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Skiing to perfection Palandöken
2003 / February

The snow of Palandöken has a will of its own. Gathering up a handful, I pressed and turned it to form a ball, but it was hopeless. Powder snow was certainly not the stuff for making snowballs, but as I was to discover is the perfect surface for skiing. The mountain air here is low in humidity and the snow is dry. Skis skim over the powder snow, and even through it when fresh. Although there are other reasons to come to Palandöken, skiing and more skiing is what it is really all about. Erzurum Airport is a five-minute drive from the city and 15 minutes from the ski resort. So you can be out on the snow three hours after leaving Istanbul if you are too impatient to unpack. Palandöken rises to an altitude of 3176 metres at the summit, and its ski runs are among the longest in the world. Seven of the twenty runs are beginner grade, eight intermediate, and two advanced. The remaining four are natural. One of the most agreeable things is that skiers of all levels go to the top together, set out in different directions, and meet again at the bottom.

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Skiing to perfection Palandöken
2003 / February

The gently sloping run for beginners behind the mountain extends for 12 kilometres to the Dedeman lift, and from there you can carry on for a further two kilometres to 'Point Zero' where the gondola lift is located. In other words, you can ski for 14 kilometres without any mechanical aid. Advanced skiers and experts prefer the north and south runs, which are registered by the International Skiing Federation (FIS). The FIS evaluates runs suitable for international competition according to factors like gradient, length, altitude drop between starting and finishing points, convexity and concavity, and these pistes at Palandöken have got full marks from the federation. This means that they are up to Winter Olympics standard, although at present the only international event held here is the International Palandöken Berna Dedeman Skiing Cup held in March. Palandöken ski resort has ten lifts, five of which are run by the Dedeman Hotel. The gondola is the first of its kind in Turkey, carrying four people in each cabin.

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Skiing to perfection Palandöken
2003 / February
The ski lift has a capacity of 350 people per hour, and there are three chair lifts run by Polat. By means of these skiiers can easily get around the slopes. Establishing the resort and its facilities was not an easy process, as I realised when I spoke to second generation Erzurum skiers Fevzi Tosun and Metin Gez. Tosun has represented Turkey in skiing competitions more than a hundred times, and has been Turkish skiing champion for 15 years running. He described how the first chair lift was built by the Department of Youth and Sport in 1969, and it was an incredible story. A track was cleared by snow ploughs to get the poles weighing 1.5 tons up the mountain, and each was carried by five water buffalos up to an altitude of 3200 metres. To prevent the buffalos' hoofs getting damaged, they were protected with rubber boots! With the chair lift up and going, skiing commenced in Erzurum. The first visitors to the fledgling resort arrived in the 1970s.
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Skiing to perfection Palandöken
2003 / February

They were a group of Turkish Airlines pilots and air hostesses, who stayed here with the late Hami Kaptan and his team. Home cooked local food was brought up the mountain for them, and they ate and skiied together with their instructors. Palandöken is the first ski resort in Turkey to be developed according to a master plan. Field studies identified three areas in the Palandöken Mountains suitable for skiing. The first of these is Erzurum Hinis Bogazi, where today there are hotels with 2400 beds and lifts. The second is Konakli Yaylasi 22 kilometres from Erzurum on the road to Çat. When the facilities here are completed, 14,000 people will be able to the ski simultaneously on the 16 planned pistes, which will all converge at the same point, so eradicating any risk of skiers becoming lost. The third ski centre is Namliklar or Gez Yaylasi 5 kilometres from Erzurum. When all these projects are completed, 32,000 people will be able to ski every day in the Palandöken Mountains. Avalanches are not a risk here, since the Gaz-ex system used at other ski resorts around the world ensures controlled avalanche fall.

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Skiing to perfection Palandöken
2003 / February

As a precaution against the unlikely event of there being insufficient snow, there is also an artificial snow system. Snow begins to fall in October and lies on the upper slopes until July, and the skiing season lasts from December to May. Ski touring is a new branch of off-piste skiing for which synthetic sealskin is attached to the base of the skis, preventing backsliding. This way skiiers can enjoy exploring the mountain scenery. Ski touring has a longer season than piste skiing, extending to seven or eight months in the Palandöken Mountains. Accompanied by a local guide ski touring trips can be made to Konakli and Gez. Another sport that is becoming popular here in winter as well as summer is hang gliding, and under the guidance of experienced pilots beginners can enjoy hang gliding at Ejder Tepesi. Then of course you can put away your skis and snowboard, and try mountain climbing. Although temperatures here are so low, the dry cold is not penetrating.

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Skiing to perfection Palandöken
2003 / February
As you climb higher, lowered oxygen levels in the air make breathing more of an exertion, but apparently this is beneficial because of the resulting increase in the number of red blood cells. This natural boost to the system means that you go home rejuvenated. There is a mountaineering hut on Ejder Tepesi used as a base by climbers who come to Palandöken, and close by is Ejder Café, where you can enjoy the classic winter snack of roasted garlic sausage with hunks of bread in front of the roaring log fire. The view from the terrace here is spectacular. When the sun comes out, the snow-covered mountains are bathed in glittering light, and when there is cloud but no mist all the mountains are spread before you in sharp focus, and the city of Erzurum becomes visible far below. The name Palandöken means 'saddle thrower', since these mountains are so steep that pack saddles used to slip off the animals' backs. This vivid image seems to sum up all the wild beauty of these magnificent mountains.

* BAHAR KALKAN.
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