The former Soviet country of Kazakhstan is in transition. There, big oil melds with subsistence farming, the crumbling East Bloc Empire gives way to modernization, and foreigners rarely ride their snowboards. A crew of Frenchmen takes an under-the-table journey to Kazakhstan’s former capitol of Almaty and finds a vodka-plagued astronomist, firework-based avalanche control and a stark contrast between hope and tragedy.

Kazakhstan is a place of contrast—a land of nomad farmers and horse breeders, of big money oil business, of huge SUV’s sharing the road with farmers on donkeys. A country sandwiched between Russia to the north, China to the east, and a collection of smaller “Stans” to the south, it is a place where a local invite is a must—alongside a translator and an armed guard. But it is also a place of diversity, and a place of pure beauty.

As the former capital city of Kazakhstan, Almaty is home to over a million souls—a diverse mix of ethnicities and religious beliefs. Built by the USSR and then abandoned when the Russian empire collapsed, Almaty sits in the Himalayan foothills at the southeastern fringe of Kazakhstan. Traveling with Morgan Lefaucheur, Sylvain Bourbousson and Victor Daviet, our early-March invite to Almaty, as with most interactions in the country, involved an exchange…

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