Fancy some amazing heli snowboarding in Turkey? Then read this review of Turkey Heliski in Ayder. With waist deep powder, incredible terrain and a great operation it was the best snowboarding experience of my life.
When I told friends I was heading to Turkey for a week of snowboarding they looked a bit confused. They had no idea that much of Turkey is mountainous, and that it gets a lot of snow.
You might be surprised to to find out there are more than 30 ski areas in Turkey. Admittedly most are very small. But there are six with over 20 km of slopes including Erciyes-Kayseri with 55 km and Palandöken with 43 km.
However, for this review of Turkey Heliski in Ayder I was not heading to a ski resort. Located in the Kackar Mountains in north east Turkey, Ayder is a popular summer resort for active mountain holidays.
During winter much of the village is closed. But Turkey Heliski spotted the potential of 3,900m peaks, ample snowfall due to the proximity of the Black Sea and 5,100 square kilometers of terrain. Perfect for a heli skiing operation!
Usually the journey to Ayder is fairly simple. Just fly into Istanbul, which takes less than four hours from most of Europe. Then take a two hour domestic flight to Trabzon.
I say usually because unprecedented amounts of snow in Trabzon meant all flights were cancelled for two days. Trabzon is right on the Black Sea and it usually does not get any snow. So it was pretty unlucky to have two days wiped out.
Fortunately, Turkish Airlines handled it fairly well. They booked me onto another flight and put me up in a hotel. It wasn’t simple to change flights, but that was because of the language barrier and lots of cancelled flights (not just to Trabzon) causing travel carnage.
But I ended up with two nights and a full day in Istanbul – a place I had always wanted to visit. I went into the city, visiting the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and did a boat trip on the Bosphorus. I even met up with a friend I hadn’t seen for about five years.
As flight delays go it worked out quite well. When I eventually arrived in Trabzon, Turkey Heliski were waiting to pick me and a few other guests up. We were then driven to Ayder.
Usually it takes about two hours to drive from Trabzon to Ayder. Unfortunately with all the snow there were a few delays and it took more like four. But we arrived in time for dinner, and a well deserved beer.
Heliskiing is not a budget sport, and not something you want to cut corners on. So just in case you are concerned about the standard of the operation in Turkey you don’t need to worry.
Turkey Heliski is a Swiss company based in Verbier. They use highly experienced and fully qualified mountain guides from around Europe. One of the guides is renowned ski mountaineer Sam Anthamatten, who was on the Freeride World Tour and rides for Faction Skis.
The helicopters, pilots and mechanic are from Air Zermatt. They all work year round in alpine conditions. The pilots are hugely experienced, not just in flying in the mountains but reading the terrain and understanding potential dangers.
Of course when heading into the backcountry you need suitable gear. Turkey Heliski provide a top of the range transceiver, shovel and probe. Every guest also gets an avalanche airbag, just in case.
They are the only company offering heliskiing in Turkey and have been operating there since 2006. The operation is all approved by the Turkish government and they have exclusive rights to 5,100 km2 of terrain.
That is enough to cover Chamonix to Jungfrau and Verbier to Zermatt! There are more than 400 documented drops reaching up to 3,600m. Runs typically have a vertical of between 700 and 1200 meters.
With enough snow to cancel flights at sea level there was also plenty in Ayder. In the Kackar mountains they’d received over a metre of fresh stuff in three days. But bad weather meant they had only flown for two hours.
Apparently the snow here stabilises very quickly. Cold nights means it settles and bonds with the layers below. And as it snows very frequently weak layers are rare and there is usually a very stable snow pack.
At dinner we were told the next day would be clear skies and great conditions. Those of us who had arrived that day would have a safety briefing at 8am and we’d be taking off at 8:30!
I had never been heliskiing before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. For the first time in years I was actually a little nervous getting ready to snowboard.
My group of four plus our guide Yann were in the second group to take off. When the helicopter returned from dropping group one, we were knelt on the helipad waiting for it. We quickly climbed on board and before I knew it we were off.
I had only been in a helicopter once before so I wasn’t prepared for quite how exhilarating that first ride was. While I was still gobsmacked by the flight we pulled in to land at the top of a ridge.
We all quickly got out and knelt down next to the helicopter while it took off. The close proximity of the helicopter landing and taking off took a while for me to get used to. It’s just so close!
We could see five virgin tracks the previous drop had left and Yann told us to head to their right. There was another drop to come behind us and they would take the left side. The five of us had plenty of space to lay our own fresh lines in the knee deep snow.
Now I have done a lot of off-piste snowboarding, including plenty of backcountry. I’ve had more than my share of what I consider untouched powder.
However this was different. When I got to the bottom my first thought was it was the best run of my life. The difference is there was no time on piste to get to the powder, no crossing other peoples tracks and no traversing to find an untouched line.
We then proceeded to do 19 heli drops in one day, all in different locations offering fresh powder every time. We skied just under 14,000 metres of vertical in a single day. Although we encountered a few wind blown areas the majority was knee deep powder.
The other guys on the trip, all heli-skiing veterans, said they had never done so much in a day. In most places five or six drops is about average and 9,000 metres vertical is considered very good. They said it was the biggest heliski day they’d experienced.
Putting it in perspective on that first day I probably laid more fresh lines than I do in most seasons. Pretty much every run was better than the last, and it felt like I did the run of my life 19 times.
We stopped for lunch on the mountains, eating baguettes we had made at breakfast. There were also hot drinks, soup and salad on the go. The soup was excellent as was the egg salad and tuna baguette I had made!
Just to make the day even better we were riding with pro skier Jeremie Heitz. He is a Red Bull athlete and one of the most famous big mountain freeriders on the planet. You’ve probably seen videos of him straight lining from the top of steep icy mountains!
Jeremie is a really nice and humble guy. Always happy to help out, good fun and chatty. I saw him stomp a couple of huge tricks that were mindblowing. At one point he jumped off a boulder the size of a house landing about two bus lengths away. Of course he also had time for a stylish grab.
By the end of the day I was exhausted. To be fair I was recovering from the flu – and had a terrible cough. But I don’t think I have ever been as tired after a day of snowboarding. I just about had the energy for a shower then slept until dinner time!
Unfortunately bad weather was coming and we expected to have at least one day without flying. On the plus side it was bringing lots more snow.
As forecast the morning dawned with heavy snow falling. I joined in the morning yoga and stretching session. It was excellent and seriously improved my various aches and pains. They do this every morning.
Turkey Heliski have a range of bad weather options including ski touring, snowshoeing, climbing (there is a small wall), zip lining, and a cultural trip. Not feeling too up for anything physical I opted for the cultural trip to Zilkale, a nearby castle.
With heavy snow getting there was quite an adventure. In fact we skidded getting out of the hotel car park. Snow chains on everything felt more secure.
On the way we stopped at one of the many picturesque high arched bridges. They lead to settlements on the other side of the river. In the snow it was a challenge to get to the top of the gravity defying span.
It snowed the entire journey so the going was slow, however on reaching the castle it was worth the drive. Built in the 14th century Zil Kale was used to help protect a portion of the Silk Road trade route.
We went in and had a look around. It was clear no one had been there for a few days as ours were the first tracks in the snow. It is an impressive building that has been well reconstructed.
Inside it is an empty shell, that somehow feels a little sad. So we decided to build a snowman to keep guard. The views from the castle would be very impressive, but it was snowing hard so we could only just see the creek far below.
On the way back we stopped for a traditional Turkish Meal at Livik Cafe and Bar. There was a huge range of dishes, all of which were very tasty. It was great to eat traditional food the locals have consumed for generations.
With snow still coming down we headed back to the hotel. Late afternoon we had a video session hosted by Jeremie Heitz. He talked about his inspiring projects and showed one of his impressive films. He finished with an informative Q&A session.
The third day of this review of Turkey Heliski in Ayder dawned with more snow falling. Again I started out with an excellent yoga and stretching session.
After breakfast a big group of us went ski touring and snowshoeing to try to earn some lines. The forest around Ayder is quite tight so there are not many places you can ride down. But the guides had a spot in mind.
After a short drive we started out by walking up the road. I have only snowshoed once before during a Norway snowboarding holiday in Vatnahalsen. But it is very easy – if you can walk you can snowshoe!
After a while we cut off the road and headed up into the trees. They were pretty tight at points and with my board on my back I kept getting stuck. It is much easier to skitour than snowshoe, and thankfully one of the guides took my board.
It was not easy, myself and the other snowshoer both kept falling through the ski tracks. And with my cough I found the uphill hard work. But fresh air and doing something active is surely better than staying inside.
Just as I thought I couldn’t go any further we reached the top. The rundown was short but very sweet. I love snowboarding through trees. These were fairly tight but the light thigh deep powder made it an amazing experience. It reminded of pros snowboarding through Japanese forests.
While this wasn’t heli snowboarding in Turkey it was still part of the overall experience. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was knackered by the time we got back to the hotel.
After a big lunch a group of us decided to head to the Hamman (Turkish Baths) which is a few minutes away. Fed by hot natural spring water they are a big hot pool. It was a relaxing experience, quite similar to a Japanese Onsen.
In the evening we had video session this time hosted by Sam Anthamatten. Again it was inspirational stuff, and the Q&A was very interesting. For their next project Sam and Jeremie are ski-mountaineering 6,000m peaks, to ride in their aggressive style.
The forecast for the fifth day of this review of Turkey Heliski in Ayder was for good weather. So everyone was up early and ready to roll. Unfortunately some pesky low cloud cover delayed the fun, but we set off mid morning.
This time I was in the first group. We landed on a untouched ridge and got out into deep snow. We had Sam Anthamatten guiding us and he reminded us the first run is a warm up. And what a warm up!
Off the ridge the powder was waist deep. It was very light and fluffy at the top and increasing in firmness with depth. Conditions couldn’t have been any better. The only problem was stopping ran the risk of getting stuck and when you fell getting up again was very tough.
But it was so much fun! At some drops just getting out of the helicopter I was sinking up to my waist. I fell at one point in a little depression and the snow was up to my armpits, getting up again was exhausting.
But the snow, the mountains, and the endless fresh tracks was incredible. I wouldn’t have thought it possible but this was an even better then my first day heli snowboarding in Turkey.
I have only been in powder this deep once before and it was nowhere near as light and fluffy. I was snowboarding in Alagna and using the lifts. Getting around the piste and heading into the backcountry to find fresh lines meant we only did two major runs plus a few bits and pieces.
In comparison we managed around 12 drops and 8,000m vertical on the fifth day of this review of Turkey Heliski. That is at least double what I managed in similar lift accessed conditions in Alagna.
But the best thing was that every single drop was virgin powder. We were the first to lay tracks, you only really get that in resort skiing if you are on the first lift. Most of the time someone beats you to it.
Of course you still get great patches of untouched powder close to the pistes. But you don’t get top to bottom fresh lines all day long.
The fifth day of this review of Turkey Heliski was incredible. Again every drop was the run of my life. Smiling and exhausted we kept going until 5pm.
One of the huge advantages of Turkey Heliski is that a one week holiday gets you 7 days of heli-skiing. This is because of good flight times and short transfers. It also means that for roughly the same price as other heliski operations around the world you get an additional day in the mountains.
This was extra important during this review of Turkey Heliski in Ayder because we were delayed two days getting there. Plus we lost two days due to bad weather. So day five, would be our final day in the Kackar mountains.
Overnight cold conditions meant the snow had compressed again. The thigh to waist deep from the day before was now knee to thigh. It also wasn’t quite as light and fluffy. On the plus side it was easier to ride and less of an issue when you fell over.
I was snowboarding with different people today from a different helicopter and they were nowhere near as fast as my previous group. As opposed to being one of the slower people down the mountain I was now the fastest.
We flew to a different area and the terrain was quite different – much more undulating. This meant I managed some big air – one going horribly wrong! It was a lot of fun with some little drops and more playful than previous days.
In the afternoon we did a lot of runs in the same area. The lower half we spent a lot of time snowboarding through small trees. They were nicely spaced out making for really flowing lines. Not as fast as the open faces but just as rewarding.
The slower group meant that despite having almost a full day of heli-time we managed around 10 runs and 8,000m. But I didn’t mind, I was still a long way from 100% and felt like I had used up almost all of my energy reserves.
The deep, light and fluffy powder of the day before had been an experience of a lifetime. But the slightly less deep and less fluffy snow was easier to ride. This made it more playful and less effort and when I fell I wasn’t spending an age digging myself out.
Pretty much every run on every day I got to the bottom thinking that was the best run ever. In resort skiing if you are lucky you get these kind of conditions once or twice a season. You then get a few untouched(ish) runs before you have to start hiking for your lines.
While heli snowboarding in Turkey we had untouched snow every drop. I honestly feel like I did the run of my life 30 times!
Of course a review of Turkey Heliski in Ayder would not be complete without talking about the Hasimoglu Hotel. It is three star accommodation that had a full refurb in 2016. With room for 70 guests it is a small family run hotel.
My bedroom was fairly small and had two single beds. There was plenty of room for me on my own but would be a squeeze if sharing. With one wardrobe the main issue would be storage space although at least your board/ski gear are in the boot room.
The small bathroom was nice with a powerful shower. And despite being on the top floor the WiFi signal was strong and reliable.
The foot throughout this review of Turkey Heliski in Ayder was very tasty with good variety. It isn’t gourmet cuisine or anything fancy but full flavoured traditional Turkish dishes with a few western options thrown in.
There were various types of kebab on the menu, plus various cooked meats, pasta, potatoes and couscous. There was plenty of options if you are vegetarian including a huge choice of salads and soup each day.
Breakfast included freshly cooked eggs at an omelette station. There were also a range of Turkish pastry dishes and sausages that were very tasty. I really enjoyed the selection of cereals, fruit and breads.
As mentioned lunch when heli snowboarding in Turkey was a baguette you make yourself at breakfast. There was a huge selection of options including meats, salads, tuna, eggs, olives and pickles. I made some of the tastiest sandwiches of my life.
The way home was fairly simple in comparison to the epic journey to get there. After the final day heli snowboarding in Turkey we packed up our stuff and headed to Trabzon in under two hours.
A night in a Trabzon hotel near the airport is included in your Turkey Heliski trip. My room had a nice view of the black sea and it was nice to fall asleep to the sound of waves on the shore. And to dream of endless powder…
We had a few beers in the hotel and a nice meal. A few of the others headed out into Trabzon for a Saturday night out. With an early flight and still not 100% I was not up for a party.
The flights were all on time and a couple of movies later I was back at Gatwick Airport.
Looking back my first time heli snowboarding and only my second visit to Turkey I have to say it was incredible. Lots went wrong getting there and it was not a nice experience, particularly while recovering from the flu.
However from the moment I arrived in Trabzon to saying goodbye to everyone it was an incredible experience. The Turkey Heliski crew are all very friendly as were all the other guests. As a lone traveller I was made to feel very welcome.
And the heli snowboarding in Turkey was without doubt the best experience I have ever had on the snow. The powder was deep, the terrain varied and the snow untouched.
To conclude this review of Turkey Heliski in Ayder I’d say every drop was the run of my life. When I thought it couldn’t get better it did and I fit in more powder in just three days riding than I probably have in three seasons.
I can’t recommend the experience or the operation highly enough. The more experienced heliskiers were singing it’s praises too. In fact one who has been many times said it was the best heliskiing he had experienced.
I hope you enjoyed this review of Turkey Heliski in Ayder. Costing from €7,250 for 30,500m (20,000m guaranteed) it’s expensive but the experience is well worth it. If you want to book an amazing heli snowboarding in Turkey go to: www.turkey-heliski.pro or if in the UK go to: www.eaheliskiing.com/turkey