As winter sets in, it is the perfect time to embark on an adrenaline-filled skiing adventure on Turkey’s powder-covered peaks
The summer fun of sand and sea may be over, but the cold weather ushers in wonderful opportunities to discover Turkey as a winter wonderland with its captivating ski resorts situated along mountain ranges throughout the country. Turkey may not have the Alps, but you may be surprised to see how many snow and ski adventures are waiting for you – albeit with a Turkish twist. The ski season in Turkey generally lasts four to six months, with areas clearing up to 3 meters of snow. Skiing is a popular sport among Turkey's urbanites, and joining in on their transition to snow bunnies for the winter offers a completely new way to experience the country. Furthermore, the cost to ski in Turkey is lower than in Western European resorts, and in true Turkish style, it is a less pretentious and a more family-friendly experience – which makes it the ideal location to pursue this wonderful winter sport.
A number of ski resorts such as Palandöken, Uludağ, Sarıkamış, Kartalkaya and Erciyes are especially decked out with the latest technology and equipment as well as chairlifts, T-bars, baby lifts and cable car access. Luxurious resort hotels offer all-inclusive packages, lessons and equipment, with most equipped with restaurants, bars, nightclubs, fitness centers, indoor pools, saunas and even hamams. Most are located near transit hubs and can be worked into a trip, such as staying in Erciyes if you are visiting Cappadocia, Sarıkamış if you are visiting Kars or Kartalkaya if you are on a tour of the Black Sea. Uludağ offers the perfect weekend getaway for Istanbulites and Ankara residents, while Palandöken in Erzurum is a notable place for ski-aficionados. Meanwhile, there are also a handful of ski centers geared more for novice skiers, located in close proximity to a number of Turkey's major cities.
The following is a list of Turkey's top picks to hit the slopes this winter:
Uludağ is easily Turkey's most popular skiing resort. Located just 36 kilometers from Bursa and 150 kilometers from Istanbul, connected by a ferry that runs from Kabataş on Istanbul's European side to Bursa, Uludağ's proximity alone makes it the perfect winter weekend escape. Uludağ – which means "Great Mountain" – is known in mythology to be the place where the Gods watched the Trojan War. Now, it is coincidently where Turkey's paparazzi follow the glitterati and socialites who hit the slops during the winter months. Situated at an elevation of 2,543 meters, Uludağ is also the tallest mountain in Western Anatolia. The fully equipped Uludağ Ski Center sits at an altitude of 1,800-2,500 meters, has approximately 20 kilometers of ski tracks and an average snowfall of around 3 meters under normal winter conditions. There is a wide range of accommodation in Uludağ for up to 3,000 visitors and a cable car to transport holiday-goers to their respective hotels. In addition to a number of prominent Turkish chain hotels such as Anemon and Grand Yazıcı, as well as the newest "in" spot, Baia, there are accommodation options to suit every budget. Hotels also have ski lifts and teleskis for their respective customers.
Uludağ becomes quite the social scene in winter with outdoor cafés buzzing throughout the season. Famed for its nightlife, there are also a number of après ski facilities, restaurants and nightclubs and there are always many concerts and events on New Years Eve. Uludağ also hosts WinterFest, which will take place on the weekends of Jan. 19-23, Jan. 26-30 and Feb. 9-13 with a long line-up of shows by popular Turkish performers. Although Uludağ is by far a favorite destination in Turkey for social ski-lovers and offers the extra perks expected of a skiing vacation, the skiing facilities are often crowded due to the high demand of this winter season hotspot; therefore, serious skiers may actually prefer some of Turkey's less popular resorts.
Palandöken Ski Resort in the Eastern Anatolian province of Erzurum is widely considered to be the best skiing course in Turkey for skilled skiers due to the quality of the light powder snow, the steepness of the slopes and length of the trail at 12 kilometers. At an altitude of 3,125 meters, Palandöken Mountain is also Turkey's highest peak. Along with the newer Konaklı Resort, Erzurum hosted the 25th Winter Universiade (World University Games) in 2011, where it gained international recognition. Palandöken has top-notch infrastructure and excellent runs for skiers of all levels, and even makes it possible to ski in the evening on illuminated runs accompanied by music – not to mention a happening après ski scene. With its stunning views and a 2,100 bed-capacity, Xanadu Snow White is the best place to stay. There are a number of luxurious hotels near the resort with cable car access, and the resort's close proximity to Erzurum at just 5 kilometers also allows for accommodation options for any budget.
Sarıkamış Ski Center, located 55 kilometers from Kars in Eastern Turkey at an elevation of 2,500 meters, is situated in a stunning setting amongst pine forests. Similar to the Alps, the "crystal" type of snow is ideal for skiing and snowboarding as well as cross-country skiing. There are also three state-of-the art chairlifts and pistes spanning 12 kilometers. Although accommodations at the resort all have restaurants, discos and hamams, they are more low-key and family oriented, namely the Camkar Hotel and Toprak Hotel, while Bildik Otel offers self-catering chalets in the town of Sarıkamış 3 kilometers away.
Surrounded by pine trees, Kartalkaya Ski Resort is located 40 kilometers from Bolu in the Black Sea Region at an elevation of 1,850-2,200 meters. There, the snow starts out in the season as powdery and closes as more slushy. Kartalkaya is a favorite for snowboarders with its experts-only off-piste slopes. Kaya Palazzo is the most chic place to stay and expansive with 11 pistes and seven chairlifts, while the Golden Key is a more tranquil mountain resort experience with in-room Jacuzzis with views. There are also a handful of other hotels that, although are more basic, also offer full amenities such as the Kartal Hotel, Grand Kartal and Dorukkaya. Its proximity to Ankara and Istanbul make this skiing destination a popular weekend getaway for urbanites as well.
Erciyes Ski Resort is one of Turkey's oldest ski centers and is located near the city of Kayseri. At an elevation of 3,915 meters, Erciyes is the tallest mountain in Central Anatolia and is also a massive stratovolcano. A more rugged skiing experience with emptier pistes, Erçiyes has 12 kilometers of ski slopes, a 20-kilometer area for cross-country skiing and a half pipe for snowboarders. There are a number of hotels near the resort, namely two Maradas; however, due to its close proximity to the Kayseri city center 25 kilometers away, there is a wide range of overnight stay options available as well.
For daytrips from Istanbul, Ankara and Antalya, the Kartepe Ski Resort, Elmadağ Ski Center and Saklıkent Ski Resort, each limited to beginner and intermediate runs, offer the perfect daytrip escape for novice skiers. At approximately an hour-and-a-half drive away from Istanbul, Kartepe Ski Resort is set on the 1,700-meter high summit in Kocaeli. The Elmadağ Ski Center is located just 18 kilometers away from the capital of Ankara with slopes at an altitude of 1,500-1,850 meters. Saklıkent Ski Resort, located 50 kilometers west of Antalya at an altitude of 2,550 meters, is the perfect spot for a day excursion from Antalya and possibly one of the only places in the world aside from Lebanon where one could conceivably begin the day with a swim in the Mediterranean only to end it skiing on a mountaintop overlooking it.