The EA Team was on location to bring you an update from the first week of the season in one of the world's more exotic heliski destinations - Ayder, close to Turkey's northern coastline on the Black Sea.
I have to admit to having been a little sceptical. While the Alps were suffering the worst start to a winter any of us can remember, I wasn’t convinced that Turkey (not the first place that comes to mind when you imagine powder skiing) was going to fare much better. Scouring the internet for information on the snow conditions yielded little. Turkey has a few resorts with webcams (that weren’t confidence inspiring) but they were all far from the Ayder Valley. As it was the opening week of the winter, the local team didn’t know much more but told us they would let us know if it was unskiable. Spoiler alert: no news turned out to be good news.
At Istanbul I was joined by Dany and Fabien, Swiss helicopter pilots and Marine and Carine, coming to massage aching limbs and lead stretching sessions. We took a flight to the new airport at Rize on the Black Sea where we were met by the tireless Celal, a man whose talents proved almost endless - from locating missing luggage to preparing helicopters and lethal table football shooting. He hasn’t learnt to ski yet, but I don’t suppose it will take him long.
The story began 20 years ago, after Thierry Gasser spotted the Kaçkar mountain range when flying over from some far-flung trip. He came back in summer to recce the area and discovered an area that is blessed with high mountains, fabulous terrain and copious snowfalls. The operation evolved to take the best parts of a Canadian heliski operation and apply them to an altogether more interesting location where locals stopped and stared as we skied past our descent from transceiver training on day 1.
The (mainly Swiss) team has huge experience in Turkey and across the world – that means exemplary safety standards - from having three A Star helicopters on hand, in-depth understanding of the snowpack and solid procedures in every area.
Base for the week is the Hotel Hasimoglu. Being a hotel means there are multiple room options and, while it’s not a five star hotel by any means, it has all the other things you would expect – helipad right outside, hearty food, sauna, massage rooms and fitness room and friendly, warm hospitality.
Our week began with a “down day” but nobody minded too much as it was dumping snow and the forecast for the rest of the week was clear, cold and windless. Sunday was spent preparing gear, and doing safety briefings before heading up the valley in the snow cat to invest some time in transceiver training. This also gave the guides an opportunity to assess ability before assigning groups.
Monday morning came as promised and the froth factor was off the charts – the sound of the muezzin heralded bluebird skies and 5000 hectares of cold smoke powder snow from top to bottom with not a single ski track on them. We lifted off and 5 minutes later were atop our first run with views of Mount Kackar. It became clear that the snowpack was less stable than usual but our guide team instilled confidence and used their knowledge of the myriad valleys to find great runs and keep us out of trouble throughout for a first ski trip of 2023 that seems likely to turn out to be the best and certain to be the most memorable.
Unlikely as it might seem, Turkey has ski conditions to rival almost anywhere on the planet and this operation ticks a lot of boxes – huge tenure, small groups, short transfer, views of the Black Sea, all imbued with both Swiss quality and a more exotic Turkish flavour. In short it has all the benefits of classic Canadian heliskiing but is much closer for anyone in Europe – and well worth a trip from further afield. Find more details of our Turkey heliski trips here