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Until its discovery in the 1970’s, Kartalkaya was just a deserted rocky mountaintop known only to eagles. Today is it one of Turkey’s most popular ski resorts.
The snowy cold that chills a man to the bone was upon us. Life was hard enough, and the cold only made it worse.
I was too depressed even to shiver. Housebound, I was grumpily engaged in cleaning out my closets. Until, that is, my ski gear landed right at my feet. We eyed each other for an instant like two long-lost lovers. The next minute I was already noting my next adventure in my travel diary: Kartalkaya.
DISCOVERED IN THE 1970’S
I jumped on one of the tour buses in the early dawn frost and set out for the Köroğlu Mountains southeast of Bolu, once only an eagles’ eyrie. Once on the bus, I watched, respectful and anxious, as the steward managed to keep his balance while pouring the coffee into my cup, and then took my first sip. When I finished the coffee I tried to drift into a bus ride slumber. Was it the coffee or the excitement of traveling - I don’t know - but in that limbo between sleep and wakefulness I remembered the story of the entrepreneur named Mazhar Murtazaoğlu who discovered this mountaintop back in the mid-70’s when it was nothing but an eagles’ eyrie and said, “I’m going to turn this place into a ski resort!” Heedless of the Bolu people who said he was crazy, Murtazaoğlu brought a road, water and electricity to the area, which was once inaccessible even by mule.
As if that weren’t enough, he also changed the face of the mountain by planting 12,000 pine striplings here in a forward-looking initiative that gave Turkey one of its leading ski resorts.
A TALE OF SNOW-WHITE
The bus came to a halt, and that, combined with the passengers’ voices and my caffeine-induced sleeplessness, made me open my eyes. We were right at Bolu, at the turnoff for Kartalkaya about 250 km from Istanbul. A long line of vehicles had commenced the ceremony of attaching chains prior to starting the ascent up the snow-covered 28-km road. Attaching chains is an unpleasant job under any circumstances and it’s not for everybody. Unraveling a twisted chain can be like solving a puzzle. But there’s no reason to panic because special ‘chain-attachers’ who have made this winter chore their business are waiting at the roadside precisely for such eventualities. What’s more, chains are even available to buy for those who don’t already have them. The post-chain journey continued in the dream-like atmosphere of the early morning light and the snow’s white. Looking out over Bolu, the Sarıalan Highland with its mountain cabins and broad snow plains just six kilometers from Kartalkaya gave signs that we were nearing the end of our journey.
In the end I had arrived at Kartalkaya. The clouds through which we passed on the road had settled over us now, coming between us and the sun. The landscape was restful and of the sort to awaken respect for the powerful impact of nature.
After settling into the hotel and donning my gear, I started the journey up to the 2100-meter peak. I call it a journey, but in fact it’s only ten minutes to the summit when you take one of the lifts that will fetch you and your skis from right in front of the hotel. And as you climb you can observe the skiers and snow boarders to your right and left. If you prefer to walk up to the top, it helps to be a mountaineer.
I personally made the mistake of climbing on foot for about 300 meters in order to watch the boarders making their jumps. I say a ‘mistake’ because if you’re not a trained mountain climber the cold and the altitude will take your breath away.
The wind and the majestic peaks of the Köroğlu Mountains stretching away behind the hotel area may unhinge you when you gaze down from the summit, and you’d best ski right down. Whichever 32-km run you have chosen depending on degree of difficulty, you’re on your own now in a confrontation with nature.
A WARM DIP IN THE ICE COLD AIR
At dusk the ski runs close before dark and the snow plows that work late into the night smoothing the runs begin to appear on the slopes. Sitting at the hotel window and following the dance of these giant machines that illumine the slopes with their headlamps can be an interesting experience as you sip your hot coffee. Of course, watching snow plows isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, and naturally there are other alternatives at Kartalkaya. The sharp drop in temperature at nightfall forces most of those staying on the mountain to spend their time in the hotel. I too begin to taste the pleasure of this enforced confinement. After a swim in the hotel’s heated pool with a view of the snow, I watch a film with the other guests in the hotel movie theater. Unlike the Uludağ ski resort with which it is constantly compared, Kartalkaya emphasizes more restful nocturnal activities in place of the usual frenetic nightlife, as if to say, ‘Hey, I’m here only for those who’ve come to ski!”
A SCENT OF COLD AND SNOW
It’s morning. Crowds descend from the day tour buses and flock to the ski rooms to rent ski and snowboarding equipment; I mingle with them. Gear of every sort awaits us here, from gloves and skis to snowboarding shoes and snow goggles. Skiers come for the weekend dash back and forth across the room jostling for first place on the runs. I don my gear and am out the door onto the slope. After inhaling the scent of the snow and feeling the cold in my bones, I climb to the summit. Pointing my skis downward, I take off downhill, engrossed by the snow boarders’ tracks like signatures in the snow. Temporarily distracted, I’m caught unawares by a sudden bump, and next thing I know I’m lying on the ground. With a carrot in my nose I’d make a perfect snow man! As I hunt for my skis, a big smile spreads over my face at the irony of my situation here where you can experience the coldest days of winter. Some two meters overhead a pair of eagles gaze down at me as if amused at my predicament. These crags are theirs after all.