International tourism is a new phenomenon for Kazakhstan, but this exciting Central Asian country is catching up quite well. It is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, one of the world’s deepest canyons, world-renowned nature reserves, the first and largest continuing space port, the first man and woman cosmonaut to travel in space, vast grass steppes, interesting land formations, and the world’s biggest ice stadium, Medeo Speed Skating Rink.
The gigantic ice rink is found in the gorge of the same name. The beautiful valley of Medeo is 1,700 meters above sea level and surrounded by picturesque ancient mountain ranges: Kimasaskiy mountain range to the west, Kabyrgatau mountain range to the east and Kumbel mountain range to the southeast. It is only about 16 kilometers from the major city of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city and former capital.
Built in 1972, the staking rink is not only the biggest in the world but also considered by many as the best, due to the clear spring water that was turned into ice, mild pleasant climate, optimal sun radiation level, low pressure and very little wind, in fact, often windless. This is clearly the best place to conduct open international skating competitions, figure skating tournaments and ice hockey and bandy games. Important events have happened here including the creation of 20 world records related to ice sports. The rink and stadium were constructed in 1949 by the Soviets. The first major competitions took place on February 4, 1951. Since then, the arena was used every year to host important ice events and competitions. In 1972, Soviet engineers successfully installed artificial ice to guarantee longevity. In 1977, the Almaty bandy team, “Dynamo Alma-Ata” won the Soviet Bandy Championship here, and again in 1990, as well as the European Cup in 1978. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kazakhstan has been unable to host a major international competition in Medeo, since such an event is very costly.
But the really good news is that the place is not only a skating rink for the masters, rich, famous or seasoned athletes. It is open to the public, which means professional skaters, experts, middle, beginners and first-time skaters may skate together any time from November to March. Entrance fee is very reasonable, as well as ice-skate rental.
In addition to the world-famous skating rink, Medeo (or Medeu) is known for the Medeo Dam, which was built in the 1960s and still standing today to protect the city of Almaty from potentially destructive mudflows. It is an engineering wonder, able to hold 6,000,000 cubic meters of water. At the end of the gorge is the equally popular Chimbulak ski resort, which many compare to Aspen, Colorado. All major skiing competitions in the former Soviet Union were held in Chimbulak. With an elevation of 2,200 meters above sea level, Chimbulak is still the leading ski resort in the country; it is especially crowded during the months of November through April. Other attractions in Medeo are the Premier Medeo Hotel, numerous cafés serving delicious “caucus shashlyk” and a park that offers pony rides.