News from the snow
Uludag (pronounced "oo-la-dar" and meaning 'Great Mountain') has been Turkey's leading ski resort since the sport began in this country and although it's leading status is now under threat in some respects, it is likely to remain the country's most cosmopolitan winter destination for the forseeable future. Dubbed the Aspen or St Moritz of Turkey it's a picturesque resort of lightly coloured Alpine chalet style buildings, surrounded by the pretty, woodland slopes of a National Park. The woodland has a better mix of trees than in most ski areas - chestnuts, pines, oaks and beech rub branches with one another at Uludag. The national park location has meant strict planning and development controls, which has generally been for the good of the resort over the years. The dozen or so hotels that make up Uludag are either slopeside or just over the road from the lifts. The resort began in the 1950s with a couple of hotels after previously being used as a winter training area for the Turkish armed forces as long ago as the 1930s. The first lift opened in 1959. There are (long standing) plans to add at least half a dozen more new hotels and a similar number of lifts. It's proximity to Istanbul to the North West and Turkish capital Ankara to the west helped to ensure its rapid success. Many well-heeled Turks arrive in their droves at the weekend, but the resort is usually quiet midweek, outside holiday periods. The busiest time is mid-February, with Easter week quieter than most Northern Hemisphere ski areas, thanks to the fact that Islam and not Christianity is the dominant religion here. Men apparently outnumber female visitors even more heavily than at most ski areas too. Prices are high by Turkish standards but for many international guests the value factor remains very good overall. Service standards are extremely high, the locals are "genuinely friendly" and English is more widely spoken here than at any other Turkish ski centre. Uludag is arguably more famous for its celebrity-spotting than for its skiing. As with Aspen, Italy's Cortina and St Moritz, more visitors come for the shopping, the nightlife or just to 'see and be seen' than for the snow sports. The resort doesn't do itself any favours with its mountain experience either, with the 13 lifts owned by nine separate companies who neither operate a joint lift ticket nor, apparently, do much to ensure they work in cooperation with one another. So it is that two other Turkish resorts, nearby Kartalkaya and over in the East of Turkey, Palandoken, have managed to challenge Uludag's status - by offering consolidated, modern and well organised lift networks. So it is that whilst a few international tour operators from countries in Northern Europe still run tours to Uludag, the return of UK tour operators to Turkey - who went to Uludag in the late 1980s and early 1990s for a few seasons, have opted for Palandoken - a good and easy skiing and boarding experience rather than a lot of Turkish celebrities being the main attraction for British clients apparently. Some Brits do return however, and Dutch, Germans and increasingly Russians make up the normal international clientele here, although that remains less than 5% of the total. Uludag is reportedly fighting back against its new competitors with new lifts planned as well as, equally importantly, a real multi-lift ticket to enjoy the existing ones as well as the new ones. Besides, the resort's popularity isn't suffering with long time Uludag fans reporting that it gets ever more crowded. Uludag stands at around 1800m (aprox 6000 ft) above sea level, with the ancient city of Bursa below. Bursa, about 5000 years old, was once capital f the Ottoman Empire and has been ruled by Alexander The Great. Today the city has a population of around a million and is linked to the resort by road or cable car. Its presence gives an added dimension to a destination resort holiday in Uludag, with the shopping, sightseeing, dining and other leisure experiences it brings. Bursa has been famed for its thermal springs and resulting curative baths since pre-Roman times.
Pronounced "oo-la-dar", the biggest resort in Turkey is close to the sea and historic sites and is surrounded by a 600-year-old national forest. High-value skiing with the option of heli-skiing on the Zivre Peak (2543 M ).
Most of the lifts are T bars, the remainder elderly single or double chairs. If you're prepared to put up with the lifts (Most of which close for lunch at 1pm sharp, in the case of the T Bars regardless of whether people are riding up at the time, reportedly) and the ticket system then you are in for a good skiing experience, probably! Although largely promoted as a place for beginners and intermediates, more advanced skiers have raved about the 'huge safe bowls' of powder snow off piste between the runs which can be enjoyed 'in peace' during the quiet midweek period.
The off piste terrain, especially good in the Kusaklikaya sector, is little used by the natives but relatively safe from avalanches, there being no Alpine style steeps or overhangs above the slopes. Apart from the lift served runs there's the chance to take a budget priced helicopter to the summit of Mount Olympus/Zivre (2543m/about 8400 feet) to ski one of the most challenging runs; or a bus to the Volfram mine from which you can ski back to the resort. It's possible to take a long hike to the summit of Zivre if the helicopter service is unavailable.
The highest point of the lifts is reached by a single chair at 2235m. From here on a good day there are views over the rolling hills down to the sea of Murmara. For intermediate skiers the Ulukardesler, Ergun and Fatin lifts give access to some of the main wide sunny blue and reds slopes leading back down to the villase. The Fatin run often sports a mogul/bumps field.
Beginners will find wide nursery slopes carved through the trees above the resort, and above every hotel. To the right of the main snowbowl the Fahri, Beceren and Kervansary lifts all access the best of the nursery terrain. Some of the lifts have music playing add to the party atmsphere.
The ski school is particularly good midweek when clients are few and teachers especially keen and there are numerous mountain huts and restaurants. Night skiing is also available and in any case the lifts tend to stay open until around 8pm from February on. Snow cover is generally good with largely north facing, if sunny, slopes.
There are half a dozen cross country trails around the resort but there is apparently a serious danger of bear or wolf attack to those who venture too far away into the untouched national forest!
The ski terrain is family friendly but one of the few negative points for families with children is that the predominance of T Bars and the single chairs which do not provide user friendly family uplift, although there are some double chairs.
With its friendly, dedicated staff, children's play area, pool and ice rink, the Grand is a good base for families. The Beceren and Buyuk hotels also have children's play room, the latter employs Turkish nannies at its guest's request.
Lunchtime barbecues are offered at a number of spots -lamb remaining the staple of the various meat dishes (or you can rent your own BBQ and take it with you for a woodland picnic). Garlic sausage is another local favourite to cook on your barbie. Breakfast generally consists of fresh bread, local jam made with honey, olives, cheese, tomatos and tea. Coffee and eggs are available but may be pricey.
Mulled wine ("Sharap" in Turkish) is popular, as is 'Efes' beer, or you might want to embrace the national Turkish spirit, it is aniseed based and called Raki.