At Matador, we’re stoked on new ways of traveling responsibly. So we were excited to hear about 40 Tribes.

NAMED AFTER A Kyrgyz national legend, 40 Tribes partners with local villagers to run ski touring trips into the mountains of northern Kyrgyzstan.

The group, which manages a hut near the town of Ichke Jergez, will begin offering guided and self-guided tours this year. Besides following ecologically sound practices in the backcountry, the group will put much of its profits back into the community by offering home stays with families and training local partners as guides.

40 Tribes’ Ryan Koupal was kind enough to provide us with these shots of his group’s first forays into the Kyrgyz backcountry. While it isn’t a destination that gets a lot of attention from North American skiers, it looks to me like it deserves to.


1. The 4,400-meter Babash Ata mountains rise directly behind Arslanbob, an Uzbek village in Kyrgyzstan's southern Jalal-Abad province. The village, also home to the world's largest natural walnut forest, has seen a surge in tourism in recent years.


2. Uzbek elders take leave from wedding festivities in an Arslanbob family's courtyard, where a massive PA system blasts traditional dance music. Kyrgyzstan's south is dotted with Uzbek and Tajik enclaves, some of which require visas to pass through.


3. Many villages in Kyrgyzstan are snowbound for a greater part of the winter, leaving locals to get creative in taking care of the daily chores. While most popular with rural children, sleds are also used to transport bundles of firewood and urns of water.


4. An unnamed 3,500-meter peak rises in the Suusamyr-Too Range. Less than three hours by road from Bishkek, the Suusamyr Valley has endless potential for backcountry skiing.


5. Colorado rider Austin Gibney airs in front of a massive cirque.This particular zone is accessible from the 40 Tribes yurt-lodge at Jalpak Tash, located at 2,700 meters above the village of Ichke Jergez.


6. The aftermath of the cirque, eventually named The Gamburger Stand after an inside joke stemming from our group's obsession with Kyrgyz fast food. Despite widespread evidence of avalanches, we found excellent snow stability in the area.


7. If you're a fan of the 60s, you'll love the modern-day Kyrgyz aesthetic. In the north, it's not uncommon for entire villages to be painted in Soviet-era colors, like this baby blue door.


8. Bishkek-area locals celebrate the spring solstice and Muslim New Year, Noruz, with a game of ulak tartysh at the national stadium. The centuries-old game is a lot like polo, except it's played bare-handed with a headless goat carcass.


9. The moon hangs over the Kyrgyz backcountry.


10.The 3,000-meter Ala Bel Pass provides immediate access to some of the most impressive touring in Kyrgyzstan. The trick with Ala Bel is hitting in in the spring, when temperatures rise out of the negatives and the snow pack settles.


11. 6 pm is a normal bedtime during the Kyrgyz winter. Here in late March, we extended it to 7.


12. Coloradoan skiers Andy Wenberg and Ellis smith take a breather during an early-morning tour from Jalpak Tash.


13. Mud season in Ichke Jergez. Come June, families and their livestock will head for the high-mountain pastures, or Jailoos, above the village, where they will set their yurts and stay through the first snowfall of the following season.


14. Living near Kyrgyzstan's largest ski resort, many residents of Jalpak Tash have seen skis, but never been on them. With his enthusiasm and passion, Nurbek (right, pink hat), one of our local partners, is destined to become one of the village's first skiers.

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