The coronavirus pandemic has brought most popular ski resorts across Europe to a halt. As ski instructors, holidaymakers and winter sports enthusiasts are facing closures and lengthy delays, Turkey is preparing for an influx of visitors over winter.
Snowboarding and skiing is not the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Turkey, a country associated with summer and hot temperatures. But this doesn’t take into account the more than 30 ski destinations around the country. The highest peak in Turkey is Mt Ararat with an elevation of 5,137 m (16,854 ft) and more than 80% of the terrain is actually mountainous with lots of hilltops and peaks dusted in heavy snow and eager to welcome visitors.
Right now, Turkey is still open to visitors, including US nationals, with no plans to impose a full lockdown even though coronavirus infections are spiking across the country. There is no state-imposed lockdown or screening procedures in place either, even though mask-wearing is required in public spaces.
Heli-skiing an alternative to packed winter resorts?
At first glance, Ayder, a small village nestled in the northeastern corner of Turkey close to the borders with Georgia right by the Black Sea seems like an unlikely destination for a winter holiday. While Ayder has retained its popularity as a summer destination for visitors looking to explore the forest and relax in the hot springs, it is now developing into a favoured heli-skiing destination.
In truth, Aydar could not develop into a major ski destination even if it wanted to – the valley is too narrow to accommodate a variety of pistes – however, this may be just what heli-skiers are after!
Without the need for lifts, pistes or traditional mountain access, heli-skiing operations have, in recent years, developed in previously remote and undisturbed locations around the world. Ayder is one of them and offers 3,900m peaks, ample snowfall due to its location, and a variety of ski terrain to keep visitors guessing what comes next! While heli-skiing is not a budget sport, the fact that it is semi-private and socially distancing safe, makes it a preferred skiing alternative during the current climate. Groups are generally restricted to less than 10 skiers overall but you can go as low as 4 for a higher price. The smaller group sizes are not only social distancing friendly but will get you more runs per day.
Turkey is counting on an influx of visitors during this winter season after Germany, France and Italy proposed an EU wide ban on all ski-resorts opening. Even though the countries were not able to come to an agreement – Australia and Switzerland have opened their mountains to visitors – Turkey has fewer travel regulations overall, is open for US nationals and those travelling outside the EU with no enforced quarantine and is a more affordable destination as well.
While in previous years, tourists arrived primarily from the US and northern Europe, more travellers from Eastern Europe like Russia, Poland and Ukraine are choosing Turkey this year for their winter holidays.