Friday, April 16, 2010

Ripping the Turkish Pow, Part 3. Palandoken

Way off in the Eastern reaches of Turkey is a little visited corner of the ski world sandwiched between the Black Sea, Armenia, and Iran. This is skiing, WAY off the radar; but rumors of big mountains and big powder kept reaching our ears here in Ankara.

"It's the only proper skiing in Turkey" they would say.

"They've got modern lifts that don't run on Kebap grease," they would whisper.

"They're hosting some kind of College Olympics," they would speak, in awe.

"You might actually get tired," they would wonder.

I'd had enough. It was time to confirm the whispers. We booked our flights, yes, flights, it's a huge country, and Palandoken is an hour and a half flight from Ankara. Luckily, plane prices were about $100 USD round trip. We recruited our newly trained skiers, James "Simon" Bond, and the Pakistani Princess, Khadijah. And, always game to dial in her perfect turn a bit more, Carrie "Tele" Simpson. We made our reservations, again, a combined hotel+ski passes+meals+booze affair (75 USD per person), and we were off.

It's super conservative out East. Essentially, a different country from the "Western" cities of Ankara and Istanbul. Erzurum is the town we flew into, but, we bypassed the town of no-beer and black hijab-clad women, to head straight to the ski resort.

It's only about 15 minutes out of town before you dive into the ski hills. Sadly, they were pretty bare. Apparently, the rumors of meters upon meters of snow are lingering only in the memories of locals before climate change. But, there was still plenty of snow, and the rumors of modern lifts and modern grooming were quickly confirmed. A fleet of Pit-Bull snow cats sat outside the hotel, and two, brand new Poma-high speed Quads could be seen on the mountain. (Another was placed on the backside).

Saturday morning we woke up to a surreal sight. The mountains were devoid of any vegetation. It was like looking out upon a white desert. It's exactly what you might think of when you think of Middle Eastern Skiing in Afghanistan, Iran, or Iraq. But, who cares about trees? The mountains were huge, and draped in snow. The pistes were wide and groomed, the lift lines were nill, and our hotel was parked in front of it all. Sweet.

Let's talk numbers. 3,530. That's an impressive one, especially when it's attached to the vertical descent of a ski resort. Only 12 ski resorts in North America have more descent. Bigger than Crested Butte, Vail, or even Breckenridge. Yeah, no shit! To be fair, 500 of those feet are down a long flat green, but I measured 2,230 feet of descent down one blue-black run, with only a short cat-track interrupting the consistent descent.

The rumors were true, this was "real" skiing. And my new tele boots, skis, and bindings were leaving me gasping for air at the ends of the runs. Ripping down one run on the backside, with what seemed to be the whole mountain to myself, I skidded to a stop at the end of the run and fell over laughing with happiness and utter exhaustion.

I'll let the photos tell the rest of the story. Palandoken. Eastern Turkey. Who knew!?!??!

This shot is from the very bottom of the resort, you can't see the backside behind the obvious mountain in front, but you can make out the tallest point, with the tower crowning it on the left. A nice, steep run, goes from the tower all the way down to our slopeside chalet.

The view out our hotel room window wasn't inspiring, but the high speed lifts, and the Alp-like views off the backside of the mountain lifted ours spirits.

Our first day it was pretty cloudy, but on Sunday the sun came out a couple of times for some nice shots.

I can't say for sure, but I think Erin thinks she is in Egypt.

What kind of shots do they serve here?

That's okay, the beer's free.

And, how conservative could a country really be when the ski instructors are sponsored by Miller?!?!

Simon and Khadijah are both getting the hang of this skiing thang'

Khadijah made it down from the top of the gondola.

And Simon braved the 7KM long backside piste with me...

Though he was a bit nervous about the Gondola. (So was I, given it's age)

But the best part, like in any ski vacation. Is bellying up the bar for a cold beer at the end of a great day.

I LOVE this place!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ripping the Turkish Pow, Part 2, "Friends don't let friends teach them to ski"

Erin and I were lucky enough to squeeze in a ski vacation (our first) to Austria at the end of December. I want to do a post about it as well, but this story is devoted to Turkey. For now, you can read Erin's report from the Alps here.

Back in Turkey in January, we were glad to find the Anatolian plains slowly donning their winter coat. These hills, that seem so stark and unforgiving in the dry summer, take on a new face when painted with snow. We had about four solid days of snow on the ground here in Ankara, and it was a pleasure to cast a glance out at the snow filled mountains and plan our next escape to the Turkish Ski Resorts.

In mid-January, we convinced our friends Simon and Khadijah to join us for another weekend at Kartalkaya. We bribed them with stories of mulled wine, rack of lamb, and saunas. We didn't tell them about the fog, cold, and the general bitter nature of learning to ski where you tend to spend more time sitting in the snow, than skiing down it.

Being British, and with James Bond's genes surging through his veins, Simon quickly picked up skiing and was making parallel turns by the end of the day. His smile and enthusiasm were contagious, and made me miss my days of teaching in the outdoors with Outward Bound. Khadijah, being from Pakistan, is not someone who takes to the snow naturally:) However, she is an incredibly good sport, and as determined as a, she too, by the end of day one, skied from the top of the mountain. Granted, part of that was hanging on to the back of a mustached Turkish ski patrol, but, bloody hell, she did it!

As was promised to our friends after a hard day learning to ski, the food, free wine and beer, and indoor heated pools worked to relax sore muscles. Beers in a hot-tub are magical. Simon and I even stayed up late enough to catch a Turkish musical act in the late-nite bar. I caught plenty of looks for my newly acquired ski hat from Tyrol, Austria.

On Sunday, our fellow tele-skier, Carrie Simpson joined us via the "ski-bus" from Ankara. Carrie learned to ski on telemark skis, and has great form. If only I could have seen it more often. Sadly, like our first day, Kartalkaya was again covered in fog. This seems to be a theme here, the advantage being that the resort seems much bigger when you can't see it!

When time came to make our way home, I proudly presented tire chains for Buddha, our Nissan Terrano. This was a lesson learned on our previous visit to Kartlalkaya. You see, the roads don't get fully plowed in Turkey. It's not that they don't have the ability, they do, but the icy roads offer an ingenious commerical plan by the local farmers who have jack-shit to do in the winter. Positioned every quarter mile, on the narrow road up the resort, are farmers with their tractors, ready to pull tourists out of the ditch (for a fee, or course) when they inevitably slide in. Some people swear that the farmers actually pour water on the road at night, just to make it MORE treacherous. I don't believe that they are that malicious, in fact, I kind of admire their creative capitalism. There's a demand, they provide the supply; and let's face it, when your car is in a ditch, you'll gladly pay anything to get it out. However, as I was now in possession of a fully chained and four wheel drive diesel truck, I happily waved at the friendly farmers as I cruised pass their tractors, proud that I didn't need to hire thier services (though secretly glad to know they were there if I did).

Friday, April 2, 2010

Ripping the Turkish Pow, a ski season in Turkey

When I moved to Ecuador, I had no idea how much I would miss skiing. I thought slugging up equatorial volcanoes like Cayambe (photos), the Illinizas, and Cotopaxi would satiate my snow demons. On one hand, it did satisfy my craving for cold weather, but on the other hand, skiing and climbing are VASTLY different activities. I have a need for speed, and climbing is many things, but high-octane, it is not.

So, it was with great excitement that Erin and I upgraded our skis in Boulder this summer, and headed off to our new lives in Turkey. We had no idea what to expect, but preliminary research told me that skiing did exist, and, what the hell, we knew the Alps were only a stone's throw away.

It took awhile for it to get cold here in Anatolia, most of the fall was spent rock climbing and periodically pulling the skis out and looking at them...imagining how they would handle the Turkish pistes. But, finally, in the last weeks of December, we made our first venture out to the resort of Kartalkaya. Two hours West of Ankara, Erin and I arrived on a white-out day, so, literally this was our first impression of skiing in Turkey.

This was clearly an awful day of skiing, but, when you've been living on the Equator for two years after spending 7 amazing seasons in Colorado; well, you're just happy to be sliding down a mountain, no matter if you can see it or not!

Upon finishing our first day on the slopes in two years, Erin and I retired to our hotel. The ski resorts in Turkey are an all inclusive affair, so, you really get a better deal by just going ahead and staying in hotel where your meals, booze, and lift tickets are included in the (in this case) $100 a night rate! Not being the fancy-shmancy ski hotel types (we always couch surfed, or stayed in the back of our truck in Colorado), we didn't really know what to expect, how to behave, or what to do with ourselves inside an actual slope-side hotel. Turns out, you eat, drink, hot-tub, drink, eat, sit by a fireplace, eat, and, yeah, DRINK. Yes, even in Muslim Turkey. Walking down to the lobby after stripping off our ski clothes, we were greeted with proper ski lodge fireplaces, pine-tree rafters, appetizers, and hot mulled wine. The skiing may have been a bit of a white-out disaster, but the hotel was good living! This is a part of the ski life I have never experienced...

After a great night of sleep facilitated by rack of lamb, shrimp cocktail, Turkish "Pide" pizza, grilled chicken, baklava, and plenty of free Efes beer (please click here for the Efes theme song!), we woke up to an actual view of what we had spent the day skiing blindly down the previous day. This is the view out our window: we were pretty impressed. It's not huge, but it's decent. The resort extends off to the left, and right, but is really just this front side of the mountain.

However, that means that this backside is completely open to backcountry skiers. So, who wants to join me for some first descents???

As this was only our second day out, and because the slopes were absolutely devoid of people, we just decided to get our powder turns in-bounds. Our second day of skiing in Turkey was characterized by spooning powder turns next to each other, across moderate American "Blue" runs, while the few Turks who were skiing never strayed off the pistes. Our tracks stayed un-varnished, pasted in the snow all day long:)

Sadly, eventually we had to stop lining up our turns, and steer ourselves back home. The slopes weren't ultra-steep, but there a few spots where the angle approached a "black" grade for a short amount of time. The descents were pretty modest; even if you skied to the lowest lift, below the hotel, you only got 675 feet of vertical drop. That's about the same as our old goofy resort, Wolf Laurel, in Asheville, North Carolina. BUT, it was powder. Nobody was there. Beer and wine were free. Rack of lamb is like a piece of meat butter. AND, for shit's sake, it's Turkey, it's not exactly known the world over for skiing. So, we were happy.

That is, until we tried to drive the iced-up roads home. And, that's where I'll leave it for now. I've got to go pack for my big fat Greek Sport Climbing vacation. I hope all of you are off enjoying spring snow, desert routes, and lots of whiskey.


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Hard to believe, that this country of olive oil fanatics may soon see a decrease in production; but climate change seems to indicate this will be true....

Oil supplies: Peak olive oil | The Economist

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