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Heliskiing at the Turkey Heliski base in Ayder, Turkey

Heliskiing in Turkey: a fantastic skiing experience, just hours away from major European capitals...


Turkey: a country of mountains...
Contrary to popular belief, Turkey is a country of mountains. Indeed, 80% of the territory exceeds an altitude of 500m! The country is dominated by three groups of mountains: the Pontic mountains in the north-east, the Taurus mountains in the south-east, with peaks in excess of 3000 m, and the Eastern Anatolia region, boasting summits of over 4000 m. Turkey's highest mountain is Mount Ararat (5150m), where, Noah's Ark is said to have run aground after a particularly violent rainy spell...
Summits of the Kaçkar mountain range, near the base...
The Turkey Heliski base in Ayder
The base is located in Ayder, a small mountain village nestled in a narrow valley in the Kaçkar massif, at around 3 hours by road from Trabzon. The region is truely magnificent and is home to a wide range of fauna, including wolves and bears. During our trip in January 2007, there were rumours of a brown bear (undoubtedly insomniac...) roaming in the vicinity of the village! Obviously, it would have been unwise to venture out for an evening stroll without a rifle!
The small mountain village of Ayder
Exceptional skiing conditions
The Black Sea is not far, and can even been seen from certain summits. Due to its proximity, the climate is quite humid, favouring an abundant snowfall and a stable snow cover.

Conditions were excellent when we arrived (a bright, sunny day with 30cm of fresh snow on the ground) and remained so throughout the entire week, much to our delight! What's more, the landscapes were absolutely breathtaking, and even surprising at times...
Threre's no two ways about it: the skiing is absolutely fantastic!
Drop-offs are made by helicopter (Ecureuils B2 or B3) at an altitude of around 3000 m. The average altitude difference is about 1000 m. The skiing is fantastic: from the wind-blown snow of the higher altitudes, down powdery slopes which levelled off progressively, and the more slushy cover of forested areas, the variety of slopes and terrains is remarkable, adding to the pleasure of the experience.

Pick-ups are quick and one rarely finds oneself having to wait for the helicopter to arrive. Indeed, you barely have the time to take off your shoes, prepare your skis, remove the handle from the airbag, and have something to drink...
1000 m of downhill pleasure in a sublime setting! (photo: Hervé Thivierge)
Safety
Safety is taken very seriously at the Ayder base. The latter is managed with German-Swiss rigour and the combined experience of the pilots (Swiss) and guides (Swiss, French and Italian) is impressive. The helicopters are sent back to Switzerland at the end of the season and are serviced by Swiss personnel. Needless to say the motors operate like clockwork!...

Of course, each skier is given a set of safety equiment comprising ABS airbag, an avalanche beacon (a device used to detect people buried by an avalanche), a shovel and a probe. On arrival, skiers attend a safety briefing and receive instruction on how to operate the beacon. The helicopters carry additional safety equipment, such as , comme des recharges de gaz pour les sacs ABS.
Perfectly serviced Ecureuil B3s...
Accommodation
The only available option in terms of accommodation is the hotel at the base. It is simple but comfortable. Similarly, the food served at the hotel's restaurant, while not very elaborate, is good and plentiful. The hotel itself is quite large and offers guests a range of services including a bar, billards, a WI-FI connection (somewhat slow so if you want to download the latest episode of Desperate Housewives, forget it!), massage, projection room, etc... Generally speaking, the staff at the hotel and the base will do their best to make your stay as pleasant as possible.
It's a well-known fact: skiing tends to open the appetite. Fortunately the fare available in the hotel is more than up to standard...
Planète Montagne: an association of mountain professionals
The trip is organised by Planète Montagne, a Chamonix-based, not-for-profit association founded in 2003 by Alain Payot and André Pierre, which organises heliskiing, mountain climbing and trekking trips throughout the world. Unlike the traditional specialist travel agency, the association's clients are all members and enjoy the right to monitor its operations. Additionally, because the association's overhead costs are low, it can offer affordable prices. Finally, all of the guides employed by Planète Montagne are perfectly acquainted with the local conditions at their various destinations (weather, snowfall, safety, practical aspects, etc...). I most cases, they will accompany you during your trip!
Alain Payot, one of the founders of Planète Montagne, with clients...
The Planète Montage website http://www.planete-montagne.com
Stop-over in Istanbul
The trip to the base is made by bus from the small village of Trabzon, which is located in the north of the country on the Black Sea coast. If you're coming from a major European capital, you will certainly have to go through Istanbul. It's a good idea to overnight if you want to take advantage of the city's many sights (the Bosphorus, the mosques (fantastic), the souks...).
Stop-over in Istanbul
Our opinion
In terms of safety and organisation the Ayder base undoubtedly has its place among the best in the world. The quality and size of the skiing domain, the variety of slopes, and the quality of snowfall are just some of the additional details which make it a destination of choice, located as it is just a few hours away from Europe's major capitals. Top points from Winter-sports.com!
In a word: fantastic! (photo Hervé Thivierge)
See the Heliskiing page on Winter-Sports.com: http://www.winter-sports.com/EN/Adventure_skiing/heliskiing.php
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