TURKEY: Your Guide to Skiing in Turkey – Sarıkamış/Kars

Little Recap:

After completing our 2 week Black Sea road trip, I wanted more of Eastern Turkey! I have always has a list of places to visit, but due to some crazy COVID restrictions, it’s put us behind on our travels. COVID has forced us to last minute travel plan, and I have to say… I am loving it. Our Black Sea Road Trip was planned just a mere 10 days before we left. And this trip was somewhat similar! 

Our 2020 trip to Uludağ with friends didn’t pan out this year, leaving us wide open to exploring other locations. Some other friends of ours are prolific skiers and they suggested we look into ski resort over near Erzurum and Kars. So we did!

And of course… in usual ‘Catie’ fashion, we can’t just ‘go skiing’! We wanted to see some of the other sites around Kars as well! Check out ALL of our KARS videos linked at the bottom off the article

COVID-19 has not made 2020/2021 fun for anyone, traveling in the midst of a global pandemic meant we had to be extra careful and mindful of our exposure. But we have be so thankful to be able to travel too! You can check out some of our other travels during COVID times to Kalkan last summer as well.

Hopefully your 2021/2022 winter season gets you too the slopes!

By the way…. IMPORTANT: This post covers only the ski portion of our trip to Kars, Turkey. Check out our other Kars post below:

Now on your guide to skiing in Turkey!

Kars Turkey Sarikamis Skiing

Where should I ski in Turkey?

This post is all about skiing near the area of Kars, specifically Sarıkamış. BUT I wanted to live you with a list of other options kayak merkezi (or ski centers) to explore if you aren’t wanted to head that far East. The only other place in this list that we have skied at is Uludağ (and I don’t have a post on it).

In no particular order, these are some of the most popular (not all of course):

  • Uludağ Ski Center near Bursa (easy weekend from Istanbul and Izmir)
  • Kartaltepe Ski Center near Bolu (easy drive from Istanbul)
  • Erciyes Ski Center, south of Kayseri Airport
  • Palandöken Ski Center near Erzurum

Check out this article over at the Daily Sabah for a brief description of each.

Where is Kars + Sarıkamış?

Kars city is the capital of the Kars province is located in the far northeast region of Turkey. Situated on a plateau 5,740 feet (1,750 metres) above sea level on the Kars River, the city of Kars is only an hour drive to the border with Armenia (which by the way you can not cross into at all from Turkey by land).

Sarıkamış town is a 43-minute southwest drive from the Kars Airport towards the city of Erzurum. The Sarıkamış Ski Center is 4 kilometers from the town. There are multiple rumors about why the name of Sarıkamış is Sarıkamış. Sarı meaning ‘yellow’ and kamış meaning ‘pine’. The most famous is that the name derived from the yellow reeds that grow in one of the lakes in the region.

Sarıkamış Kars Turkey
Sarıkamış Kars Turkey

Little bit of history:

Nothing is known of its earlier history, but nearby archaeological sites date from Urartian times with a few uncovered Urartian ruins and fortress. Many medieval Armenian monasteries were in ruins by 1878.

Although it is a region where Turks have settled since the Seljuk period, we can say that Sarıkamış, like Kars in general, had its golden age when it was under Russian influence. Because Sarıkamış, like the center of Kars, is one of the places where the Russian influence was prominent and where there are many historical buildings from that period. If you are traveling between Kars and Sarıkamış, the Tsar Nikola Mansion can be seen rising under the snow on its hilly terrain. Also, extensive barracks from the Russian period surround the town and are still in use by the Turkish army. 

In Kars, an important battle took place between the armies of the Ottoman and Russian empires in and around the city in late December 1914-January 1915 as part of the Caucasus Campaign of World War I. Operation Sarıkamış is the event in which 23,000 Turkish soldiers lost their lives in freezing weather conditions and in land conflicts making it one of the most painful defeats in the history of the Ottoman Empire. Making a visit to the Kars museum to learn about this is a must. As well, the 2008 movie 120, directed by Özhan Eren and Murat Saraçoğlu is a must watch before you travel to Kars!

About the Sarıkamış Ski Center:

Sarıkamış Ski Center is built on Cıbıltepe Mountain and has very favorable conditions for Alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, and Tour Skiing. There are slopes suitable for both beginners and professionals, and businesses providing ski equipment rentals and private lessons.

Snow falls to Sarıkamış Ski Center for about 57 days a year and it stays on the ground for about 114 days. Under normal winter conditions, the snow thickness reaches 1.5 meters. The“crystal snow” consisting of big crystal snowflakes doesn’t stick to one another, which is usually unique to the Alps, makes this area very suitable for skiing.

  • Facilities in Sarıkamış: It has 3 chairlifts and 1 ski lift. 
  • Height of Sarıkamış: Tracks starting from 1,738 meters go up to a height of 2,958 meters. 
  • Ski tracks in Sarıkamış: With an altitude at 2,500, Cıbıltepe has 9 tracks with a total length of 12 km: 6 tracks are currently open for use, 2 black, 2 red, 1 blue and 1 green. The longest track length is 3,500 meters. It also has a 45-km cross-country ski track, of which 5 km is certified by FIS (International Ski Federation).  
  • Times and Lift hours: Lift closing hours vary from month to month. But it usually opens at 8.30 – 9.00 and closes at 16.30 – 17.00 depending on the weather conditions. As the days were longer in March when we went we had longer ski days.
  • Lift wait times: Even at peak times, the lifts do not have the long queues seen in other ski resorts. The one huge lift that sits 6 persons at a time are even more empty and much more sheltered from the wind. I hardly found myself on it with another skier.
  • Electronic Passes: There are electronic pass readers on the lifts. You swipe the plastic card over the magnet and pass it on. The card has lanyard. You can use all the lifts with a single pass in Sarıkamış Ski Center.
  • Ski equipment: Most of the hotels have their own private ski rental companies usually located in the hotel. The prices are reasonable and if you forgot anything, they have it!
  • Food/Drink the slopes: For lunch, our hotel was full-board and we always just took a break to eat there since it was so close to the lifts. On the runways, there are 4 cafes, and all of them have hot and cold drinks. However, not all of them have much choice of food. The Orta Cafe in the middle station, between the 2 major lifts, was always the busiest and also had the best offerings from the menu. There is also a rest area which makes it a good stop for a bathroom break. At the top of the summit is another cafe (sorry the name is escaping me). Jason took Sofia up here for the views and to enjoy a hot chocolate while I skied a bit. It’s a great option for non-skiers to come enjoy a morning at too! 
  • In case of emergency, loss or injury: Call 156 and find the nearest signs in the forest area to help locate where you are. The search and rescue team will come to you with snow vehicles as soon as possible. Or take the contact number of the hotel you are staying in with you in case of an emergency.
  • Extras: There are a few folks that provide a sleigh safari & snow sled for those non-skiers in your group, or those with kids! Our hotel had the sled out for free-use every day and it was a fun activity to do with our daughter.

Our Experience with the Ski Center:

Sarıkamış is a more modest “ski town” where you can have a ski holiday without paying crazy prices for a great skiing. Plus, you do not have to expect to wait long in a queue. We loved it because this is not a place that was created out of nothing. Sarıkamış is a real district with a real town and residents that live there for 4 seasons, long before the Sarıkamış Ski Center.

This town is that it is extremely modest compared to ski resorts such as Uludağ, Palandöken or Erciyes. Don’t expect any luxury ski holiday. BUT, even though it remains modest next to some big centers, it certainly does not compromise the enjoyment of skiing. The prices of both chairlift and equipment rentals are affordable so that everyone can slide. I am sure of the current prices, but I remembered they were a 3rd of the price of Uludağ tickets. Our ski pass was included in our hotel stay.

PROS:

  • Because we went during the weekdays, I felt like I got top skiing hills but an affordable price and no crowds! (It did get VERY busy on the weekend as we were heading out!) This center was wide open and there was so much area to ski as oppose to some crowded more popular ski areas I have been too. I never felt like I was about to run into anyone!
  • Since it is not a tourist settlement, the prices of food and beverage at the markets are not at the ski resort level, but at the normal city setting. Like this place is still undiscovered (even though it is definitely gaining popularity).
  • The roads are always clear and sparkling coming to and from the Kars airport, or wherever you are staying! It is part of the city and not a ski resort which means that the roads are taken car of properly. I was nervous leaving the airport on the shuttle thinking the hotel was on top of a mountain like Uludağ, but since the elevation was already so high, the ride to the hotel was easy and clear! No shuttle issues or curves to fear!
  • Since this is a huge district, the state brought services such as schools and train stations here. There is a hospital and it’s possible to reach the hospital quickly in case of an accident.

CONS:

  • There is literally nothing to be done after 5 o’clock and the lifts stops – which can be good and bad. If you are exhausted from the day, and early night in can be great, except that the hotel dinners don’t start until 7/7:30. Some hotels put out a pianist, singer or saz team during the dinner on weekends. 
  • Our hotel’s kids play area AWFUL. Coming off the slopes at 5, I was already starving, and if I miss the cookies at tea time, I had to wait 2 hours for dinner services to start. 2 hours with a 2 year old and no place to play… the weather made it dark and cold outside. And our 2 year old at the time has to wait as well. For us as foreigners, it’s a bit late for supper. Everyone at the hotel is just waiting for the doors to open for dinner. Note: I did see that other hotels may have done this better. In fact, we made a note to try out the Habitat hotel next time we go for the kids program (not running when we went in 2021 due to Covid).
  • Not all hotels will rent skis out to your for your 2 year old. I grew up skiing and I was PUMPED to get our daughter out there just to try skiing a bit! And after a couple of days of watching me go out without her, Sofia was READY to try it too. Thankfully, another hotel, also the Habitat Hotel, had smaller size skis and boots and willing to let us rent them!

When Should I Go to Sarıkamış?

If you came to Sarıkamış, you probably came to ski. That’s why you should make sure to come in the best time of winter. Snow falls here for 5 months of the year, from the beginning of December (this year it was as early as September!) to the beginning of April. 

However, if you are planning a ski holiday in Sarıkamış at the end of December or March. Always be sure to call the hotels and ask about the snow because it may have ended early that year or it has not started yet.

Two annual events take place in Sarıkamış.

  1. In the first week of January in Sarıkamış, Kars Municipality organizes the Day of Remembrance of the Martyrs of Sarıkamış (see history section above). The group marches with torches in memory of the martyred soldiers towards the Allahuekber Mountains.
  2. In February (pre-covid), Sarıkamış Ski Center host a 3-day festival snow games. Even through the coldest of temperatures, snow games and competitions continue on – including off-road rally, remote controlled vehicle races and snowboard & ski races.
Kars Turkey Sarikamis Skiing

Getting There:

  • For our trip, we flew a 2.5 hour direct flight from Izmir to Kars on SunExpress Airlines and drove a rental car for our first few days while we explore Kars city and the nearby area. Upon returning our rental car to the airport, our hotel offered a free shuttle to the resort an hour away in Sarıkamış.
  • If you are going to come directly to Sarıkamış by plane, the nearest airport to you is Kars Harakani Airport. The center of Sarıkamış is also a 43-minute drive from Kars Airport. Before buying your flight ticket, we recommend that you compare the ticket prices of different airline companies. Both Pegasus Airlines and Sunexpress offer direct flights from Izmir but not daily. You can always find connecting routes to Kars with layovers in other airports.
  • Alternative options: The historic Doğu (Eastern) Express is an alternative option for those with a bit more time on their hands. Passing through Kayseri, Sivas, Erzincan, Erzurum and Sarıkamış, it arrives at the last stop, Kars. Coming to Kars with the Orient Express is an experience that must be experienced in itself. It’s a bit difficult to figure out the ticketing system and times (and it’s usually sold out) but if you are able to figure it out, go for it! This article is a bit old but it’s a great start!

Lodging: 

In Sarıkamış, most the hotels are mostly located in the ski center. There are over 1,200 beds at 12 tourist facilities.Some of these hotels are newly built and shiny, but the prices are of course higher, much more costly than staying in the center of Sarıkamış. There are also farmhouses in the vicinity. You can find the hotels and houses we recommend from Sarıkamış below.

  • Kaya Snow Hotel: Our friends recommended this hotel to us, and this was the good option for our family! The hotel is located right on the ski center with easy walking access to the lifts. We stayed in a triple bedroom but also had a baby bed for Sofia. The staff was kind and quick to respond to any request, but there was quite a bit of miscommunication – or should I say, lack of note-taking prior to our arrival. Basically everything I asked for was not in their system (extra night hotel stay, baby bed in room, both transferred to and from the airport, etc.) However, the food was good and varied and that was nice to have included in our stay. The ski rentals where just off the main lobby of the hotel and we could see the ski lift from our bedroom window.
Kars Turkey Sarikamis Skiing
  • Here are a few other recs:
    • Habitat Resort: Funny enough, the owners are from Izmir! We met them when we were getting our photos from the photographer there. The vibe was a little more cozy and I hear they have a children’s club (which was all closed currently due to COVID). We would consider this location next time! Oh, and this hotel’s ski rental area has small enough skis and boots and were willing to give Sofia ski lessons. Sofia was 28 months at the time we were there!
    • White Park Hotel: Another rec from a friend, but I don’t have much to personally say except it just a bit further off the base of the ski lift.

Must Try Foods: 

Although the hotels do provide food service, feel free to taste local delicacies in Sarıkamış and Kars such as Kars goose, piti, and hangel.

  • Kaz (Goose): Of course, the signature dish of Kars could be none other than the Kars goose. The geese, which are fed with grass in the spring months, are fattened by giving barley close to slaughter in the winter months. Goose cooked in a tandoori is served smashed over bulgur. 
  • Piti: My FAVORITE! The mixture of fatty mutton and chickpeas is cooked in a casserole pottery with vegetables. Served in a big flat bowl, bread forms the base with the juices and rest of the yummy ingredients.
  • Hangel: Hangel or khingel is actually the empty and leafy form of Turkish mantı or ravioli. The dough is cut into squares and boiled in water, served with garlic yogurt and oily sauce on it. After skiing on the slopes, it’s a great carb loading meal.
  • Gruyere (Gruyère) Cheese: This originally Swiss organ gruyere is the yellow and perforated cheese (think of the legendary cheese in every episode of Tom and Jerry).  Due to the strict requirements of production conditions, this quality cheese is only produced in a few countries around the world, including the Netherlands, Georgia and Kars in Turkey. Kars owes its world-famous taste to the Malakans, who were settled here after the 1876-1877 Ottoman-Russian Wars, bringing their love of milk products and dairy farming culture with them.
Kars Turkey Sarikamis Skiing

Restaurants: 

  • All hotels, including ours, in Sarıkamış Ski Center offer either full board in the morning, noon and evening or half board options in the morning and evening. Because our hotel was all-inclusive, meaning it offered breakfast, lunch and dinner, we did not really explore much more outside our ski resort and ski park. But the couple from BizEvdeYokuz always have great recs, just double check to make sure the locations are open as COVID has unfortunately cause temporary closures.

Sites In Sarıkamış:

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see these while we were there, but I wanted to share them for others who may have more time to get out!

  • Sarıkamış Culture House: This is a restaurant that was established by the efforts of Rasim Kaya, who was originally a musician, and is trying to be kept alive. You can experience traditional Kars cuisine and see historical objects such as items found in typical old Sarıkamış houses and weapons from the Russian period. 
  • Katerina’s Hunting Lodge: This symbolic structure of Sarıkamış is a fairy tale structure rising out of the forest and snow and only 1 km from the center of Sarıkamış. The best example of 19th century Baltic architecture in Kars with 28-room stone-based building with wooden additions. It is unfortunately in a dilapidated condition up close. The Russian Tsar Nicholas II had it built for his sick son, but for some reason the locals thought the name was appropriate for his wife Katerina (I mean, it does sound better right?).  How to Get to Katerina Mansion: There is a road connecting from the center of Sarıkamış for those who will come here by car, grab a taxi (ask the hotel to help) and trekking routes for those who will come on foot after the snow melts.  

Nearby Sarıkamış:

  • Day trips to visit Kars City, Ani Harabeleri, Lake Çildir, and Boğatepe Cheese farms are our recs! All the links for the videos are below.
  • Northwest about 5 hours by car, Rize is home to Turkey’s famous tea fields and the Sümela Monastery.
  • If you are able, the Georgian border is a 2 hour bus ride (5-6 to the drop-off point of Tbilisi, Georgia. We didn’t do this but we have heard it’s a popular option for tourists!
  • Note: While Kars province borders the Armenia province, there is no land crossing. Just making sure you are aware!

Overall, Sarıkamış is an amazing place to ski! We are so thankful to have the opportunity to ski here AND to take a few extra days to see the area near Kars!

You can check out our trip via video over on our Following The Funks YouTube Channel and see what all we did in our ski week!

Comment below and let me know about some of the questions below:

  • Have you gone skiing in Turkey?
  • Have you visited Sarıkamış Ski Center, Turkey near Kars? 
  • Share a memory you have about skiing! 

Check out our 5 part video playlist about our travel to Kars, Turkey!