In the Turkish Backcountry: Sarıkamış – Kars

Sarıkamış is one of the best ski resorts in Turkey. Located in the eastern province of Kars, which is bordering to Armenia, Sarıkamış offers wide open runs, powder snow, natural untouched beauties, and terrific backcountry experiences all in one, for the intermediate/advanced snowboarders and skiers.

The ski resort of Cibiltepe/Sarıkamış is located in Sarıkamış Natural Park and very close to Sarıkamış town center. There are a total of 9 (or 8 ) runs in Sarıkamış, 2 rated as green, 1 blue, 3 reds and 3 (2) blacks. There are no t-bars in the resort and 3 open chairlifts in total serve to skiers and boarders.

Sarıkamış Ski Resort
From the summit of Sarıkamış Ski Resort, at 2634 meters. Town of Sarıkamış seen below.

Unlike the popular resorts of Turkey like Uludağ, Kartalkaya, Erciyes, Palandöken etc. which are close to major big cities and towns, Sarıkamış is located on a remote location: 45 minutes by car to Kars, 90 minutes by car to Erzurum. Both cities have airports, and have direct flights from the three major cities of Turkey, namely Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. However, compared to other ski resorts of Turkey, Sarıkamış is more difficult and costly to access to, that’s why it is not overcrowded by people, even in the weekends. As Sarıkamış is a small town, the locals populating the runs is not an issue as well.

Sarıkamış Ski Resort

What is unique about Sarıkamış is probably the quality of its snow. There is always a powder like crystal snow in Sarıkamış and together with the dense yellow pine forests on its slopes, Sarıkamış is often referred to as the “Turkish Alps”. The powder snow in Sarıkamış, i could experience it only in Erzurum Palandöken (to some extent) so far in Turkey, and no place else. This is the reason that should attract the powder loving snowboarders of course, but you should be aware of some CON facts as well, before planning a visit to Sarıkamış:

  • If you like on-piste boarding and if you are advanced: The black rated runs in Sarıkamış, they are actually hardly black. According to me (i assume myself as an intermediate boarder by the way) they should be “Reds”. Run numbered 5’s steepness is high only for a few 100 meters lets say (lying above its connection to 4). Same is true for number 8. And run numbered 4 is actually a connection run and is not steep at all.
  • Sarikamis ski map
    Sarıkamış Ski Map
  • There are some very smooth plains in the resort, all on very critical points, which are truly pain in the ass for all boarders, no matter what experience they have. The green runs of 1 and 7 that connect the main ski runs to hotels/entrance of the resort, are like annoying Rubik cubes. No matter what you try with them, no matter how fast you enter them, its not possible to end these tracks without walking. It’s advisable for a snowboarder to take the chairlift down, if he doesn’t want to get annoyed at the end of a good day.
  • On the green run 7, Sarıkamış
    On the green run 7, Sarıkamış, back to hotel. Walking with board in hand of course! (Hope no wolves are around!)
  • Same is true for runs numbered 8 and 9. This region of Sarıkamış ski resort goes with the name “Karanlıkdere” (Dark Stream). Between the start of these runs and the chairlifts exit, there is a 100-150 meters plain run. It’s not also possible to avoid walking here.
  • It looks like the runs of Sarıkamış were engineered long before the Snowboard was invented, and a skier should experience no issues here unlike a boarder. I heard of a plan among the locals this year (2012), that a project was in place to increase the steepness in some slopes, in order to make them more enjoyable for the boarders as well. Well, i hope that will be applied soon!

    However until that, boarders can still enjoy the backcountry experience in Sarıkamış. Especially in the Karanlıkdere region (area around runs 8 and 9), there are dense-untouched forests you can enter to, 2 meters depth of powder snow and almost empty runs. The only problem in the region as i mentioned, was the 100-150 meters of plain run at the start of those runs. The solution is simple: Skip the runs, just ride the bumpy steep below the chairlift line freely! Thats “FUN”!

    Backcountry down Karanlıkdere
    Ride down here to Karanlıkdere, instead of walking!


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    Gokhan Toka
    Traveler, snowboarder, horror movies geek, photographer, digital marketing freelancer... father for DD.
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