Palandöken: At the peak of Anatolia

Palandöken: At the peak of Anatolia

Melih Uslu
Palandöken: At the peak of Anatolia

On the roof of Erzurum, which is one of the world’s largest settlements that sit more than 2,000 meters above sea level, the fairy tale setting of Palandöken expects a million tourists within the next five years. An investment of 45 million Turkish Liras has totally changed Palandöken’s appearance.

The region’s skiing season, which usually lasts 150 days, has been extended by a month using snow machines and the latest technologies. Ponds have been created to supply water for snow machines as part of the preparations for the next winter games. The amenities and capacities of hotels have also been augmented. The areas allotted for winter sports were expanded. Professional search and rescue teams, mobile clinics, and snow-clearing machines have been allocated for guests in case of emergencies.

Palandöken is the pride of Anatolia with its world-class winter sports facilities, warming people up with its natural beauties even when the temperature falls below 20 degrees Celsius. With a 70-kilometer mountain range pinned together by conical peaks, this is a rare gem of a place for winter sports. The snow, which doesn’t blow away even the windiest of conditions, is ideal for winter sports.

With five luxury hotels to choose from, including four-and five-star hotels, Palandöken is a point of attraction not just for athletes but for honeymooning couples, nature lovers, photographers, mountain climbers, and businesspeople too. Proximity to the city center is another significant advantage for Palandöken.

The asphalt road that extends toward the mountain through scenic expanses of snow reaches Palandöken at its fourth kilometer. The ski resort located at the north side of the mountain welcomes its guests with a quarter of a century’s experience in tourism. The facilities can easily compete with world-famous resorts in the Alps and have committed themselves to delivering flawless service in tourism.

Tranquility is the resort’s first offering to its guests. The chunky mass of Ejder (Dragon) Peak rises behind the ever-present meshwork of fine snowflakes, standing 3,176 meters tall. The white hills are embellished by the vibrantly colored outfits of hundreds of skiers.

According to experienced skiers, skiing is an activity that should be performed private communion with nature. Consequently, it is not the kind of sport that can be enjoyed with thousands of people packed together in a narrow space. This is an important advantage that Palandöken has over its rivals.

There are plenty of runs to choose from for skiers at all skill levels. The Ejder run, which is 10 kilometers long, is also here; it is the longest run in Turkey and is one of the few of its kind in the world. That skiers of all levels can go up to the peak together, ski down different runs, and meet at the bottom is perhaps the greatest aspect of the resort. The total length of the side runs connecting the two main runs, Ejder and Kapıkaya, reaches 60 kilometers and presents various levels of challenges. Only advanced skiers can ski the most difficult runs, which are situated above 2,500 meters.

Every hotel in Palandöken provides maps of the ski runs. The difficulty levels, starting and fishing points, and altitudes of the runs are clearly indicated on these maps. There are eight lifts, all meeting international standards, consisting of a pull lift, a gondola, and six chairlifts. The runs range in altitude from 2,150 to 3,130 meters and accommodate six thousand athletes at once.

Winter comfort on the mountain

The resort, located on the northern side of the Palandöken Mountains, is protected by masses of rock on both sides, sheltering it from the wind. The high quality of the snow is due to low humidity. It is expected that the snow shall reach two meters in February. Even if you don’t trust yourself to ski down the steep slopes of the Ejder run, I do suggest that you go up to the peak. I can guarantee some unforgettable wintertime views on the chairlift ascending to the summit.

Fog is expected in early hours of the morning, however, it disappears by lunchtime to reveal a magical panorama. On clear days, it is possible to follow the curves of the Kaçkar Mountains and watch the city lights of Erzurum in the evenings.

Palandöken is visited by tourists from Russia, Holland, Slovakia, Ukraine and Iran, as well as domestic tourists. The city of Erzurum, famous for its Oltu Stone, harsh winters and historical monuments, is worth visiting before going up to the mountain. The city was one of the major stopovers on the Silk Road.

Bringing many civilizations together from Seljuks to the Ilkhanates, Romans to Ottomans, Erzurum’s history dates to 4,000 B.C. The active role played by Erzurum, which came under Turkish rule in the 11th century, in the War of Turkish Independence has literally sped into the veins of the city. Beyond this, as relayed in many pages of history, it is a city commemorated with the formidable wars faced by the Anatolian people in the 19th century. Even the bastions on the hills surrounding the city are enough to remind you of the history of this land.

The Aziziye bastion, easily accessible via the highway, holds the tomb of Nene Hatun, a Turkish woman whose name is inscribed in history as a hero during the 1878 Russo-Turkish War. Right at the heart of this city, which reminds its guests of its rich history at every step, is the castle standing in all its glory like a cap over Erzurum.

The Watch Tower referred to as Tepsi Minare and Kesik Kule rises from southwestern bastions of the castle. You are in a city where there are tens, even hundreds of historical structures.

Among the ones that catch the eye is the Çifte Minareli (Double Minaret) Madrasah. This structure is one of the biggest scholastic complexes of the Anatolian Seljuk era. Next to the madrasah, the Ulu Mosque is one of the most grandiose edifices of Erzurum. The masterpiece of Turkish architecture, the Yakutiye Madrasah, now houses the Islamic Arts Museum. The rotundas that I come across almost anywhere in the city are literally landmarks.

Also referred to as Taşhan (Stone Inn), the Rüstem Pasha Bedesten (antique market), which dates back to the 16th century, is the center of the artisan shops where Erzurum’s renowned jet stone is processed and sold.

If I turn my attention to local delicacies, ayran aşı soup (prepared with wheat, onion, and yoghurt), kadayıf dolması and tepsi kadayıf (two different presentations of oven-baked shredded pastry with pistachio filling), and of course, cağ kebab are among some of the highlights of Erzurum’s cuisine.