Un­bro­ken tracks

Deep in the Al­tai Moun­tains, a fa­ther and son keep alive a tra­di­tion of mak­ing their own win­ter gear that may date back to the very be­gin­nings of ski­ing.

Action Asia - - CHINA - Story and pho­tog­ra­phy by Alessan­dra Meni­conzi

THE AL­TAI MOUN­TAINS CURVE THROUGH the far north of China’s Xin­jiang prov­ince, di­vid­ing China and Mon­go­lia, and nos­ing into neig­bour­ing Kaza­khstan and Rus­sia. Amid its forests of birch and pine live a mix of peo­ples, many of them no­madic: Kaza­khs and Mon­go­lians mostly, as well as the Tuwas eth­nic group. In the vil­lage of Meil­ifeng­cun, more than 20 hours by car from the provin­cial cap­i­tal of Urumqi, eight fam­i­lies of Kazakh ori­gin live in sim­ple wooden houses. Pre­dom­i­nantly farm­ers, they grow straw­ber­ries, pota­toes, car­rots and other veg­eta­bles as well as breed­ing live­stock. Life there is played out ac­cord­ing to the rhythms of na­ture, with long and bit­terly cold win­ters of­ten bring­ing snows that iso­late the vil­lage from its sur­round­ings. There 40-year-old Mier­bieke is the sole pro­tec­tor of an­cient skills. For un­counted gen­er­a­tions, his fam­ily have passed down the knowl­edge need to make skis, for this re­gion is said to be the cra­dle of ski­ing. Now it is Mier­bieke’s turn to pass on the knowl­edge. Skis have long been used to help move about on the snow, but also for hunt­ing deer, chased into deep snow where they ex­hausted them­selves. This is no longer per­mit­ted as the re­gion is a na­tional park. Mier­bieke’s son Wu­la­hati how­ever has dif­fer­ent goals in mind: dream­ing of one day be­com­ing a sports­man.

AA

FROZEN FORESTS The Al­tai has long been a draw for tourists, and in re­cent years a gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tive has en­cour­aged a hand­ful to brave the long, cold win­ter. The re­ward is an ethe­real beauty and per­fect still­ness.

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