May have actually said "HOLY F*CK" several times on the way up it's that great.
— Jonathan Khoo (@jonk) June 30, 2015
i twisted my ankle yesterday stepping into a ditch (gotta watch out for those here in Almaty) and needed something to do today that didn’t require a lot of walking.
everything i’ve read says that Shymbulak (and Medeu, if only because it’s right there as well) is a must-do if you’re in town, but i was daunted because i wasn’t sure how easy it was to get up there and how long it would take to explore everything because i need to be back in town for work (err, well, a nap before work).
but there was nothing to fear. everything was so easy, and it was well well WELL worth the trip. gliding up through the mountains in your own private gondola (the ski lift type, not the Venice type) over a ski resort in summer? amazing. absolutely amazing.
i’d say expect to spend 4-6 hours including travel time depending on how fast you do things and if you stop for a meal, etc.
catch the bus heading up to the mountains at the corner of Kurmangazy and Dostyk (the stop marked below). there will be a big building (wide) with a fountain behind you and a tall hotel across the street with what looks like the points of a crown on its roof.
everything i’ve read says take bus 6, but i waited for a 6 and nothing seemed to show. bus 12, however, pulled up and stopped, and i noticed a lot of people got on (looking like they were going to do outdoorsy things), and saw it was going to Medeu (Медеу/Медео) on its sign. i went in and asked the driver and yep, Medeu it is. (by the way, knowing Cyrillic really helps in this part of the world; also see my post on taking public transit in Almaty.) the normal bus fare applies, 80 tenge, although i read that it could go up to 120 on weekends. it seemed like the bus ran at 20 minute intervals.
you end up taking the bus from its starting point to its terminus, so you can’t really get lost. the final stop is the Medeu Sports Complex (which has the big ice skating rink), and the one before that is the gondola to get up to Shymbulak Ski Resort. i got off at Medeu and explored that, and walked the 4 minutes or so downhill to the gondolas. again, you can’t miss it.
on the way back, at least for bus 12 (and i suspect 6 as well), get off at the end of the line, also marked below.
be sure to go early, and on a weekday if possible. the bus can get crowded as well, and the fewer the people on the mountain, the more spectacular it is, IMHO. i got up to Medeu by 10 and the gondolas were already running (today = Tuesday). most sources say they don’t start until noon or only run on weekends, but that clearly was not the case.
the highest ice skating rink in the world! i’ve read that Almaty wants to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, and if they do, they will need to cover the rink with a roof. we’ll see. in any case, during the summer there is no ice skating. i did see some kids riding around on Big Wheels in there as i passed in the gondola overheard on the way down, but for the most part it seemed closed (maybe i was too early?). in any case, a cool place to check out.
this last picture is looking back down the hill towards the gondola that whisks you up to Shymbulak.
the price for the round trip up to the top of the peak at Shymbulak Ski Resort costs 3500 tenge per adult (almost $19) if you’re not skiing (=all the time in summer). it’s actually 3 different gondola rides. the first takes you from the Medeu Complex up to the base of Shymbulak (called “Gondola” on the ticket), then there are 2 more that take you from the resort to the summit (Combi 1 and Combi 2). note that it can get quite cold up at the top. even when it’s 90 (F) in town and maybe upper 60s at the base, you’re going to be over 10,000′ up at the top. i was in a tank top and shorts and it was for sure chilly. if you can, bring a hoodie or something. there’s not much to do up there at the summit but look around, so if you don’t dress warm you won’t catch a cold unless you linger 😛
insert your ticket into the reader at each turnstile to access the lift. for Combis 1 and 2, there is no ticket check on the way down.
it wasn’t busy at all, and i had my own gondolas on each segment. on the main Gondola from Medeu, try and wait for one that has unobstructed walls (some have ads or a pattern printed on the bottom half) for the best views.
IMHO, the pictures don’t really do it justice. alone, silently flying over the mountains, panoramic vistas of the range above and the valley (and city) below…really awe-inspiring.