Frequently Asked Questions
Kyrgyzstan has two official national languages: Kyrgyz and Russian. While Russian is popular in urban areas, Kyrgyz is commonly spoken in the rural countryside, especially in the northern and central parts of the country. In the south, Uzbek and Tajik are also widely spoken, and in some places, more widely spoken than Kyrgyz. Lonely Planet publishes a phrasebook that covers the entire Central Asia region, but without Cyrillic transcriptions, it’s difficult to engage locals during your learning process. Upon request, we will happily send you our list of essential words/phrases in both Kyrgyz and Russian. We can also order you a copy of the first Kyrgyz-English textbook, completed in 2009 by Bakytbek Tokubek uulu (currently these are not available internationally).
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).
The Jalpak Tash Yurt has a diameter of approx. 5 1/2m (18ft) and can comfortably accommodate 10-12 people, including guides and our 2 local partners, who accompany all groups to the yurt to host, cook, clean, and manage yurt chores. We recommend a max group size of 6-8 on our Guided tours and courses, and 8-10 on our Self-Guided tours.
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 who would like to enroll in a guided tour or course MUST ride a splitboard. Snowshoes and approach skis are welcome on self-guided tours only. For additional information or recommendations regarding splitboards, please feel free to contact us or visit this link.
Participants must be in good physical condition, confident skiers or riders (high-intermediate to advanced level), 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 (at least one season) 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).
Not to worry! The Jalpak Tash Yurt provides access to terrain appropriate for all levels of skiers and riders. If you want to go big, you can go big; if not, there is plenty of backdoor skiing to feed you for days. If on a guided tour, we will ensure that you find the terrain most suited to your ability level. Approaches vary in difficulty, technicality and time, some taking as little as 30 minutes and others a couple of hours. Participants are not required to have any previous experience with glacier travel and/or mountaineering (using crampons, harness, ropes, etc), though ice axes are recommended for aggressive skiers and riders who are interested in seeking out more technical lines. NOTE that all participants are required to provide their own avalanche safety equipment. Self-Guided participants must have completed one avalanche safety class and be comfortable assessing and navigating backcountry terrain on their own.
Kyrgyzstan’s climate can be likened to that of Colorado USA – i.e. continental, warm summers, cold winters, lots of sun, and huge temperature gradients. The snowpack is most volatile in March, and shallowest in December/early January. Late January-February and April are the ideal months for hitting the backcountry. We’ve posted a list of the best weather/forecasting resources for Central Asia here.
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 on whether you join us as an “Independent Traveler” or a “40 Tribes Traveler.” Independent Travelers are additionally responsible for costs associated with travel to/from Karakol, while 40 Tribes Travelers are covered from Bishkek airport pickup to drop-off. 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 (tour start location); 1 night homestay in the village, including meals; and Fully catered lodging in the Jalpak Tash Yurt. Cost does not include: International airfare and baggage fees; Visa fees, if applicable; Lodging/meals in Bishkek and Karakol; Items of personal nature, such as alcoholic drinks, snacks/supplements, souvenirs, etc; Tips for guides and local partners; Porters/animal support; Medical/evacuation insurance.
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 travel visa(s), if necessary (see Q&A below). 40 Tribes is not responsible for any issues encountered in applying for and receiving necessary visa(s).
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.
Early Season Discount: 5% off applicable to any self-guided dates December 15-31.
5+ Discount: Groups of more than 5 always receive 5% off.
*Please note that only one discount may be applied per reservation.
Guided & Self-Guided Tours
Groups and single group members who cancel more than 90 days before the tour start date will be refunded any payments made minus the 20% deposit/processing fee. Cancellations less than 90 days before the start date are entirely non-refundable, unless we are able to find another group or individual to fill the space, 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 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 any 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.
Registrants who cancel more than 90 days before the course start date will be refunded any payments made minus the 20% deposit/processing fee. Cancellations less than 90 days before the start date are entirely non-refundable, unless we are able to find another individual to fill the space, in which case we will offer a refund of 50%. 40 Tribes reserves the right to cancel courses at any time due to unsettling political/social/environmental events, at which time we will offer a full refund minus the 20% deposit/processing fee. 40 Tribes additionally reserves the right to cancel courses due to inadequate signups, at which time we will offer a refund in full; however, we cannot be responsible for any 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, 40 Tribes does not offer insurance coverage at this time, but medical and emergency evacuation insurance is strongly recommended for all participants. Please see our “Medical/Evacuation Insurance Information” sheet for information regarding our top recommended 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 yurt. Porters/animal support can be made available for an additional cost if you’d like to enjoy the tour to the yurt without much strain.
Yes. The interior perimeter of the Jalpak Tash Yurt is lined with foam mattresses and blankets, but you need to bring your own sleeping bag. Sleeping pads, on the other hand, are optional but recommended for anyone who is particularly sensitive to firm sleeping surfaces. The yurt is heated by wood burning stove, and stays quite warm, meaning that a 0 to 15 degree F (-18 to -10 degree C) bag should be adequate. If you are signed up for a Custom Expedition that is not yurt-based, you will need a 0 to -20 degree F (-18 to -30 degree C) bag AND a sleeping pad.
While you don’t need to be ready to run a marathon, the better your physical condition the more you’ll be able to enjoy all that Kyrgyzstan’s 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 1/2-6 hours from Bishkek by road, 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 arguably more spectacular, but requires an additional 1-1 1/2 hours of driving time. Ichke-Jergez village is a short 35-40km further east from Karakol.
Touring from the village to the yurt 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. Participants can travel to the yurt on horseback, or, for those who prefer to tour but would rather not shoulder a full load, horses can be hired to porter gear.
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.
Click here (coming soon) for a list of suggested books, websites and movies.