News from the snow
Mt Palandöken Turkey
Although perhaps little known in large parts of the winter sports resort community outside Turkey, Palandöken has in fact been one of the world's fastest growing major centres in the past decade. It has managed to combine the magic ingredients of a successful destination resort far better than most of the well known world top 50 resorts. For Palandöken today has firstly a sizeable network of well connected trails over a 1000m (3350ft)+ vertical served by a modern lift network that includes Turkey's only gondola, itself only a few seasons old. So far so good - next we have the resort itself - not a traditional village on the mountain but instead a selection of slopeside hotel complexes with all amenities and stretching up to a rare slopeside five star. If you do want a 'traditional' resort then there is the option to stay, or at least visit, the 6000 year old city of Erzurum that lies in the valley below, a few minutes away. So, already ahead of most of the competition, Palandöken has yet more Aces in its pack. Firstly there's the friendly service - OK so all ski resorts SAY the service is friendly but here there seems to be a genuine warmth. Then there's the value, some of the best for a 'proper' ski resort anywhere in the world. Access? …a few minutes from Erzurum airport; children's facilities? …free daycare in hotels and special attractions, shopping? …complexes in hotels and markets in Erzurum eating? …great restaurants in the hotels - centuries old traditional establishments down in Erzurum, and partying …well the Turks are famous for getting lively after midnight and the hotels have discos. There are also leisure complexes including indoor pools in the main hotels. So is there a downside? Well the answer seems to be happily, no, not really. The thing most likely to unnerve some potential visitors from Europe and North America is the resort's location, at the Eastern end of long thin Turkey, well into the Asian side. A few hundred miles to the south lies the northern border of Syria and Iraq, a similar distance to the East is Iran and Azerbaijan with Afghanistan beyond and to the north its Armenia and Georgia as the mountains rise steeply around the Black Sea into the Caucasus, and Europe's highest mountains along the border with Asia. The location of Erzurum gives it a rich heritage having been the most Easterly outpost of the Byzantine Empire and conquered at various times by the Romans, the Mongol hordes, the Russians and the Arabs, amongst others. English is not widely spoken. Some expert skiers claim there isn't enough for them, but the resort does have off-piste trails as well as FIS graded black pistes and heliskiing is an option; big expansion plans should further expand the options. Snow cover is not the problem that it is in other nations with only a few famous resorts - conditions are normally world class and there's snow making back-up. In short Palandöken is a very serious ski resort and has taken Turkish skiing into the 21st century - forcing the long established Turkish number one, Uludag in the West, to re-evaluate itself. Uludag had for decades been the only real option for Turkey's skiers and made it into quite a few European destination brochures in the late 1980s before skiers from abroad became disillusioned with the fragmented lift system and the fact that far more Turks descended to pose and to party than to get on the snow. Uludag is now reportedly looking to consolidate its lifts, build ones and try to recover ground lost to Palandöken.
One of the highest ski areas in Turkey with some of the country's toughest skiing, making it a venue for international competitions (FIS approved pistes). The resort stands above one of the world's oldest cities, 6000 year old Erzurum. Recently redeveloped with new chair lifts and Turkey's first gondola (new in 1998) greatly increasing the skiable area. There are gfour hotels slopeside, including four and five star options with all amenities and excellent value.
Most of the skiing is on wide open slopes, divided by a central ridge, with north and north-west facing terrain all well above the tree-line (one of the many differences from Turkey's other major ski areas to the West, which have forested lower slopes). Most f the lifts here are double chairs, with Turkey's only gondola, which was opened here in 1998, running almost the full vertical over its 3.2km (2 miles) length.
Beginners have nursery slopes by the main hotels and should be able to quickly progress on to one of the seven blue runs. Intermediates have an additional eight reds, whilst experts have two blacks, up to five marked off-piste itineraries and a heli-skiing option. The usually windy summit of Mt Eider is reached by a
double chair and there's excellent steep bowl skiing from the rim off the descending red run. The powder snow reputedly stays in good condition for powder skiing for longer than the Alpine norm after a storm because of the dry conditions here. Three mountain restaurants to choose from if you take a break.
Ski school is available from three years and snowboarding from six years - again either free or at reduced prices (depending on whether you qualify for any special packages, depending on where you stay), as are childrens' lift tickets. Child age is up to 12. Buffet meals, short airport transfers, wide safe trails, chairlifts and gondolas all add to the family-friendly atmosphere; as does the positive and friendly attitude of resort staff and locals.
where traditional Turkish restaurants, some of them centuries old, are to be found. Here meals are served on low tables in ancient, windowless rooms.
ancient and modern meet, as do half a dozen different cultures.
On the slopes the Polat Renaissance has a choice of six bars and restaurants and the Dedeman has its own night club as well as more bars. It's at the Dedeman that the after-snow action usually begins with mulled wine provided from 4 until 5pm and the traditional Alpine style 'Tea Dancing' often getting underway if conditions are good (dancing on chairs and tables in ski boots). The hotels also organise traditional entertainment evenings with shows including belly dancing.
In the resort hotels and on the slopes, there's a different cultural mix to that in Erzurum, whilst about 50% of the on-snow population is Turkish, the remainder have arrived on package tours from the likes of Holland, Finland and the UK - the opposite end of Europe to Turkey. Russians are also here in force, attracted by higher quality and lower prices than is on offer from their domestic resorts and a comparatively short flight, and better value than they'll find in the Alps.