Something happened in April that still surprises me to think about.
I had family come to Kazakhstan.
This might seem natural to many people for a variety of reasons. For expats in Almaty, family visits are a normal occurrence, usually taking place a few months after someone moves here. For people not living here, this might seem normal as well, as family can normally be expected to visit another family member living abroad because traveling to far-away, unknown places provides a new experience and there is no need to pay for accommodation. But, no matter how hard I pushed, my parents and my brothers and their wives expressed interest in coming but not too much interest, especially because my stories and photos usually only describe the mountains in Kazakhstan, and, after all, there are plenty of mountains where they already live. So it remained easier for me to visit the USA or to meet in Europe instead, since there are things to see there that are more than just mountains.
Somehow, me voluntarily deciding to stay for a second year peaked the interest of my father and my brother Zack, enough for them to put their money where their mouths were, to be colloquial. After talking them through the visa process in February, they bought tickets to arrive in April, and before I knew it, I was waiting for them to arrive in the middle of the night at the airport. Although I tried to schedule a lot for them, including trips around the city, a ride out the Charyn Canyon, something for them to do while I ran my first marathon, and a trip to Bishkek they ended up refusing, the most visually pleasing thing we did was stay and ski at the Cosmostansiya, a science village above Big Almaty Lake.
After skiing a few weeks before with Rage and Eric in The Grand Abai Couloir, Rage was off for a trip to Cumchatka, but he said both Eric and Anya, another rad skier also of powder.kz, would help me organize the transportation, stay and ski for my family. I was certainly happy for the help, and also invited my friends Abram, Saranna, Hugh and Michelle to round out the accommodations. They would end up climbing Big Almaty Peak while we skied the slopes of Peak Touristov.
The summer before, I had stayed at the Observatory above Big Almaty Lake when I skied the Peak of the Soviets. I thought this was where we were going to stay, but Anya had a contact above the Observatory in a small village that normally only hosts scientists (in case any guards are reading this, we are also scientists). One of the huts there had been renovated on the inside to give it a mountain cabin feel. It was perfect, and literally right at the trailhead to ski on Peak Touristov.
The weather in Almaty before we had driven into the mountains had been very wet and unwelcoming, but the Cosmostansiya was right at the top of the clouds which were producing rain below. This provided some pretty awesome photo opportunities, but sometimes meant we would be encapsulated in fog. The fog was heavy on the morning of the first day, which prevented us from seeing many of the surroundings. A whoomph of snow alerted my dad and Zack that the snow we were skiing might be unstable, and not five minutes later the fog lifted to show that the new snow on the majority of north-eastern facing slopes had already slid naturally. The line we were aiming for was facing directly north and had not slid, but featured a very large snowfield above the narrow drainage we were about to climb. We aborted the route and found some shallow west-facing slopes to climb rather than risk a bottom-trigger where we were headed.
Not long after the change in route, my dad called it good on the climbing for the day and started back to the cabin. Anya, Eric, Zack and I continued on to the top of the ridge, where we were awarded with amazing views of the Ile-Alatau National Park. I dropped into a slot first, jumping hard to get it to break below me, which it eventually did and ran the entire path wall-to-wall. I found a protected spot, where Eric and Anya joined me, and Zack was able to get the rest of the hangfire to break off above us. We stuck to the slide path after that until the slope shallowed, allowing us to enjoy some powder. Definitely tricky conditions for my brother’s first line in Kazakhstan!
The next day I wanted to try to tag a line that was on a headwall directly visible from the science village. Zack and Anya joined me, but we found that the entrance to the line was simply too gnarly to get into safely without a rope. We snapped photos on the ridge and retreated back to the same line as the day before, which had some fresh, soft snow blown in overnight.
Overall, touchy conditions, but I was glad to see my dad and brother enjoy some of the mountains here nonetheless! I owe a lot to Anya and Eric for helping make this happen, so huge thank you to them. I also hoped Howard and Zack enjoyed the rest of their time here, even with a little bit of police hassling on Zack’s last night. I’m not sure where I’m going to end up soon, but either way, I hope more people visit!