ARTICLE: MELIH USLU PHOTOS: BARIS HASAN BEDIR
On The Dragon’s Back
Once a fire-breathing dragon, Mount Erciyes today is more like an elegant lady with a dazzling white crown...
You only need to take three things along when you go to the Erciyes Ski Center: your credit cards, chic duds and enough self-confidence to don a pair of skis. Kayseri Airport being a scant hour and a half from Istanbul by airplane, flying is the most practical way of getting there. The biggest city in the entire Cappadocia valley, Kayseri sits smack dab on the cusp between the Central Anatolian steppe and the Eastern Anatolian Plateau, which boasts the highest mountains in Turkey. Before you climb Mount Erciyes, set aside some time for a panoramic tour of the surrounding area and a city tour of Kayseri, an old Ottoman town. You won’t regret it. The city center, only five kilometers from Kayseri Airport, is well-planned and modern in appearance. On Republic Square, which is lined with the city’s most popular venues for shopping, entertainment and dining out, the constant bicycle traffic will catch your eye. After visiting Kayseri Fortress, the chief monument of the medieval Turkish principalities, the Great Mosque and the Archaeological Museum, you can make a stop at the historic Covered Bazaar for a few authentic gift items. For those who would like to expand their tour of the environs, Kayseri offers a number of alternatives in the immediate vicinity. Cappadocia, which has played host to countless civilizations over its eight-millennia-old history, is a unique open-air museum with its fairy chimneys, rock churches and underground cities. For a taste of the region’s characteristic geographical features it is worth seeing not only Ürgüp, Mustafapaşa (Sinasos), Ortahisar, Uçhisar, Göreme, Çavuşin, Kızılçukur, Avanos and the Sultan Sazlığı National Park to the south, but also Hacıbektaş, the home of Hacıbektaş Veli, a name symbolic of Anatolian tolerance and love for one’s fellowman. Yet another privilege Kayseri offers its visitors is the rich local cuisine. Kayseri-style gumbo and ravioli, a savory pastry known as ‘şebit yağlaması’, peasant-style fried lamb with mushrooms, and Turkish ‘pastrami’ packed in a walnut-flavored cumin paste are just a few traditional favorites. After crowning your city tour with a fine meal, it is time to embark on your Mt Erciyes adventure.
A MAGICAL LANDSCAPE
You can reach the Erciyes Ski Center, which is 25 km from Kayseri, via the asphalt road that connects the town of Hisarcık to the Tekir Highlands. Accompanied by postcard-pretty landscapes, this road winds through the snow-covered steppe amid wooden shepherds’ huts, flocks of goats and natural springs large and small. As you climb to the snow-capped summit of Erciyes, an extinct volcano, the Kayseri Plain will spread out below you like a sheet. And when you reach 2000 meters, the Cappadocia Valley and its unique geological formations will come into view. The mountain road that links Kayseri to the ski center is kept open even in the harshest winter weather under the watchful eye of the local authorities. Nonetheless, chains are a must for those who make the drive up in their private car, a journey that may take up to two hours from the city center under difficult road and weather conditions. When you step out of your car at the ski center and feel the cold snow under your feet, you won’t believe that Erciyes was once a fiery volcano spewing terror in every direction. The fact is, however, that on the gold and copper coins found at the imposing ancient town of Mazaka, which was brought to light on the mountain’s highest slopes, Erciyes (ancient Argaeus) is depicted as a fire-breathing dragon. The lava that poured from this 3917-meter-high mountain formed the spellbinding landscape of the Cappadocia Valley, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The symbol of Kayseri today, Mount Erciyes with its peaks that are snow-capped at least three seasons of the year, more than a fire-spewing dragon, now brings to mind an elegant lady sporting a white crown on her head.
A BIRD’S-EYE VIEW OF CAPPADOCIA
Erciyes is the rising star among Turkey’s ski resorts for its long winter season, its soft powdery snow, its wide choice of ski runs appropriate for every level of skill, and its accommodations which offer all the touristic amenities. But the real ‘Erciyes difference’ lies in the fact that it offers skiers a bird’s-eye view of Cappadocia’s matchless landscape from the open air. Another Erciyes plus is that the weather is consistently clear and dry, while the high altitude and meteorological conditions ensure that the snow is of consistently high quality. The ski runs, which extend over a broad area, start at 2200 meters; the summit is at 3300. Each one of the three main pistes is eminently suitable for skiing, snowboarding, summer skiing and heli-skiing. And the area outside the pistes offers an opportunity to try other winter sports as well. Besides being used for mountaineering and glacier-climbing, Mount Erciyes also has perfect trails for hiking tours in the summer months. Yet another specialty among the weekend activities is snow rafting, which offers takers a wild ride of several kilometers from elevations of 2950 meters in rafting boats. The ski runs, the longest of which is 2950 meters, total 12 kilometers in length.
The ski center also boasts an infrastructure on a par with any in Europe. Five mechanical lifts—two teleskis and three chair-lifts—as well as a cable car, seven T-bars, baby lifts of 200, 300 and 600 meters, an emergency first aid center, a mobile clinic and a snow plough are all on hand to serve skiers. What’s more, professional search and rescue teams are on duty 24 hours a day in case of a possible accident.
FROM NOVEMBER TO THE END OF APRIL
The 1570-meter-long first lift, Erciyes’ longest mechanical conveyance, extends by 1400 meters when combined with the second. All of the lifts, which afford rapid and comfortable transportation to the slopes, are new and well-maintained. And the cafeterias at the end of every second lift offer the added boon of a toasty break from the cold. The small 200-meter lift is a favorite with beginners. The most ideal ski runs are those around the Ana Doruk (Main Peak) and the Üçker Çanağı or trough. The ski runs at Erciyes, which exhibits all the salient features of a land climate, are occasionally exposed to harsh winds from the south and west, a situation which can be an obstacle to the even distribution of the fine powdery snow. But this is no problem at Erciyes, even for novices. The professional instructors employed at the ski center throughout the season will meet all your needs from equipment to instruction. When compared with its competitors in Turkey and the rest of the world, one of the most outstanding attractions of the Erciyes Ski Center, where you can ski every year from the middle of November to the end of April, is the opportunity it affords for an economical winter or ski holiday. Accommodations capable of sleeping over 600 tourists include two hotels
(two-star and three-star) with swimming pools, satellite TV and sauna, and a 20-bed pension as well as several government guesthouses. So, how about it? Wouldn’t it be worth spending your winter holiday at Erciyes this year?