ensure there is plenty terrain to ride on storm days. Low winter temperatures and a reliable snow pack result in powder being ridden on most days. And, since the mountains are situated on the edge of the range, the expansive views across the vast plains to the north look nothing short of immense.
Due to Ryan’s extensive knowledge of the surrounding mountains, 40 Tribes also offer a ‘custom tour’ guiding service. The Tien Shan mountain range is vast and just glancing at a map of the range will give any adventurous skier, looking to expand their horizons beyond the more popular touring locations of the world, scope for inspiration.
The local Kyrgyz people play a big part in making the 40 Tribes experience what it is. On arrival in Kyrgyzstan, guests spend their first night with a local family. Ryan is keen to extend the idea across a variety of roles within 40 Tribes; ” Via our VolunTourism program, we are providing local Kyrgyz with the unique opportunity to train under talented caretakers, chefs and guides from around the globe – helping them develop skills to support winter tourism initiatives in their own backyards. A significant percentage of 40 Tribes’ profit is directed back into the communities in which we work, providing salaries for our local partners and the basis for a locally held fund intended to support further program and community development goals.”
This idea of VolunTourism is designed to give local communities more than just capital investment. It’s about a long-term investment in skills and understanding that, once learned, can provide a basis for social and economic growth and well-being within the villages for generations.
40 Tribes offer a one of a kind ski experience. It’s an opportunity to, first and foremost, ski some world-class terrain and snow within a seldom visited mountain range. But it’s also an opportunity to combine the kind of skiing and snowboarding we all dream of, with a cultural experience beyond what the average backcountry trip offers.
For more extensive information, including course details, dates and prices, head on over to the 40 Tribes website at www.40tribesbackcountry.com.
All images courtesy of 40 Tribes Backcountry.