That should have caught your eye. In a land better known for sizzling sunshine and endless beaches, it's quite a surprise for most people to learn that there are many ski resorts in Turkey
When in Turkey expect the unexpected - at least that's what I have found.
Skiing is one of the many surprises that the country holds in store for the adventurous traveller, or maybe those looking for winter sports with a difference. There are a number of ski areas to choose from but the most popular and best known is Uludag (pronounced Uludaa), situated approximately three hours drive south of Istanbul. It was established back in the early 60s with just one café on the slope, but has now developed into a wonderfully quirky compact resort with ample skiing for beginners and intermediates. It may be a little tame for advanced skiers as most of the slopes would be classed as blues or reds, but there are a couple of blacks in the second bowl area, which was opened a few years ago. But it is a fantastic resort for learning and improving your skills , if you're either skiing or boarding and much cheaper than a similar break would cost in Europe.
The heat of the summer doesn't allow for a long season, so the snow is best experienced between mid December to mid March and can reach depths of three meters at times, which should be sufficient for anyone. An added bonus of skiing in this area for most European visitors is that the Turkish school holidays don't clash with European schools - just avoid the two weeks at the end of January/beginning of February, as this is their main holiday time so the slopes are too full and prices are high.
The beauty of this resort is that it is situated within the boundaries of a National Park, which makes the area quite unique and offers stunning 360 degree views of the surrounding pine forests and peaks, as well as the city of Bursa, 30 odd kilometres below. You are truly at one with nature and best advised to stick to the marked routes - there are many tales of the more adventurous straying off into the forest for some hors piste, only to be found a week later. There are no mountain refuges here...maybe just a few bears.
There are also a few other peculiarities to Uludag that you won't find in a European ski resort. The chalet concept doesn't exist here - not sure why but the idea has never caught on. There are over 20 very stylish and comfortable hotels, but no chalets. But the up-side of this is that all the hotels offer full board (breakfast, lunch, dinner) as well as afternoon tea and midnight soup. So you will never go hungry. But there are a couple of serious downsides to all this catering - firstly you will probably gain weight. Secondly, and more importantly for 'real' skiers, it means you actually have to return to your chosen hotel for lunch. This isn't normal behaviour for skiers on the slopes, but as the area is not vast, it doesn't present too much of a problem. You might possibly get stuck to your dining chair at lunch time or make an excuse to return to your room in the afternoon for the 'tour de duvet'.
The other main difference in Uludag is the lift system. Although the lifts are all very well connected and linked to each other, each one is owned privately by a different hotel. So you have to purchase a ticket for each lift at the bottom before you go up. Gets a bit tricky with ski gloves and pockets, but you can buy a batch of them at once, which is easiest. But hey, I forgot to add another great advantage here: whichever hotel you choose to stay at will own one of the lifts nearby. And included in your accommodation price will be unlimited (yep!) use of that lift. So when booking check which lift belongs to your hotel. Most are chairlifts - not the luxurious 'G & T' lifts with squishy chairs and windguards I'm afraid - and you have to get used to being whacked in the back of the legs as they scoop you up, but this often turns out to be quite amusing, depending on your sense of humour. The majority of the other lifts consist of 'T' bars, so if any of your group happens to have an allergy to these, then you can always plot a different route using just the chairs.
Now, back to the hotels located in the area. Most are modern and large, but my absolute favourite has to be the Beceren Hotel. That original lone café on the slope that I mentioned before was the Beceren café, which is still there today, but now larger and busier. And the hotel of the same name is situated directly opposite the bottom of the main slope of the original ski area. Although there are no chalets in Uludag, this is as close as you will get to one (albeit - slightly over-sized). It is built in that wonderful mountain style, and the interior is fantastically cosy, especially if you can nab a sofa close to the open fireplace. The atmosphere is laid back and friendly and the staff are extremely helpful. The hotel even has its own boot room at the bottom of the slope with heated boot racks and a member of staff who willingly helps you get your boots on and off. Food is fantastic too, but drinks are extra. When booking try to negotiate on the price over the phone as they are often willing to discount if bookings are low at any time.
The best ski school in town is the Kar Beyaz, meaning 'Snow White'. Set up by women who used to be Turkish champions themselves, it's very affordable and pro active in its teaching methods. Private lessons are a fraction of the cost you would normally pay in the Alps and the teachers are fantastic with kids, stopping if needed to apply extra lip balm or perhaps a sweet for energy. The downside, and there always is one, is that you will get spoilt with your own private lessons and not want to go back to those non flexible groups when/if you return to a European ski resort.
Although a week here could be a tad too long, this resort could easily be combined with a cultural three day trip to Istanbul, which is a perfect balance. The best airport is Sabiha Gokcen (Easyjet from the U.K.), situated to the south of Istanbul so therefore closer to Uludag, not Istanbul Ataturk. Transfers can be arranged privately, or you could opt for the local transport. From the airport, head to Bursa on a bus, then take the large cable car from Bursa town up to the top of the mountain, or a local public minibus which runs every hour to the resort hotels at the top. If your budget goes far enough, splash out on a taxi, but check the fare before you start off, or make sure the meter is on - from Bursa town it takes around one hour to get to Uludag. From Sabiha Gokcen Airport, expect about three hours to get there, depending on mode of transport and snow cover higher up...hopefully not three meters or it might take a bit longer!