Monday, May 21, 2018

Altai in 2019?


A little update from the (short) 2018 Winter and a look ahead to 2019


For those that had the opportunity in the past to ski with Altai Snowpark and Heliskiing, renamed to AMH now, and visited this beautiful place it is difficult not to start thinking about returning. Most likely before you even leave the place. I am certainly one of those and having been playing with weather and snow most of life, learned to accept the good with the bad. When it comes to weather, it just is, take it or leave, because one thing for sure, ..you're not gonna change it! Which brings me to the 2018 season once again.
As many of you know AMH was shut down on January 31, 2018 due to a lack of snow being the stated reason. There was some more precipitation in March, as there always is, but by then it is was late. Rumours has it there was some local and/or internal politics involved into this decision as well.

What is so disheartening is the fact that a new lodge was built in the fall to upgrade the Yurt Base. Some Yurts are still in place but as usual progress is unavoidable. Change, growth, and interest is on the increase and I'd like to encourage anyone to visit and visit soon, before the masses will take a run at this special place and make it into a mainstream menu item too. One less adventure place in the world!



Furthermore, a whole new fleet of snow mobiles (10?) was purchased for that quick access to skiing from the base.



Did I mention the new buses?



And also the EC130 arrived but was never put to actual heli-skiing use!


Here is a recent newspaper article I was made aware of. Having experienced Altai myself, I do not agree with some of the statements enclosed. For example, like skiing in -20C is often the norm in many powder locations, its actually when its best! Anyhow click here! 

At this point I'm still awaiting the official (written) reply from Greg & Crew at "Great Canadian Heliskiing" which went to Altai briefly last winter to assist with the operations. I did discuss with them their initial impressions and Altai Experience. Stay tuned! :-)


So what about the 2019 Season?

Talking with the owners their plans are to open the 2019 season late October, early November this year and of course subject to snow. Let's see what to develops!


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Altai Mountains - Private Trips 2018


Altai 2018 - Private Trip




Hello Friends, Skiers, Adventurers,

After several requests I have decided to offer a "Private Trip" to the Altai Mountains. There is only 1 trip for the upcoming 2018 season and space is limited. Groups size is a maximum of 6 guests.

Trip Dates - Mar 09 to Mar 21, 2018   Please note that this trip has been cancelled due to an unusual low snow year this winter. Altai Mountain Snowpark & Heliskiing is closed as of Feb. 01, 2018. We will be working on new dates for the 2018/2019 shortly. We appreciate your ongoing interest! 

The journey's ITINERARY consist of a variety of activities from a warm up day of ski hill skiing,  to snowmobile skiing for 1 or 2 days, add 2 to 3 days of snowcat skiing and/or if available and conditions are suitable switch some days for 1 or 2 days of heli-skiing.
A flexible approach, having spent last winter there as head guide, with flexible pricing subject to the activities/space available, suitable based on conditions and chosen on site for each day is certainly the most favorable for this kind of adventure.
Finishing off with a short add on "Cultural Experience" it will round out your holiday nicely and leave you with some great impressions, especially for the first time China Traveller.

Pricing available upon request. Please contact me at willytrinker@gmail.com 

Helena enjoying the tree skiing in the Altai's 


So much skiing, so little time!

The long and short of it...

Heliskiing in China




YES, you have heard right! Heliskiing has finally made its debut in this last bastion of inaccessible mountain environment along the historic Silk Road. While skiing is nothing new to the locals of the Altai Mountains, and as history shows, it actually appears to be the cradle of the sport. Reaching back as far as 8000 years in the Russian Altai’s, some Chinese historians claiming 6000 years and the earliest written Chinese records dating it back to 206 BC. It certainly puts it a bit further back than some Scandinavian records and the great stories about the “Birkebeiners”.
While historians may disagree on the actual age, it appears that in either case skis were used to go hunting during the snow season. Local pictographs attest to that fact. Until today the traditions remain building these “first skis”, using a piece of wood, affixing horse hair to the bottom, leather strap bindings and a single pole that is used to push forward and lean on either side during the descent, which is usually straight down at about max velocity. The annual Altai Classic Ski Race is attest to the ability of these local skiers that are running, skiing, use archery and turn this into an all out ski triathlon event.
So where is this place?  Altay City is in the Xinjiang Province which is in the northwest of China and pretty much the heart of Asia. With Kazakhstan to the west, Russia to the north and Mongolia to the east, it is pretty much the end of the road, at least the paved portion and given its small population of about 142,000 a rather small town by Chinese standards. Access is via a 620 km drive from Urumqi or with daily flights from there. Coming from North America is a bit of a journey alright, as it is pretty much exactly on the other side of the globe. I’d recommend to choose a northern city like Beijing or maybe Xi'an as a first stop vs going in Xiamen or Shanghai. This will cut the travel time by several hours. Once here, flying inside China is relatively affordable, so if you are in no hurry and like a stop over after a long trans-pacific flight, you can find good deals on connecting flights out here.
To make for a great ski trip in Xinjiang, may I recommend to spend a warm up day at Silk Road Resort in Urumqi. It’s just outside town by about 50 km and you can choose to either stay right at the resort or use one of the many hotels in town. The resort was established with the help of Erwin Stricker a South Tyrolean (Italy) Ski Racer. This shows by its slight Euro Flair at the base and very much so at the mid station lodge. The Tianshan’s are an interior cold and dry mountain range, so snowmaking is in place to provide for great skiing. Add to this few days over 0 celsius during most part of the winter and you are guaranteed stable skiing conditions.

For staying in Urumqi, the Oasis Hotel & Spa will get you right and center of town and is an experience worthwhile recommending. Swimming Pool, Sauna, Spa, Restaurant, full body scrub and maybe a Chinese head, neck and foot massage to round out the relaxation apre ski time. Food is buffet style with just about anything you can think of and then some. Cuisine as a whole in Xinjiang is outstanding, thanks to the many ethnicities from Han, Uyghur, Kazakh just to name a few. If you are exploring Urumqi and find yourself in need of lunch, #4 Noodle House is a culinary recommendation worthwhile mentioning. I do have to warn you though, that in certain climatic conditions such as an inversion the area in and around Urumqi can get quite polluted and may make for a less than pleasant stay.

Once you’ve tired of Urumqi and you’ve taken the last 1hr flight leg to Altay it really puts you front and center of what will most likely become China’s ultimate skiers and boarders “wild snow” playground. The local hill in town is called “The General” and there is ski-buses collecting  guests from most hotels in the morning, departing the Grand Jindu, our local digs here, at 10:45 and it is free. Lifts are not fast, but the skiing is steep and good.

Cafeteria at "The General"

There is some access to off piste and an occasional powder line. Coming back from the hill can prove a bit more challenging and we are not sure if we missed the ski bus, but in either case 2 RMB, about 40 cents CAD will get you on the 2 buses needed to get back to the hotel. The other option is to take a cab and it will run you about 10 RMB, 2 bucks CAD so no biggy there either, other than the open window with the skis sticking out as you roll through town. Expect to have your picture taken.

 Next on the list, Altai Snowpark and Heliskiing


It consists of three basic offerings from Sled-skiing, Snowcat-skiing to Helicopter-skiing and depending on the program you like and the money you are willing to spend it offers something for everyone. The bookings can be made either right at the General Ski Hill or onsite their (2017) base at the Jindu Hotel. For advanced reservations you can call  1 879 902 5053 within China and/or use wechat. More on wechat further down.
The ski-bus for the Snowpark leaves the hotel at 09:30 and you are in for a rather rough ride that most likely would compare to getting up to Roger’s Pass from Revelstoke before it was paved. And there is about as many avalanche chutes occasionally closing the road. It’s rough at the present but plans are in place to build a new road in 2017 - 2018 that will not only ease the access to the Snowpark but also connect Altay City with Hemu, a classic old village deep in the backwoods.
Once at the yurt camp they will assign you a driver and sled and you are off to either have your own self guided fun day in the powder or you can pay a little extra for a guide to find you some.





Next level up will get you either to be part of the snowcat program with guides, lunch afield or maybe if you are lucky and it’s a small group, some sleds with a guide in the reserved snowcat area. It is a bit faster with the sleds and you may get a few more runs, but on a cold day and there is a few, remember it’s Siberia really, the snowcat with the heated box certainly makes for an attractive warm up option on the way back up.

Beautiful Tree skiing ahead on "Goat Roper"

And finally heli-skiing!

This winter was the first ever to have heliskiing in China and while in its infancy the ownership was very much on a safety first approach with their product. There was certified CSGA or UIAGM Guides in place building the programs, me being one of them, and after spending some 30+ years in the industry it is good to see that there was a serious effort made to do the start up right and learn from the experience (and mistakes) of those who have walked this path before. Now if you are expecting a truly “Canadian Heliskiing Experience”, I’d have to caution you a bit, ...it’s China. The culture and approach is, ..let's just say a bit more relaxed and while it is all here, it’s not quite as polished. Occasional minor delays such as fueling the Helicopter last minute, waiting for VIP's, forgotten skis, are part of it.
Never the less, a well maintained Astar B3 with an experienced US pilot, properly certified guides, fuel trucks, lunches, hotels, and 2000 sqkm of tenured playground awaits. Altai Snowpark and Heliskiing is currently the only operating heliskiing company in the Altai's. Using only one helicopter and the safety backup being the snow-park, the sleds and snowcat, this somewhat reduces the distance one can travel safely afield, but from what we have seen, there is enough potential to make this part of the international menu of heliskiing offerings. While some might just want to continue booking a week at a lodge in the Canadian wilderness and be ever so happy, ..for the more adventurous skiers this is almost a must see, must do venue, and a "definite do now" before it gets overtaken by mainstream. No doubt in my mind! Given the restraints put forth by the government(s), Xinjiang is also most likely the only province that may see heliskiing in China for some time, but only the future will tell. Government concerns exist around VIP's assuming this high risk sport and China maybe being exposed to negative news concerning avalanche and/or helicopter accidents.

To sum it all up, people are friendly, food is outstanding, its great fun and despite what western media might make you believe, Xinjiang is probably one of the safer places to travel in Asia. We love China, and having spent nearly 3 month there this winter, we look forward to more skiing adventures in the future. For season one, it was great, and it is only going to get better and grow.
To finish off let me add that at the time of this writing we were pretty much the only four westerners in town, besides the occasional come and go expat skier from Shanghai or Hong Kong. China has awoken to skiing/snowboarding as a recreation and has seen an explosive growth over the past ten years. So if you are thinking this adventure is for you, get in soon. With the 2022 Olympics coming on, they are pushing a goal of 300 million new skiers/boarders to join the ranks. Given its affluent middle class it is really only a matter of time before the few available seats will be filled. If you are interested in joining us next season please feel free to contact us by clicking here.

A few words of traveling and living in China; It is affordable! For payment bring RMB Cash and or sign up to wechat which is the Chinese version of whatsapp with some features of FaceBook and ApplePay. Absolutely slick and 740 million users can’t be wrong. Canadian Debit and Credit cards work fine at most ATM’s. Free wireless is almost everywhere, but it is recommended that you install a VPN prior to coming here. We are using ExpressVPN (subscribe) and Betternet a free Canadian platform which you can use either in its free form or at about half the cost of ExpressVPN. They both work about the same, with occasional slowdowns and glitches. If you are traveling as an independent small group an interpreter hugely helps and makes live easy. From ordering food to booking connecting flights, organizing transportation, and helping with China culture and customs. But no need to be afraid, download a good language app and dive right in to do your own, it usually makes for friendly smiles and good laughs!

For more information and private guided tours please contact me at www.fly-bc.com


Sunday, April 2, 2017

China, eh?

"CHINA, eh?
         
           ..keep talking you certainly got me intrigued." Thats pretty much the essence of the initial conversation I've had with my friend and fellow ski guide Tyson R. when he approached me with the offer to look into the adventure of opening the first formal heli&cat skiing operation in China. So where abouts is this place again? Don't know, but maybe call Richard in Whistler! How many Richards are in Whistler, do I have the right one and is he Chinese or Canadian or both, or...

Altai Mountains - Xinjiang, China

My first impression was probably a bit like yours, "a bit flat and short runs, don't you think?" This was until I finally got the first footage of some skiing accessed by helicopter and deeper in the mountains. OK, now I see myself sufficient real estate to go and play in. 2000sqkm's you said? Hmm, CMH Silvertip had 1475 or so and we only ever used 2/3 of the area due to all sorts of restraints from flight distance to weather, wildlife and you name it. I really want to see this! ...and so begins a lengthy process putting our patience to the test with getting the proper Visas, ordering and shipping gear, language and communication issues and few other epic fails that are all part of setting up new operations. Good thing its not our first rodeo otherwise one might just get too excited...
Let me just say this much. While not impossible, its also not that easy to get into China. And if you do get in, ..not everything is at it seems. Little did I know that this nice "skiing real estate" movie was actually taken in NZ and used to promote the (at the time) non existing heli-skiing in China. But the guiding world is a small world, the Heliskiing World an even smaller one and pretty soon we were made aware of that fact. By that time however, ..we were sufficiently intrigued to carry on. You mean there isn't even good footage or photos out there. We have to travel there!

So lets talk about Travel:Unless you have a good understanding in international travel, visa requirements, speak some mandarin, all I can say is, do yourselves a favor and get some help. Professional Help that is, like the nice folks from mychinavisa in Vancouver. Our contact was Rachel and we pretty much just dropped what ever was requested from us into her lap to get sorted, translated, stamped in different offices, sent, returned, dropped off, signed, sent again, reviewed, you get the idea!


Tyson and Rachel on December 05th, 2016 in Vancouver. 

MyChinaVisa was an invaluable help and looking back at all the work that had to go into it, no way we would have been able to navigate ourselves through all the procedures, rules, regulations, and you name it. So if you are even remotely thinking about undertaking travel in whatever kind of capacity from a simple tourist to working as a foreign specialist here is their contact. 

1 604 522 2550

Suite 345
555 Sixth Street
New Westminster, BC
CANADA, V3L 5H1