Turkish Delight!

Snoworks ski courses adventure – Turkey 2015

NEW: Turkish Aventure for 2019 – click for details
Words by Snoworks instructor Lee Townend unless otherwise stated

Team 2015
Bridget Carley
Clive Allen
Andrew Hather
Julia Hather
Steve Lees
Alister Farr

Day 1 Monday 9th Feb
The first meet of the Snoworks group for Turkey 2015 was not until tonight at our hotel in Sultanhamet district, however some of the group had arrived earlier that day with myself to explore the delights of Istanbul. Istanbul is where east meets west.  It is a plethora of mosques, bazaars, culture and silk, alongside city suits, busy trams and countless coffee shops and internet cafés, all to the background of the haunting tones of call to prayer. We visited many of the popular cultural experiences including the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (aka the blue Mosque) and the Basilica Cistern

Following a healthy stomp around the city and famous Grand Bazaar I opted for an equally healthy ‘Kebap’ not the greasy number you had once after a nightclub – this was freshly grilled meat with salad, chilli, tomato and pitta on a plate! Such hustle bustle city viewing then had to be counterbalanced with a traditional Hammam this is an experience not to be missed on your visit to Turkey. The ornate building, the relaxing atmosphere, the rejuvenating pummelling with a loofah from a very strong Turk, and the lack of ice cold water make it a different but equally enjoyable experience to the saunas of Austria and the onsens of Japan that you can experience on our other Snoworks adventures.

The full group then met in the early evening where we were whisked off to our night’s entertainment of Turkish food, dancing and music show whilst floating along the Bosphoros River. The fish was fresh, the wine was flowing and the Turkish Bruce Forsyth compere warmed up the group with his bilingual wit. Then on with the show! Belly dancing, cultural wedding ceremony dances and impressive knife skills filled the night as we floated along the river, passed the first Bosphorus Bridge and cruised towards the Black sea.

Tomorrow we fly east to Erzurum and are looking forward to hitting the slopes of Palandoken.

Day 2 Tuesday 10th Feb
An early start for our 08:50 flight was greeted with snow in Istanbul! This bodes well and with the forecast for snow for the next three days, meant our ducks were lining up nicely.

Then ‘Air Pegasus’ tried to drown our ducks!
Stage 1. The police said we could not take the canisters for our avalanche airbag rucksacks through. With some gentle persuasion and some documentation printed from the suppliers’ websites they were happy. It was clear that we were the first skiers with such equipment. Stage 1 complete we felt that Snoworks had done its bit for east/west relations in educating them about the modern off piste skier.

Stage 2. Air Pegasus stopped us and said it was their policy that we could not take the canisters on the plane they could be emptied or left behind. Another Snoworks ski courses airport education process commenced, where is the flip chart and supporting video when you need it? Eventually they too were satisfied. Off we went to board the plane.

Stage 3. All Snoworks clients apart from Alister and I are seated on the plane, Alister’s boarding pass flags up the canister. There then ensues a third and final by now somewhat heated conversation and attempt at education process. Long story short Pegasus = 1 Snoworks = 0. The plane leaves an hour late, but only after our luggage has been removed and we have been on the runway in a high vis vest to remove the perfectly IATA safe items from the plane’s hold!

Due to the early start and airport dilemmas we all slept through most of the flight to be woken by views of snow capped mountains over Erzurum. A thirty minute transfer from the airport to the hotel, beating anything you can find in Europe for transfers unless you’re Roman Abramovich!  We had a fantastic buffet lunch, changed and hit the slopes. The snow looked slim and wind scoured, this turned out to be true to an extent but that meant of course the wind had put it somewhere! Just left and right of the piste …. We skied untracked fresh lines all afternoon and with the help of our new local instructor friends we had an amazing first ever afternoon skiing Turkey! With the air canister difficulties behind us we filled our lungs with fresh mountain air and signed our tracks across the powder. This place is going to be good!

Day 3 Wednesday 11th Feb

Our first full day of skiing and the lifts are closed, high wind! C’est la vie, this is an adventure trip, there are plenty of snow capped mountains and we have touring kit.

We ski toured up a hill we named ‘Pagoda hill’ twice and skied fresh lines on shallow faces because of the risk of “snow relocation”. After lunch the lifts opened over near the Renaissance and Polak hotels that are also used for night skiing. So a quick lunch and we got the shuttle bus round.

Palandöken has the most bizarre lift pass system I have experienced, there is a Palandöken lift pass for the six lifts here, then there is a connecting lift to the night skiing, which is five Turkish Lira. When you get to night skiing there is a lift pass for the Polak hotel’s two lifts, then just to the left (they share a piste) there are two lifts for the Renaissance hotel! You can’t use the Renaissance hotel lifts without their lift pass and you can’t use the Polak hotel’s lifts without their lift pass, and vice-versa! Three passes to ski a connected lift area, as the hotels own the lifts!

The afternoon brought skiing off piste just to the sides of the piste and amongst the trees in a ‘resort’ with a total of 20 skiers (of which we were seven!)

A great afternoon had; staying on gentle slopes and tree lined skiing, followed by a cheeky beer as we waited for darkness to fall. As the lights came on it was time for night skiing. For those that have never done it, this is a magnificent way to channel your narrowed focus of attention, and because of it, you ski better! This is not to the magnitude of Niseko’s famous night skiing in Japan, however it was well worth the £6 lift ticket and the ‘carving’, ‘park in the dark’ and ‘international demo team skiing’ was completed.

Back to the hotel for another fine buffet spread and what started off a windy closed day became a day filled with skiing off and on piste from 9:30am to 7pm!

Day 4 Thursday 12th Feb

Wow! Have we found a gem here! Don’t tell anyone else though #Snoworkssecret – following a group led decision we took a road trip to the unknown resort (well we did some internet research, but that doesn’t tell you much) of Sarikamis. This was a two hour mini bus drive through the flatlands of eastern Turkey towards the Georgian and Armenian border.

As we approached the snow got less and the hills got flat (I had concerns). We arrived to be greeted by a resort with 4 chairlifts, two of which went over slopes flatter than a European green run.

The local bar man smiling with glee at the joy of seven westerners with Lira welcomed us in for a Turkish coffee, he then gave me his mobile phone to speak to his boss who spoke English and said ‘I am coming to see you in five minutes’.

On his arrival he immediately sold us his hotel for our next visit and then came skiing with us (He was on Salomon skis so that was allowed) Having gone to university in Istanbul to train as an engineer, he then became a member of the Turkish parliament, then retired and built his hotel here!

It was clear from the outset that as kind hearted as he was, this man was not going to ski where we were. However as we rode the third of four chairs it became very clear that the perfectly soft untracked powder in the perfectly spaced trees just to the right and left of the piste had not been skied…..

Following two warm up runs on piste with our new friend and local entrepreneur, M.J he then excused himself and we took to the trees.

A perfect day of fresh lines for everyone in hero spaced trees then followed. It would seem that chair three and the recently installed chair four would provide more than adequate skiing for our group for the entire day.

Then arrived the second of our daily friends (lovely folk these Turks, they should run training courses in France). As I led the group directly under chair four into the powder Mr Aydin followed us, he spoke great English and said he wanted to ski off piste and would not do so on his own for safety reasons (wise man). Now in normal circumstances these ‘tag along’ off piste skiers are very much not welcome, however in this instance there was no chance of any ‘snow relocation’ (The term we have chosen to replace avalanche) and as Mr Aydin was very forthcoming in sharing his knowledge of the local hotels and ski resorts of Turkey (having been to most of them), he also was our translator at lunch, we therefore welcomed him along.

Following a very rushed ‘Kofta’ lunch we would squeeze every last run out until the lifts closed, legs burning, faces grinning and Go-Pro batteries dead we went back to M.J’s bar for a celebratory Efes. (local Turkish beer)

Back to the hotel for a quick freshen up and another magnificent buffet dinner and some local Turkish wine tasting finished off a fantastic day.

Day 5 Friday 13th Feb

Words by Snoworks adventure client Clive Allen

Day five, and the seven amigos head off to Konakli. A resort that is barely three years old offering the promise of state of the art facilities. The weather is clear and sunny and on arrival it is clear only two of a possible six lifts are working, and the only other people in resort are the Turkish Army! Undaunted we head for the top of the lift, were Lee decides we should skin up to the highest point. After much huffing and puffing, mostly from me, we make it to the summit at 3000m. I am not only puffing, I am chuffed as I am a virgin skinner!

Lee surveys the route down and one at a time we ski down well earned powder. At the bottom we are greeted by the ski patrol. All is not well; they are not happy, they think we might cause an avalanche. Lee tries to explain he is a professional instructor and guide, but to no avail, we must go and report to the boss below!

At this point images of Midnight Express of Lee fighting off unwanted admirers in the showers flash through my mind. We report as requested to the ski patrol manager who thankfully has a greater grasp of English. Things are looking up, the boss seems to recognise Lee to be a competent person then Lee pulls out the Snoworks international get out of jail card the GOGGLE WIPE!  He presents them to all concerned, no more needs to be said, we are all obviously highly experienced and free to continue. We decamp to the restaurant for an early lunch and a regroup.

Here I do the normal thing and point saying  “one of those mate”. Salgam (Turnip juice) is an acquired taste and not one I would recommend. So back to the top of the chair lift, skins on and back up we go, but now we seem to be catching the attention of the army who try to follow in our tracks, without skins they soon decide to cut off and head across the powder field. Being an ex squaddie I am keen to look down from above and see how these boys perform. They go into what looks like all round defence, some strangely dive head first into the snow bum in the air what’s this I think? But of course it’s the perfect tripod for the next man’s rifle, god these boys are good!

We carry on to the top, take a breather and then descend down through the powder, which feels all the better for being hard earned. We reach the piste where we pass several groups of troops and are tempted to go for some squaddie slalom but think better of it! At the base there are groups of troops celebrating a good days skiing by doing press ups. Lee keen to show a sense of bon amie asks the officer if he could join his men in another set of press ups, the officer is only too happy for his men to oblige and through happy faces they bash out another set with Lee in the centre of the group. Happy and tired we get aboard our bus and head for home. Its been another great day with a great bunch of guys TOPPERS!

Day 6 Saturday 14th Feb

The weekend warriors arrive! Today we stayed local and skied at Palandöken. For the first time since our arrival we had cold clear blue sky and not a breath of wind and more lifts open, but not the one to the summit.

As we rode the third chair lift up to 3000m it was clear that people don’t ski off piste here, so yet again we went just to the skiers right of the piste and skied fresh lines. It was then that the weekend warriors decided they should go were we had been and three runs later the easy access powder was tracked out like a standard day in the Espace Killy or 3-Valleys.

Following several forms of checking I was comfortable that the ‘snow relocation’ levels were OK on the shallower slopes I had planned, and we continued to be the lead group of the day opening the fresh faces of gentle powder, only to be followed by the brightly coloured snowboarders and other madcap Turkish recreational skiers.

No skinning was required today as we skied fresh lines from first lift to last, the mountain looks brown and bare, but the wind had placed it and not compressed it, so another fantastic day was had.

Skiing at the home resort gave us a nice early finish to squeeze in the usual après Efes and then to enjoy the hotel’s pool, sauna and Turkish Hamam facilities to ease away the aching limbs and dilute the lactic acid. This week the only other guests in the hotel are the ‘Short-Track skaters’ the world’s best Olympic and international teams, including our very own Elise Christie and her GB team. As they are all athletes, and we just aspire to be, we celebrated Elise’s victory today in the 1000m finals with some Turkish wines and another slap up buffet dinner.

Day 7 Sunday 15th Feb

Words by Snoworks adventurers Andy and Julia Hather

We awoke to another day of blue sky and sunshine, our final day in Palandöken. Even with less locals around it was clear we would need to put a little more effort into gaining our “freshtracks”.

Mt Ejder (‘dragon’ mountain) at 3160m looms above the resort with its radio mast standing tall.  In a normal season there is a chairlift to the peak, this year the chairs haven’t even been loaded, that however wouldn’t stop this Snoworks group summiting.

After a short technical session to loosen up our legs, we donned our skins, and made use of the switchback road kindly made by the resort’s piste basher up to the radio station, so after a relatively easy 45minute skin we were at the summit. The only question now was’ which way down’? Due to the weather conditions earlier in the week, the steeper convex face could have been questionable so Lee led us to the eastern shoulder where we left our mark with over 40 fresh powder turns. Our nicely spooned tracks were there for all to see.

A quick trip back up the chairlift we headed in the opposite direction to yet another blank canvas. A ‘short’ 22 min skin and we let rip – more lines in perfect powder. What a morning!

Offered a choice of the hotel lunch and a quiet afternoon, or a quick snack and more fresh tracks, the entire group opted for the latter.

We headed to a small wooden hut, where most of the group opted for a BBQ’d Kofta sandwich, with Clive and Steve opting for the ‘pink sausage’. With no turnip juice in sight it was time to try a “Sahlep” – a drink made from crushed orchid tubers mixed with warm milk and cinnamon. It is said to have healing properties making the lungs and heart stronger. We’ll see!

It was then back up the mountain for our final run, following the piste around the mountain we were welcomed by an incredible sight, almost as awesome as the Nascar lines, our earlier tracks stood out as a Snoworks signature.

Bemused locals were stood awestruck at the strange patterns in the snow. Was this a natural phenomenon or some strange supernatural force at work? Then the Snoworks ‘International’ skiers arrived back to the start of our skinning track. Cameras clicked as photos were taken of our tracks and the strange people putting ‘socks’ on their skis.

The uphill climb appeared much easier than the one before lunch, the magical powers of the ‘Sahlep’ seemed to be working better than the turnip juice at Konakli.

At the summit Lee gave me the opportunity to try his Go Pro, with instructions to follow Julia and lay figure of ‘8’s’. Julia took the opportunity to get her own back after I lead her too low in Sarikamis, therefore having to skin back up to the rest of the group.  She lay short turns with her Layla’s, knowing her 15m turn radius would make it difficult to match with my Atomics, the turn radius being closer to that of a super tanker! Then the rest of the group descended one by one signing off their week in style. With the pisteurs ushering us off the mountain, Lee laid the final Palandöken tracks silhouetted by the setting sun. Another epic day.

Back to the hotel for après ski and our final evening meal, wondering what sprout dish would be tempting us tonight. Final day over and packed for the next stage of our Turkey Adventure, back to Istanbul with a few of us anticipating the chance of being reunited with our airbag canisters and then on to Uludağ.

Thanks Palandöken, what a place, we will definitely be back!

Day 8 Monday 16th Feb

“Travel and Hamam day” (that became Travel and Kebab day!)

Following an amazing week’s skiing and touring in north eastern Anatolia, today was the only non-ski day of the adventure course.

After a leisurely breakfast we transferred to Erzurum airport to join our good friends at ‘Pegasus airlines’! Looking forward to transferring to our luxury thermal hotel by early afternoon for a Hamam and some “r&r” before we hit the slopes of Uludağ.

And then it began…… “Canister-gate part 2!”

We checked in on the busiest day the airport has ever seen, as the 120+ Olympic short track skaters were also departing today. Following a relatively smooth approach we sat and supped Turkish coffees as if all was at ease, only to hear the final call for our flight. As we rushed downstairs we were greeted by a massive queue for security and had to speak with the staff and completely queue jump to make the flight.

We then taxied to the runway, and then back to the parking to be told there was a ‘technical problem’. We sat on the tarmac for an hour, and then got told to get back off the plane and into the terminal building.

Following a wait of only about 30 minutes, and watching countless Turks get very irate at the thought of not getting to Istanbul or missing connecting flights we then re-boarded, the flight continued smoothly (but 3 hours late).

Now it was time for ‘canister recovery’ following their last minute removal on Tuesday. We went to lost and found only to be told they had no recollection of them and no idea where they were.

To cut a very very long story short, (1 hour +) the photo I took of Alister at the door of the plane as we had them removed from us had the ‘culprit’ in the back of the image. By pinching in and showing the Pegasus staff, they then managed to speak with ‘Johnny jobs-worth’, find and return to us our airbag canisters.

Needless to say, we aren’t going to loose this one folks. We shall be writing to Pegasus (now labelled the Ryan Air of Turkey by this year’s group) to educate them, and thus allow future Snoworks Turkey adventurers, and probably other off-piste skiers to travel with their safety canisters; as I have done all over the world problem free!

This of course meant our hotel arrival was more likely to be 8pm than 3pm, so a group led decision was to head for ‘Iskender Kebap’ in Bursa, this is where the Kebap was invented by ‘Iskender Efendi’ who lived in Bursa. What better place for the real thing and to wash away another mildly traumatic Air Pegasus pig up. (www.flypgs.com looks like fly pigs to me!)

Following a slap up meal, we arrived at our thermal spa hotel and were greeted with the most magnificent welcome gift. A cake, courtesy of our agents, Skiing Turkey, and the hotel (see Facebook pictures) where we were all in the correct coloured ski suits and hair colours. Amazing.

Day 9 Tuesday 17th Feb

An early rise from the team as we were committed to at least see and briefly experience the Hamam and pool in the hotel here in Bursa that Pegasus had robbed the time from us to enjoy yesterday.

The structure of the old building, the domed ceiling and the spa facilities were fantastic and although only a brief visit it teed us up nicely for the day ahead.

Our driver collected us following our plentiful buffet breakfast, as we left Bursa the road immediately started to climb. Winding up through beautiful pine forests as the sun glistened and the snow started to fall. We paid the 20 Turkish lira entry fee to the Uludağ National park and made our way to the ski resort of the same name, following a brief halt to put snow chains on our rear wheel drive Mercedes mini bus, only to be entertained by the couple behind us who chose initially to put the chains on the rear wheels of their front wheel drive V.W! They soon learnt from their mistake.

On arrival our rooms were not yet prepared from the night before so we just changed for skiing and hit the slopes.

The wind was again having an effect, but again we didn’t have to look to far to find fresh powder on certain slope aspects and amongst the trees.

It was dangerously cold however, the wind chill reaching into the -20’s and below, meant flesh was turning white and this could of course only be resolved completely by taking lunch. We stepped into the most convenient restaurant on the mountain, with no prior research on the subject it was clear we had walked into the flashiest, priciest Istanbul glitterati ‘Courchevel-esq’ venue.

That being said we stayed and enjoyed a hearty selection of Koftas, soups, and lamb and warmed our hands and insides with our new found favourite, the Sahlep hot drink.

A few more runs in the deepest snow of the trip so far, on the windiest and coldest day so far and then back to the hotel to check in properly and grab hot showers to defrost before dinner.

Our residence in Uludağ was somewhat different to all of our previous accommodation experiences so far. A kind of youth hostel meets Crossroads motel sort of affair, however with hot showers, hearty food and an all-inclusive bar for wines and beer we settled in and enjoyed it.

Day 10 Wednesday 18th Feb

We woke to a monster storm, over half a metre of fresh and still coming down, with reports this snow is falling all the way down to Istanbul!

A sharp breakfast and out to the slopes, as expected, there was a delayed opening and then very limited opening, due to very high winds and frantic lifties digging out lift stations.

However with our two local Turkish Ski Instructor Association friends in tow as guides (briefly, due to their equipment) we were up the T-bar and skiing thigh deep ‘Niseko’ Japan style fresh lines just 3 hours from Istanbul #bizzarebuttrue

A fantastic morning hunting out the lines in the trees and repeating lines we sourced yesterday. Then it was time to go lunch with our new friends. Over the course of last night in the hotel bar, and a coffee meeting this morning, I had seemingly befriended the owner of the first ever hotel in Uludağ and two key player ski instructors. This not only created some serious interest in our plans for 2016 and beyond, it also produced a free lunch for the full team in their posh gaff.

The afternoon was something I wanted to do when we drove up but wasn’t sure if it would be a realistic proposition, however the hotel owner said he had done it many times and went about booking the taxis for our return journey. We skied 11 Km down the road from the resort to the National park border, literally on the road! Cutting corners where we could. This turned out to be an ‘adventure’ but not one to be repeated, more like 11km of Nordic skiing….. A good workout and very pretty, but lacking in incline and gravity!

Back up in the taxis and into the bar to celebrate the day. Dinner and an early night as the snow storm was still raging and we are all looking for more of the same for the last ski day of the 2015 Turkey adventure tomorrow.

Day 11 Thursday 19th Feb

Today was our last ski day of the 2015 adventure. However high winds, blizzard conditions and low visibility, even on a Snoworks instructor level, meant closed lifts and no skiing available.

Not to be disheartened we dressed for skiing and literally fought our way through thigh to waist deep powder just to get to the coffee shop! #earnyourcoffee

It was only the ex-military and man-mountain, Clive Allen, who was daft enough to say he would join me on the equally daft suggestion of skinning up. Whilst the rest (sensibly) supped on hot ‘Sahlep’s and espresso’s’, Clive and I ski toured up under the T-bar that we used for yesterday’s great tree skiing.  Now we did ski, it was downhill, and we did link some turns together, but this was interspersed with abrupt stops that we didn’t see coming as we ploughed straight into a wind drift or three. However, we achieved our task, we skied on the last day.

Back to the hotel, where four of this year’s adventurers and myself had decided we would do a ‘test pull’ of our avalanche bags. This was of course filmed, and amused and perplexed the other hotel residents.

With the weather as it was we had planned for the driver to collect us for the three to four hour transfer to Istanbul at 14:00 so that we could arrive in good time to enjoy a final night and meal in the city.

However….. Just when we thought the adventure was drawing to a close little did we realise it was just beginning. The roads were difficult to say the least; following several conversations with random Turks needing a lift to Bursa and Istanbul respectively, we gained four additional passengers and slowly made our way down the mountain road.

We arrived at the National park border (the one we skied to yesterday) in the same amount of time as we took to ski it (1.5 hours).

Here is where we would stop (16:00). We were informed that there had been a traffic accident with a coach and the road was closed until they cleared it. We sat, we played games, we listened to music from one of our additional passenger’s i-pods and then at 19:00 (3 hours later) we moved. Even more slowly; 1, because we are in a rear wheel drive Mercedes, and 2, because the road was so thick with snow, we followed the plough down and it was pretty much a 1-way street for the remaining 20km. As we passed a coach in the ditch we could see the cause of the delay, then two corners later another coach that was in considerably more dire straights than the first.

We made it down safely thanks to our fantastic driver/guide ‘Berat’. We all `piled into ‘Iskender’ in full ski kit, Steve Lees still in his ski boots, for another of their famous kebap’s. As it was 21:00 already, it was quite clear to us all that a last night in Istanbul was a plan that needed reconsidering.

Back on the road by 21:30, we boarded our short ferry crossing at 22:30 and made it to our hotel in Istanbul for 01:00am – still dressed in full ski kit, much to the amusement of the hotel staff, but we had the last laugh, as we were the most suitably dressed considering Turkish news was claiming the worst snow in 28 years.

So the first ever Snoworks Ski Courses Turkey adventure ends as it only could – with an adventure.  Plenty of pictures, loads of powder, loads of smiles and a video coming soon, this is definitely ‘A keeper’.

Thanks for following us and we hope you enjoyed reading it and will join us on a Snoworks Course or Adventure soon.

A final thanks to Phil Smith, Linda Wilson an our agents Skiing Turkey for making this happen in such a short window, and many thanks to this year’s adventurers for being so flexible and open to investigating and trying out what skiing in Turkey has to offer.

We have organised an upgraded itinerary, and more importantly domestic flights will not be with Pegasus! 

Lee Townend (6) off-piste (22) Ski Adventure (7) ski Turkey (1) Snoworks ADV Adventure (6)