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The Five Saints Massif: Skiing the Mongolian Altai

To reach the valley of the Tsagaan Gol takes six hours on rough dirt tracks. From where the road ends, it is another twenty kilometers by foot, or, in this season, by ski. Where the jeep stops, a Tuvan family takes us in and fills us with milk tea and biscuits before spreading a felt mat on the boards near the stove. In the morning, they point up valley to to Tavan Bogd: the ‘Five Saints’, and etch kilometer numbers with fingers on the tabletop. These holy peaks mark the tri-corner border of Russa, China, and Mongolia, and mark the eastern heart of the Altai Range.

While we haven’t come to seek summits or cross the fifteen kilometer long Potanin Glacier, we do hope for snow, spring skiing, and a fifty kilometer loop along the eastern valleys of the massif. What we find is firm, wind-blasted snow, Arctic temperatures on the first day of May, and the incessant gusting fury of high Mongolia. We have many miles to go and braided Mongolian roads to follow, so I’ll let some of the images from this journey suffice.

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