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Nach langen Vorbereitungen ist das SNOWMADS Team um Fabian Lentsch Anfang des Jahres mit ihrem umgebauten Feuerwehrauto von Tirol in Richtung Osten aufgebrochen. Neil Williman war auf der ersten Etappe der Reise dabei und berichtet von seinen Erfahrungen. Was sollte man wissen, wenn man im Nahen Osten skifahren will und wie lief das eigentlich mit dem Riesen-Camper?
Turkey and the nearby countries like Macedonia, Serbia/Kosovo, Greece, Iran, Georgia and Armenia have amazing mountains, but often lack the infrastructure to ski them- shred trips can be tough without hotels, good roads or reliable ski lifts. One answer to this is to build your own accommodation on wheels- camper, RV, housetruck, mobile home, whatever you want to call it - it's going to need to get your as close as possible to the hills and support your requirements of nourishment, rest and warmth pretty self-sufficiently. The longer it's able to support these needs without replenishment the greater the scope will be of the adventures you can embark on. With all these things in mind Fabian Lentsch created this monstrous masterpiece:
If you want to build a camper it will cost at least twice as much as you think, and take four times as long.
For this Fabi enlisted the help of experienced skicamper-builder Markus Ascher, and as the project gained momentum started to invite riders to join him on the trip and to help him build/paint/decorate/fill the 1985 Mercedes Benz fire truck that he had chosen for the project. In his words it was 'the most stressful 8 months of his life' and he 'seriously recommends anyone considering a similar project to think twice before throwing themselves into the camper hole'. At the same time though I got to witness him radiate joy and pride as he drove the finished product out of Innsbruck to start his 4.5 month adventure and it didn't look like he would've changed it for the world. It seemed like every person that got in that camper instantly wanted to build their own, and the hardships that Fabi had been through to realize his dream only seemed to broaden his smile at every compliment on its magnificence.
Although the mountains are amazing down there it could be a bad season, the snow might be wind affected, the road to your destination might be closed with no explanation or you might get stuck or break down and have no help to turn to. Our plan was originally to ski the Balkan states on the way from Austria to Turkey but they had so little snow it looked like a cold summer down there. A well timed 30cm 'instabase' in Serbia allowed us to ski Brezovica resort in Kosovo (which is actually still technically part of Serbia, at least according to Serbia), but Bulgaria, Montenegro, Macedonia and Greece became highway portals to the apparently snow-drowned paradise of Turkey.
If you're going to do something that not many have done before you need to be ready for other people to tell you you're stupid/crazy/dreaming/f*cked. Eastern Europe and western Asia are often poorly understood in Western Culture, vilified by our media and thought of as countries of unpredictable heathens waiting to prey on the rich blood of innocent westerners. It's not true of course, and on our adventure we met some of the most open-hearted and kind people I've ever encountered in my life, whose generosity I haven't seen matched in a western country for a long time. I can't guarantee that will be the same experience for everybody on any trip to any of those countries, but I will say that we were pretty obviously clueless tourists in numerous situations, and never felt particularly cheated, threatened or swindled. The best example of this for me was meeting Murat the mechanic in Turkey, who to cut a long story short took us into his garage/home for two days, fed us like and with his family, introduced us to his friends and did repair work on the truck that I imagine would've cost 500-1000 euro in western Europe, for a grand total of 130 euro.
When you're over a week into a ski trip and you've barely put your boots on, already spent a couple of days fixing the newly completed camper and you arrive at your first destination to find out that the terrain isn't what you were hoping for - what do you do? Make the most of the situation. The snow was good, but quite unstable so we stayed on the low-angle terrain and made use of the 'no-boards' which are pretty much surfboards made for powder. It might not have been the rad skiing we had in mind for the trip but it was a much needed serotonin and endorphin release after the stress of getting the show on the road.
Planning to go somewhere new may have felt like a challenge but getting there might be even tougher. Come as prepared as you can, whether it's a high clearance 4wd, chains, a tow rope, bolt cutters, an ice axe, crampons, or a tent, this is one area where you shouldn't skimp on supplies. Spare slings you can tie around loose power lines to keep them out of the way of your truck can be handy too. Knowing your vehicle really well before you end up driving it on narrow un-sealed roads at night that you don't want to be falling off the side of is also a good idea.
Even if people tell you that a particular place or zone isn't worth going to still check it out for yourself if possible- many people in those countries have absolutley no concept of 'freeride' or 'backcountry' skiing and will only point you in the direction of ski resorts. Trust your gut feeling and search for places on google earth or contour maps that look like they might work, there are still many many spots to be discovered.
It's pretty thrilling to be so far from home but this also means that you're probably further away from medical attention than usual. Don't let fall-line fever or pillow-pow pandemonium pull you away from making slightly more conservative safety decisions than you might usually make, no matter how rad the trip-defining shot you
think you might get is.
Hopefully the zones and snow you were dreaming about are stumbled across at some point, and after enduring all the trials and tribulations you're parked at the bottom of some easy access touring zone or unknown resort with sick terrain and deep pow. It's probably easy to feel like this is the reward for all the hard work you've put into getting there, but there's no guarantee it's going to stick around. We all know that the best powder can be quickly decimated by one warm day, a stiff breeze, bad stability or a spot of rain, and so exhausted as you may be it's best if you can drag yourself out of bed early- which in our case was often to wait for the light so we could try and get shots. The conditions more than made up for that though.
The people we met were unbelievably friendly and welcoming, and appreciating that is important because if you don't give good vibes back then maybe they won't be as friendly with the next group of foreigners. We were constantly invited into homes, given tea, treats, directions and warmth, and it was this generosity that made the trip so special, so pay it forward and keep on breaking down those walls of misunderstanding between east and west- for us that was one of the main goals.