Five years ago, a group of entrepreneurs tired of their office routine made a small investment and bought an old bee farm in the mountains near Ridder, East Kazakhstan. The main idea was to build a suite hotel for freeride skiing fans in an Alpine mountain hut style. It was called East Pole.
Because freeride skiing is a very niche market, the new sport base is thriving. According to Boris Belokon, head of the East Pole, there are only a few competitors: Sheregesh (Russia, Kemerovo region), North Caucasus, and the Far East, therefore the target audience became aware of the new freeride location very quickly.
Founders of the East Pole did not pay too much attention to marketing or promotion. However, guests spoke a lot about the new sport base in social media and freeride forums, so the buzz spread. The location’s third year of work was marked by clear growth in the number of guests from abroad.
At the moment Kazakhstani citizens account for one fifth part of the whole base’s audience, with both Russians and Europeans at 40% each. Last year East Pole broke even and this season is expected to be profitable.
As Boris Belokon noted, this business is as extreme as freeride itself because owners should be prepared to face financial and mental burdens. Last spring, for example, the entrepreneurs even repaired by their own hands a bridge which was destroyed by a flood from a nearby river. Otherwise, no one could be able to reach East Pole.
Freeride in Ridder is much safer than in Almaty
The main center for mountain skiing in Kazakhstan is the Alatau Mountains near Almaty. You can find here 100-200 dedicated freeride skiing fans. Freeride skiing in these mountains is very risky because of snowslide. The slopes are too steep and snow slides easily, particularly when it’s warm during the day and cold at night.
According to an assessment by Yaroslav Dubodelov, freeride skiing fan and representative of the East Pole in Almaty Region, the risk of snowslide in Almaty is about 5-10%; in East Kazakhstan, that risk is less than 1%. In the East, the winter is more stable and mountain slopes are gentler – 35 degrees on average.
If you plan to visit East Kazakhstan for mountain skiing, note that 80% of guests book their rooms at the East Pole six months in advance. In other words, to come here spontaneously isn’t an option.
In terms of money, skiing at the East Pole depends on physical training level and willingness to ski without support. Those who don’t want to waste their energy climbing mountains can use a special truck known as a “snowcat,” which can make up to four runs per day. A four-day program costs 167,000 tenge ($439) per person.
Freeride skiing enthusiasts can combine freeride and ski-tour; four-day guide support will cost 87,000 tenge ($229). Both programs include transfer between Ridder and the East Pole hotel. The base is located in a remote area with no café or restaurants.
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