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CRYSTAL SNOW OF CIBILTEPE
2000 / MARCH

The horse shook his head from side to side, partly in annoyance but more in fear. Evidently it was disturbed by the reins and by the sleigh behind it. Ramazan explained that the animal was nervous because it was the first time it had been harnessed to a sleigh. "It will get used to it," he said. Then turning his face - tanned chestnut brown by the winter sun - to the horse, he tried to calm it down.
"Emos, Emos! There's nothing to worry about, boy! Emooos!"

Emos stands for Emrah. The five year old horse carried us flying along the icy roads around Cibiltepe. Enchanted by the scenery around us, we visitors from the big city gazed first to one side and then to the other. Even the sound of the crows seemed unusually delightful.
It was a strange experience to have been walking along the streets of Istanbul yesterday, and today be in the snow-carpeted landscape of Kars at Turkey's eastern extremity.

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CRYSTAL SNOW OF CIBILTEPE
2000 / MARCH

With blankets over our knees and woolly hats on our heads, we were going around Cibiltepe Ski Resort at Sarikamis in a horse-drawn sleigh. We had wrapped our scarfs around our faces up to our eyes. Although the temperature was 10 degrees below zero, we did not feel the cold in the dry air.

Cibiltepe is 54 kilometres from Kars Airport. The flight from Istanbul takes just 90 minutes, which makes this distant province a step away. We long for the summer holidays and make plans far in advance, but do not often think of taking a break at the weekends during winter. Perhaps it is because we do not know what we are missing. Blue sea under warm sun is of course wonderful, but just as glorious are mountains blanketed in white snow.You might object that you do not know how to ski and have not got the equipment for it anyway. But skiing is not as difficult as you might think. According to the ski instructors you can learn in a couple of hours, and you can hire skis from your hotel at a cheap daily rate.

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CRYSTAL SNOW OF CIBILTEPE
2000 / MARCH

That disposes with your excuses. Anyway, you do not have to ski at all. There is beautiful scenery to walk through and enjoy instead.
Cibiltepe is 2850 metres above sea level and surrounded by Scots pine forest. The ski lift at the resort is in two sections, the first carrying passengers to 1435 metres, and the second from there to the summit. As we looked down on the snowy landscape below, we tried guessing which animals had made the various tracks between the trees.
"That looks like a rabbit."
"Do you think there are wolves here?"
"Look at those claw marks. I think those are bea'ss prints." At that moment we forgot that the bears must be peacefully hibernating for the winter. Out mind was preoccupied with the spectacular sight of the Allahu Ekber Mountains in the distance. The majesty of nature commanded our deepest respect, and we bowed before it. Mentally, of course, because we were still on the ski lift.

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CRYSTAL SNOW OF CIBILTEPE
2000 / MARCH

At the end of the first stage we got out and had scalding hot tea at the small café while we watched the skiiers on the piste. The wind tossed the tree branches and dislodged snow onto our heads, but we only smiled.
The first ski slope at Cibiltepe is 1750 metres long, and the second 3500 metres, followed by four others of 2900, 3000, 2450 and 300 metres respectively. With a total piste length of 13,900 metres, the resort caters comfortably for skiers of all levels ranging from beginners to professionals.

Moreover, there is no risk of avalanches here because the slopes are protected by the pine trees which cover the entire mountain top.All this information was given to us by Cahit Koparir, General Manager of Kar-Sar-Tur, short for Kars Sarikamis Tourism, a joint venture of several public and private organisations, established like its counterparts in Europe to run the ski lift at the resort.Cahit Koparir told us that the Cibiltepe ski lift is the most modern in Turkey,

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CRYSTAL SNOW OF CIBILTEPE
2000 / MARCH

and that the snow quality here is also outstanding. The snow of Sarikamis is what is called crystal snow, and is found extremely rarely.

With snow all around us, the idea of attacking our friends with snowballs was irresistible. However, the moment we picked up a handful of snow and began trying to roll it, we realised that crystal snow really is different. It refused to stick into a ball at all, remaining powdery despite all our efforts. We were distinctly frustrated at first, but soon forgot about it as we watched the snow glisten in the bright light, looking like a carpet of diamonds beneath the brilliant blue sky.
Breathing the fresh clean air made us hungry, and we descended the hill by the ski lift, heading for the only hotel as yet open, the Çamkar Hotel which has 132 beds. A second hotel is currently being constructed by Toprak Holding Company and is scheduled to open next year. A further two hotels are planned by the Dedeman and Dogu Holding companies.

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CRYSTAL SNOW OF CIBILTEPE
2000 / MARCH

Cibiltepe was filled with skiers and families come for the weekend, and in their bright clothing they made a colourful and lively sight. We heard people speaking English, French, German and Turkish with the local accent. Local people were evidently as keen on skiing as anyone else. Skiing rather than football is the favourite pastime of the tanned, slender and tall children of Sarikamis. With my heart in my mouth I watched an eight year old ski down the slope at neck-breaking speed. In the past skiers from Sarikamis made up most of Turkey's national ski team, sometimes as many as 15 of the entire squad. But over recent years the number has fallen. The ski instructors at Çamkar Hotel give free lessons to local children in an effort to restore the arear former status in the sport of skiing.
We were starving by now and there was no time to lose. What should we eat? We decided to try two of the famous specialities of the region, velibag and tandirda kaz (roast goose cooked in a tandir oven) in the authentic village next to Çamkar Hotel.

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CRYSTAL SNOW OF CIBILTEPE
2000 / MARCH

Here guests are served meals in a hair tent, seated crosslegged around traditional low tables. Velibag is a kind of unleavened bread cooked on a griddle with a filling of potato and chilli pepper. With melted butter sprinkled on top it is mouthwatering.

The roast goose was magnificent. We were told that the remarkable flavour comes from the snow water which the goose drinks before being slaughtered. The goose is then salted and hung (out of reach of the cat!) before being cooked. When it is to be roasted in the tandir oven, the cook begins by boiling the goose. Then bulgur (cracked wheat) is sautéed with tomato and onion and placed in a casserole. Some of the liquid in which the goose was boiled is now added, and both casserole and goose placed in the oven. As the goose roasts its juices drip down into the casserole, adding flavour to the bulgur pilaf.
It is impossible to describe the exquisite flavour of this meal, so when you go to Cibiltepe in Sarikamis you must taste it for yourselves.

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