Four snowboard pros, a legendary mountain and a metropolis, between seashore and snow-capped northern slopes - it's the beginning of February and we have just arrived in the north-western part of Turkey. Billy Morgan, Celia Miller, Šárka Pančochová and Tim-Kevin Ravniak, names well known among the international snowboarding scene, are on their way to the metropolis Bursa where they are supposed to host a pro coaching session and a contest together with locals in the course of the 'International Week'.
Mount Uludag, the "Sublime Mountain", also known as the 'Mysian Olympus' or 'Mountain of Monks' with an elevation of 8,343 ft., is the one mountain from where the gods have watched the Trojan War – at least that's what the Greek legend says. Mount Uludag and the famous Greek Mount Olympus have a great deal in common: a very special flora and fauna like straight out of the textbook, a name rich in history and an old legend. They say that on a clear day, its summit can even be seen from Istanbul, 93 miles north. But there is one thing its Greek colleague doesn't have: a Snowpark, where - only a few days after the arrival of the pros - Turkey's first slopestyle contest ever will take place.
But more on that later. Mount Uludag is overlooking the city of Bursa, the fourth largest city in Turkey with its 2.8 million inhabitants; 13 miles away from the Sea of Marmara, in between a green, hilly landscape. The region is well known for hot springs, historical sites and its famous silk bazaar – but something like a freestyle hot spot for snowboarders and freeskiers would be on the very bottom of the list of things to expect here. Got the bigger picture? And now imagine Billy Morgan, Celia Miller, Šárka Pančochová and Tim-Kevin Ravniak entering Turkey, fully packed with snowboarding equipment. They have started the adventure in Istanbul which isn't that far away, but Bursa seems to be nearly inaccessible. At least for a bunch of snowboarders with loads of stuff to carry and hardly ... well, actually no local knowledge at all.
The "easy" way was to grab a cab - actually two of them, one for the guys, the other one for the boards. "The first challenge was to find the bus terminal, then we were stuck in the traffic of Istanbul and finally on the ferry - it took us ages and we missed dinner. Fortunately, our coordinator Levent had some Iskender kebab for us", says organizational leader Bernhard Schlosser, grinning. "Actually, we didn't eat much else the following week, because it was so good." For your info: The Iskender Kebab has its name from its inventor, İskender Efendi, who lived in Bursa in the late 19th century. Ever since, it's a traditional and much loved dish in the Bursa area.
Unfortunately, the crew didn't have enough time to stroll through the historic metropolis. The event was getting closer and they didn't yet reach their destination in the South of Bursa, the Teferrüc district with the base station of the Bursa Uludag gondola, which is simply called Teleferik. The 5.5-mile-long cable car connects the city center with the Uludag National Park and one fact becomes crystal clear when you’re swinging in the gondola: Uludag is one of the most important, largest and most visited ski resorts in Turkey. Nevertheless, you can still find untouched nature and heavily snowed-in slopes off the beaten track. "The view from the gondola is unique – a special mix of nature and megacity. Where on earth can you look down onto a city with 2 million inhabitants on the one side and discover bear- and wolf-tracks in the snow on the other?" Photographer Roland is obviously stoked. "It's a very special experience. In the Alps, no one really thinks about Turkey as a winter sports destination. But there are amazing resorts all across the country which are as high, snow-reliable and up-to-date as the ones we know in Europe".
Sounds like perfect conditions for the International Week and the first Turkish slopestyle contest! If not higher powers had decided to stand against the plans of the snowboard crew. First of all, the weather didn't bother pleasing them: Before their arrival, a Sahara storm swept over the resort, covering everything in yellow – remember: don't eat yellow snow – and letting the snowpark melt. Even-tempered, the guys started to shape the park again. Then the shovel of the snow groomer bricked. "And as soon as we got the piste basher repaired, we couldn't find a single drop of gasoline in the whole area. Finally someone helped us out and then the chain broke. So we went for a tea." Meanwhile, Bernhard can laugh about what happened. Despite the first attempts of the Ottomans to grow tea in Turkey in 1888 weren't that successful, Turkish çay is definitely an inherent part of every-day life in the metropolis. "If something breaks, you're trying to fix it. If you cannot fix it, you cannot work, you have to wait. So you have some tea. The Turks are very hospitable and welcoming, so you end up drinking tea anytime and anywhere", says park designer Ricky visibly amused.
But where there's a will ... within just one day the crew was able to rebuild the park and everything was ready in time for the big event. "The QParks crew and the pros helped us with full dedication and with Ricky's experience as a park designer and extreme shifts we were able to make it in time. It was insanely motivating how everybody helped to make it happen", Levent grins from ear to ear. Against all odds, the hard work paid off: "The weather was suboptimal, but the mood was overwhelming", cameraman Sebastian Funk thinks back. "The snowmobiles unconditionally available for each and everyone in the resort are a very special treat. Even the 'spoiled' pros were stoked. On the other hand, the locals were incredibly excited that snowboard professionals were visiting their resort, teaching them new tricks and hosting a contest. No matter what went wrong, everyone was totally thrilled."
And while Mount Uludag disappears into the white of the fresh snowfall and the participants still chat about the tension of the past few days – while having another cup of tea of course –, the crew slowly heads westwards again, now packed with a lot of cultural experiences, new friends and heaps of footage.
The video the crew made gives us a deeper insight about the encounters the riders had in Turkey. Let's get infected by the mysticism surrounding Mount Uludag! Find all info and news about Uludag on this website and on Facebook. Görüşürüz!
P.s: After all his backbreaking efforts, park designer Ricky managed to miss the whole event. After 24 hours of hard work, he slept away the contest day in the hotel lobby. For him and for everyone else who couldn't be there check the initial report here.
Photos: © Roland Haschka
Mount Uludag - A Snowboard Trip to Turkey
Fact's Box Mount Uludag – Turkey's Most Prestigious Resort
- How to get there: Take a plane to Istanbul, grab a cab and head to the harbor Yenikapi, and then get on a taxi to Bursa or Uludag. Of course you could drive by yourself through Istanbul's traffic snarl, but we would rather only recommend it to experienced globetrotters. Season: From December to May. Tip: March and April are the best months to shred Mount Uludag. Accommodation: Around 27 hotels and apartments in the height of 5,900 ft. above sea level.
- Ski pass: 160 TRY (47,50 EUR) (day pass, high season)
- Equipment: You can pick up your equipment at the on-mountain rental location.
- Slopes: 18 miles
- Ski-lifts: 16 (two gondolas, six chairlifts, eight T-bars)
- Nightlife: A lot of après-ski-bars and restaurants.
- extensive backcountry (incl. snowmobile-rental)
- beginner- and advanced snowpark with 12 features open-air restaurants and outdoor grill areas