Known for its expansive landscapes and nomadic culture, Mongolia has typically been associated with summer tourism. However, the inaugural Mazaalai International Snow and Ice Festival, launched to entice global travelers seeking an authentic Mongolian winter experience, is changing that perception.
Taking place from January 14 to January 28 at Sky Resort, a golf and ski resort on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar, the festival is a significant step forward for Mongolia’s winter tourism sector, according to Culture Minister Nomin Chinbat. The event, which is free for attendees, showcases winter landscapes and impressive sculptures, aiming to inspire visitors from around the world to explore Mongolia during the winter season.
Despite being in its early days, the festival has already made headlines by breaking a Guinness World Record for the most people descending an ice slide in one hour. During the opening ceremony, 408 participants slid down the festival’s 16.4-meter-long ice slide consecutively, securing the record with a Guinness official present to validate the achievement.
Among the festival’s attractions is a five-meter-high snow and ice sculpture depicting the Gobi bear and her cubs, raising awareness about the critically endangered animal. Additionally, 52 ice Mazaalai statues symbolize the 52 remaining Gobi bears in the wild. The festival also boasts a 56.4-meter-long snow and ice sculpture featuring a large ice skating rink.
On January 17, the Mazaalai International Ice Competition featured 24 artists from six countries, contributing to the festival’s diverse and international appeal.
While winter in Mongolia may not be everyone’s first choice due to Ulaanbaatar’s extreme cold, with January temperatures ranging from minus 15 to minus 30 degrees Celsius, there are advantages such as lower hotel and tour rates and breathtaking snow-covered landscapes. Mongolia hosts various unique winter events, including the annual Khuvsgul Lake Ice Festival in early March on the country’s largest lake.
Culture Minister Chinbat highlighted the festival as part of the government’s initiative to welcome one million international tourists annually. In 2019, Mongolia received 637,000 international travelers, a number the country aims to surpass by expanding visa-free access for citizens of certain countries until the end of 2025. Additionally, discussions are reportedly underway to launch direct flights between Mongolia and the United States later this year.