These are Almaty’s winter-sports playgrounds in the Malaya Almatinka valley. The facilities were comprehensively upgraded for Almaty’s hosting of the 2011 Asian Winter Games. Medeu, about 15km southeast of central Almaty at an altitude of 1700m, is a scattering of buildings around the huge Medeu ice rink. Chimbulak, further up the valley at 2200m, is Central Asia’s top skiing centre. The two are connected by road and a cable car installed in 2011. Medeu is always several degrees cooler than Almaty, and Chimbulak is cooler still. Except in summer, rain in Almaty means snow and zero visibility at the higher elevations.
The 10,500-sq-metre Medeu ice rink, built in 1972, is made for speed skating and many champion skaters have trained here, though you certainly don't need to be an expert to skate here. For a less crowded experience come on a Thursday or Friday. Ice-skate rental is 1000T per two hours (bring your passport as you may need to deposit it as security). Outside the ice-skating season plenty of people still come to Medeu for a stroll, hike, picnic or mountain-biking in the surrounding valleys and hills.
What looks like a dam in the main valley above the ice rink is actually there to stop avalanches and mudslides. The road climbs a further 4.5km from this barrier to the Chimbulak ski resort, which has runs for all levels and a total drop of 900m. The ski season lasts from approximately November to mid-April. Skis and snowboards rent for 3500T to 15,000T per day depending on condition (bring your passport): it can be cheaper to rent in Almaty at shops such as Snowshop or Fischer if you can manage to get the gear up to Chimbulak. These places rent mountain bikes in summer too.
Non-skiers can take a return trip on the Kombi 1 and Kombi 2 ski lifts (a mixture of open chairlifts and small cabins) from Chimbulak up to the Talgar Pass for 2500T. The lifts also operate some days outside the ski season – normally 10am to 5pm, Friday to Sunday, from June to some time in September (weather permitting).