Most of us couldn’t enter ‘Kyrgyzstan’ into a Google search, much less find it on a map. But for skier Kasidin Musaev, this place is home—a country where mountains make up 80 percent of the terrain and semi-nomadic people are still gaining traction after the Iron Curtain peeled from its borders two decades ago. Skiing is not written into ancient lore here, but the Soviets saw the region’s potential, establishing its national alpine training center at the Karakol Mountain Ski Base, just a few kilometers from the small village where Musaev grew up. In fact, it was at this ski hill that Musaev first learned to slide on snow, leaving the family potato farm to attend a Russian guiding school, Karakol’s Professional College 14.
Musaev picked up the sport quickly, but it wasn’t until a few years later that he discovered his true alpine calling. After a chance encounter at a local party, Musaev was introduced to Ryan Koupal, a Colorado native building a ski guiding service called 40 Tribes Backcountry in the Terskey Alatoo Range outside of town. Though Musaev had only just started skiing in the backcountry, he offered to help build the operation’s base camp yurts and began tagging along on ski missions with Koupal and lead guide Ptor Spricenieks.
Five years later, the 26-year-old is the lynchpin in Koupal’s operation, helping facilitate transportation for clients halfway around the world, communicating with the crew’s Kyrgz chef and driver, and spending as much time as he can shredding Silk Road powder. Known around camp simply as “Kas,” he has barely touched a lift since linking up with the 40 Tribes crew, and he is eager to share the backcountry experience with his country one village at a time. POWDER caught up with Musaev to learn more about his unlikely journey into the backcountry, and what the future holds for skiing in one of the last remote ski destinations on Earth.
I was hanging out with the Peace Corps in Karakol to learn and improve my English and one of Ryan’s friends said he needed help founding his yurts, so I decided to help. Not long after, Ryan asked me to work with them all the time.
My friends in the village think I’m crazy. They have no idea what I’m doing, they think it’s nuts to be in the mountains in the winter.
I backcountry ski because I love skiing powder. I was working as a ski instructor at the resort but I was bored. It hurt my feelings to have people come in and expect me to babysit them on skis. Here there is a freedom in the mountains.
When you call people to shred powder, they say, ‘Fuck that, I want to go to the resort.’ I think they like to ski down, but I like touring up just as much.
I showed around a group of Norwegian guys that were filming here and gave me my first backcountry setup as a gift. For a while I was just touring alone because I couldn’t find anyone to ski with.
I’ve learned a lot from Ptor, a lot of ski style, terrain choice, and guiding. Ptor put me on some skis and decided I could actually handle bigger terrain, so he took me to the zone, I hit it, and now it’s named after me—Kasmania.
Someday I’d love to ski Gulmarg in India, or maybe Valdez in Alaska, but first I want to ski Pik Lenin (Lenin Peak) near home. I’ve guided there in the summer, but I need to ski it.
I don’t mind Westerners coming in, as long as it gets more and more Kyrgyz people involved. If that happens, I think skiing will be good for the region and will last a long time.
My younger brother wanted to try and he fell in love with it, too. Now he comes up to the yurts and skis in between groups and soon I will bring my son up to learn. My goal, if I could get my hands on a couple of skis, would be to teach kids from the local village, Ichke-Jengez, to ski and love it as much as I do.