SKIJIMI - Skiing, Eastern European Style
Three of us girls (Sharon, Evelyn and Magdalena) with our luggage, skis and a plane ticket. Destination? Eastern Europe. The ground crew at Munich airport are rather perplexed, and even other passengers are too! But we won't let this stop us! Off we go on our adventure to discover unknown territory, otherwise known as Albania and Kosovo. Yes, you heard it right. We're about to discover the rugged mountains of the Balkans.
Albania: Pristine couloirs
The locals call the Albanian Alps 'Bjeshkët e Nemuna', which translates to 'The Cursed Mountains'. But in our eyes, this place seems anything but cursed. We are blessed to be able to experience everything on offer here. The mountains are grand, vast and secluded, and we are instantly humbled.
We start in Pristina (Kosovo), travelling over the western border to reach the Valbona Valley National Park in Albania. A real rough diamond of untouched slopes. We decide to check out a potential couloir with our Italian guide 'Mose'. Before we can make the descent, we still have some metres to tackle with our touring skis. We break through a cornice with our shovels and then lower ourselves halfway down into the couloir with a rope. And then we can finally set off downhill and experience a sheer sense of freedom in a couloir which has never before been skied - we have christened it 'Burning Legs' (the name says it all). So if anyone happens to be in the Valbona valley - why not give it a go!
Kosovo - a difficult route to untouched slopes
And so, after what seems like no time at all, our journey continues and on we go to Junik. The roads to get there are not for the faint hearted. They gradually become more and more difficult to navigate and soon we are forced to switch to a Jeep, and then to a Ratrac, to continue on our way. Our journey takes us up Gjeravica, the highest mountain in Kosovo, with our lodge situated at 1,750m. The locals keep pointing out the tracks left in the snow, telling us that, this year, the bears have already come out of hibernation, even though it's only February. The three of us exchange looks, but think it wise not to ask any further questions. Rather, we let our minds wander to the mountain landscape of Gjeravica.
We get our touring skis on right outside our lodge. There is not a soul to be seen. If something were to happen here, how long would it take for help to reach us? We don't have any network connection, so we can't ring anybody. But it's better to rid our mind of these thoughts, and fast. Our guide Sebo and other local residents know exactly where to find the stunning slopes and fresh powder. There is so much to discover - we don't want to stop even when it gets dark! And so we ski on through the night with a full moon to light our way - the bears should be sleeping at this hour :)
After seven days of skiing, we have to pack our bags and return to civilisation. We decide to spend our last day in Prizren, as it is always important for us to get a dose of culture on our trips. A beautiful, little town full of friendly people where we are able to gain a deeper understanding of the Eastern way of life. Eastern Europe has won our hearts over once again and it is safe to say that it won't be quickly forgotten.