Frequently Asked Questions
Kyrgyzstan has two official national languages: Kyrgyz and Russian. Kyrgyz is more widely spoken in the rural areas – especially in the northern and central parts of the country – whereas Russian is the language of choice in urban areas like Bishkek. In the south Uzbek and Tajik are also widely spoken, and in some places more widely spoken than Kyrgyz.
Here are some great resources if you are interested in picking up a few useful Kyrgyz phrases before your visit:
Lonely Planet’s Central Asia Phrasebook
Kyrgyzstan has long been considered one of the least oppressive and most progressive of all the former Soviet Republics, and as of October 2010, is the first Parliamentary Democracy in Central Asia. That said, the country has a history of political revolutions – most recently in April 2010. While such uprisings are undoubtedly a serious matter, it would be inaccurate to describe Kyrgyzstan as a “dangerous” place for travelers, even following recent events. We are constantly assessing safety concerns via a wide network of in-country contacts and news sources, and in conjunction with the US State Department. The safety of our participants is our highest priority; if we ever deem it unsafe for enrolled participants to travel to Bishkek and on to our rural program locations, we will announce cancellations as far in advance as possible (see “Cancellation and Refund Policies” Q&A below).
Our setup at Jalpak Tash consists of 2 5.5m (18ft) diameter traditional Kyrgyz yurts: one guests’ yurt and one kitchen/dining/guides’ yurt. We recommend a max group size of 6, however the guest yurt can comfortably accommodate up to 8.
On our guided tours, a group of 6 will secure the yurts for just you and your crew. No worries if you cannot meet the minimum requirement, however in this case we reserve the right to fill the remaining spaces – up to the max of 8. We will prioritize matching skill sets and backcountry experience when filling spaces. A minimum of 4 is required for self-guided reservations.
Our tours and courses are open to all adults 18 and up.
You better believe it. After all, 40 Tribes was initiated by a group of splitboarders! The only stipulation is that snowboarders MUST ride a splitboard (or use approach skis). For additional information or recommendations regarding splitboards, please feel free to contact us or visit this link.
Participants must be in good physical condition, advanced to expert level skiers or riders, well-acquainted with their equipment (including avalanche safety equipment), and comfortable touring for long distances and carrying their own backcountry packs. Participation in our guided tours does not require any formal avalanche safety certification, though previous experience in the backcountry and an awareness of appropriate travel ethics in avalanche terrain will contribute to a safer journey for all. All self-guided group members must have completed an avalanche safety course and have a strong resume in the backcountry. Neither guided nor self-guided participants are required to have any previous experience with glacier travel and/or mountaineering (using crampons, harness, ropes, etc).
Of course not everyone who comes to ski or ride with us is a pro, nor does everyone have extensive backcountry experience. We do however require that you are an advanced to expert level skier or rider, and are confident and capable of floating big powder turns, with speed! Kyrgyzstan’s snowpack is unlike any other in the world, and we guarantee it will be a challenge unless you a) have some experience skiing powder and b) bring fat powder skis! As of 2014-15 we are requiring skis with a minimum 108-115mm underfoot (the fatter the better) on all of our guided tours. Trust us on this one!
Kyrgyzstan’s climate can be likened to that of Colorado USA – i.e. continental, hot summers, cold winters, lots of sun, and huge temperature gradients. These characteristics combined with a relatively shallow snowpack mean that the snowpack is prone to avalanches…again, a lot like Colorado. Snow will typically start to fall in October/November each year, and by December many of Kyrgyzstan’s ski resorts will open. Expect early season conditions in December-early January. Late January through March is when most of the snow falls. We consider February-early March to offer the best conditions. We’ve posted a list of the best weather/forecasting resources for Central Asia here.
Yes!!! As of 2014-15 we are requiring skis with a minimum 108-115mm underfoot (the fatter the better) on all of our guided tours. All of our previous groups that didn’t listen to our recommendation inspired us to make it a requirement Kyrgyzstan’s snowpack is unlike any other in the world! If you’re on piste or rando skis you will literally trench your way down the slope. Skis that allow you to confidently float big powder turns, with speed, are critical! Splitboards (or approach skis) are required for snowboarders.
No, we do not currently have gear available for rent. Guided and self-guided tour participants are responsible for bringing their own ski/touring gear (skis/board, poles, boots, skins, helmet, clothing) and avalanche safety equipment (transceiver, shovel, probe). Self-Guided participants should additionally carry at least one snow saw and snow study kit amongst the group. Ski/Snowboard Mountaineering Course participants are additionally required to provide personal mountaineering equipment like a harness, ice axe, crampons, carabiners, belay device, 6mm cord, and slings. If you have additional questions about gear, don’t hesitate to ask. 40 Tribes recommends BCA avalanche safety gear if you are in the market for new equipment: www.backcountryaccess.com
This depends if you join us as an “Independent Traveler” or a “40 Tribes Traveler.” The Independent Traveler option is perfect if you are looking for a more open itinerary, and want to arrange your transport to/from Karakol, as well as lodging in Karakol and Bishkek, on your own. The 40 Tribes Traveler option includes transport and lodging. Other than that, the cost for both Independent Travelers and 40 Tribes Travelers includes: 40 Tribes guides and guided skiing; Round trip transfers between Karakol and Ichke-Jergez village (approx. 30km/30 min); 1 night village homestay, dinner and breakfast included; Horse transport for group gear; yurt lodging and all meals and drinks during stay; Services of our local partners who host, cook, clean and manage yurt chores.
All self-guided groups will be accompanied to the yurt by 2 of our local partners, who host, cook, clean, and manage yurt chores…making sure you are properly styled out and always well fed! Self-guided fees do not include: International airfare and baggage fees; Visa fees, if applicable; Lodging/meals in Bishkek; Transfers to/from Karakol; Lodging/meals in Karakol; Transfers to/from Ichke-Jergez village (tour start location); Village home-stay (although available to groups who are interested); Items of personal nature, such as alcoholic drinks, snacks/supplements, souvenirs, etc; Tips for local partners; Porters/animal support; and Medical/evacuation insurance.
No. Participants are responsible for booking their own travel to/from Kyrgyzstan. Direct flights to Bishkek depart from points in Russia (Moscow, St. Petersburg), as well as Istanbul (Turkey), Urumqi (China), and Tashkent (Uzbekistan). A few airlines also fly to Almaty, in neighboring Kazakhstan, about 3 hours by road or 1 hour by air from Bishkek. We recommend that you read through our “Travel Tips – International” info sheet for more detailed information, available here.
No, it is the responsibility of each participant to arrange his/her own visa(s), however most nationalities are now welcomed to stay in Kyrgyzstan for 60 days visa-free! See Q&A below.
Kyrgyz visa requirements differ depending on your nationality. In July 2012 Kyrgyzstan adopted a new law that permits citizens of 44 countries to stay up to 60 days visa-free! The law applies to citizens of Australia, New Zealand, most European member states (not including Bulgaria, Cyprus, or Romania), the United States, Canada, Mexico, some countries in South America, as well as some countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. That means if you are a citizen of any of the countries included, and plan to stay in Kyrgyzstan for less than 60 days, you DO NOT need to apply for a visa! We recommend that you read through our “Visa Information & Instructions” info sheet for more detailed information, available here.
Please take a look at our “Visa Information & Instructions” info sheet, available here.
A 20% deposit is required to confirm bookings with the remainder due 120 days/4 months prior to the start date.
In the event of a cancellation more than 120 days out from the reservation/tour/course start date, we will gladly hold and apply the deposit to a future booking. If you do not wish to transfer the deposit, a 50% refund will be offered if we are able to find another group or individual to fill the booking. For cancellations less than 120 days out, payments are non-transferable and refundable only if we are able to find another group or individual to fill the booking, in which case we will offer a refund of 50%. 40 Tribes reserves the right to cancel tours at any time due to unsettling political/social/environmental events, at which time we will offer a full refund of any payments made minus the 20% deposit/processing fee. 40 Tribes additionally reserves the right to cancel tours due to inadequate signups, at which time we will offer a refund in full; however, we cannot be responsible for additional expenses incurred in preparing for the trip (ie airline tickets, equipment purchases, etc). 40 Tribes cannot offer refunds for missed reservations, early departures, inclement weather/extreme avalanche danger, or snow conditions.
No, insurance is not included. Travel and medical insurance are STRONGLY RECOMMENDED and emergency evacuation insurance is REQUIRED for all participants. We recommend emergency evacuation coverage via Global Rescue and have teamed up with GR to offer a direct portal for learning more about their services and signing up: http://globalrescue.com/40tribes. Please see our “Medical/Evacuation Insurance Information” sheet for more information and recommendations for alternate providers, available here.
Please check with your insurer to make sure that your current policy covers overseas medical coverage. Many do not. We recommend a policy that requires you to pay up-front for the care, and then reimburses you upon submission of receipts/documentation. See above Q&A for a list of recommended providers and policies.
Since we are not medical professionals, we are unable to directly recommend any vaccinations. The best thing to do is to make an appointment with a travel doctor and make a choice according to his/her professional advice. Additional information is available at www.cdc.gov/travel or www.who.int/countries.
Please see our “Recommended Packing List,” available here. As is always the case, the lighter you pack, the happier you’ll be – though this is clearly a challenge any time ski/expedition gear is involved. There are a couple of options for storing gear in Karakol and Ichke-Jergez so you don’t have to lug your travel gear and other non-essentials up to the yurts. Horse transport for a normal amount of group gear is included in our guided cost. Additional horses (for more than the normal amount of group gear ) can be hired at an additional cost.
Yes. The yurt floors are insulated and covered with traditional tushuk mattresses, but you do need to provide your own sleeping bag, rated for winter use. (Sleeping pads are optional but recommended for anyone who is particularly sensitive to “firmer” sleeping surfaces.) The yurts are incredibly warm when the wood stoves are burning, but we do let the fires die out overnight so it can be quite cold inside by morning. For mid-winter (vs spring) tour dates, we recommend a 0 degree F (-18 degree C) bag. For cold sleepers, you may even want to consider a bag more in the 0 to -20 degree F (-18 to -30 degree C) range. For spring dates, a 15 degree F (-10 degree C) bag should be adequate as long as you are a warm sleeper. If you are signed up for a custom expedition that is not yurt-based, you will likely need a 0 to -20 degree F (-18 to -30 degree C) bag AND a sleeping pad. Your guides will contact you with their specific recommendations.
Our daily tours can be quite challenging – up to +900m vertical gain/3 or more hrs of ski touring and bootpacking to get to any of our summits, and we’ll oftentimes try to link up multiple tours in a day. The better your physical condition, the more you’ll be able to enjoy all that our beautiful mountains have to offer. Try to alternate some cardio and strength training at least 4 times a week in the months leading up to your 40 Tribes adventure.
Independent Travelers and all Self-Guided groups will meet with a 40 Tribes guide/representative at a pre-arranged location in Karakol the day BEFORE your reservation start date. 40 Tribes Travelers will be met by a 40 Tribes guide/representative and driver upon arrival at Manas International Airport in Bishkek.
Karakol is approximately 5.5-6 hours from Bishkek, or 6-6.5 hours from Bishkek’s Manas International Airport…depending on the type of vehicle, route choice, and conditions along the way. The northern route (follows the northern edge of Lake Issyk-Kul) is the more popular winter route. The southern route is a bit more spectacular, but requires an additional 1-1.5 hours of driving time. Ichke-Jergez village is a short 30km further east from Karakol.
The tour from the village to the yurts takes anywhere from 2-3 hours, depending on conditions, the group’s level of fitness, and the number of times we stop along the way to visit with villagers. The skintrack, about 6km (4mi) in length, ascends gently and consistently from 1,800m to 2,650m (5,900ft to 8,700ft) along a well-established horse trail that is utilized year-round by locals. Horse transport for group gear is included in our guided cost.
Local diet largely consists of bread, potatoes, onions, carrots – and plenty of meat. Our hosts can modify the traditional cuisine to accommodate almost any dietary need, but strict vegetarians or vegans will find food to be a major challenge in most of Kyrgyzstan, as even vegetable-rich dishes are oftentimes cooked in animal fat. It is recommended that all vegetarians bring additional supplements such as energy bars or nut butters if you plan to travel outside of 40 Tribes programming. Also, please be sure we are aware of any dietary restrictions/preferences you may have beforehand so we can be sure to meet your needs.