Skiing the War Torn Balkans

Words by: Ahmet Dadali


Photo by Ethan Stone

This past winter I was able to travel throughout Europe in a Hymer RV to film a series of Webisodes, with the support of Volkl Skis and Oyuki, highlighting the adventures of living on the road, skiing and experiencing different countries throughout Europe.

This second part was bar far my Favorite Lag of the overall trip. We left from Austria to meet up with Freeskier, Agron Imeri and Filmer Ezav Mrgole in Slovenia. From there we drove through Serbia down to the southernmost, highly debated country of Kosovo. Kosovo has just recently been recognized by most of the world as an independent country in 2008. However Russia, Serbia, and several Eastern EU countries still do not recognize their Sovereignty. With that you can almost taste the animosity in the air as you see Serbian military along the borders in full camouflage driving up and down the road.

We made our way up, quite possibly, the roughest road to a ski resort I have ever been on. Chains were thrown on the tires and we slowly rallied to the bottoum of Brezovica. The RV was parked and we would call this parking lot home for the next 6 days.

Brezovica was like stepping in a time machine. As we walked out of the RV up towards the "resort" we looked on as people rented out straight skis out of garbage bins right beside their arrangement of rear entry boots. Skiing is extremely new in Kosovo, which is quite refreshing to see normal people actually able to do this at a ski resort. Vendors in the parking and on the mountain would set up to sell snickers, red bulls, and beers. best of all, a quarter of the price you would find at a ski resort.

We scored. Snow was accumulating quickly as if we were in Utah lake effect. Here we had Sea Effect. I nursed my knee as best as I could after the knee injury I sustained in Austria (believe it was sprained MCL and meniscal damage). Gritting my teeth in pain, I got the skis, and surprisingly experienced a surprisingly Japanesque style of snow. Difference only being that you could definitely feel the base under you and it wasn't soft. The face shots made the knee pain bearable.

When the storm subsided the mountain undressed itself for us. We were able to see the goods she had hidden under her clothes for days. She was beautifully marked. Such a different geological structure than the Alps or back home in the US and it created couloirs all over. Wind is a bitch however and made the skiing extremely variable. Still no complaints, we skied it happily and took in the beauty of the mountains around us as you can views into Bosnia, Serbia, and Montenegro all at once.

Afterwords we made our way through the high passes and beautiful valleys of Montenegro where I found a Zipline that I thought was going to take my life. I was stranded for over half an hour, 400 feet up, not knowing how the hell they would rescue me. When, eventually they did we got back on the road, crossed more borders into Dubrovnik Croatia. Walked around the Castle and the area which is now famous for being the site of Game of Thrones. We went from the mountains to tasting the Salty sea air, followed by a swim in the cold winter Sea. More borders and out to Bosnia

The first stop in Bosnia was Mostar, A city that was Ravaged in the 90's by the attempted takeover of the region by the Serbians. The houses and hotels are still scarred with bulllet holes, reminding you of the suffering that had taken place here. The famous Mostar bridge was built by the Ottoman Empire and had lasted several hundreds of years and survived multiple wars including the world wars. As things would have it, the conflict of the 90s would be the bridges last days in a long life. destroyed by shellings.

We made our way to Sarajevo, A city that was under seige for 3 1/2 years. The people were under constant shelling, sniper fire, and seclusion. Starving, it was said that as soon as they discovered they could eat Dandelions, the next day there were no dandelions to be found. Next, was Alfalfa to follow the same dissapearnance of desperation. over 5,000 innocent civilians were met with their deaths at the hands of the Bosnian serb Military in this city.

We skied the skeletons of the 84' Olympics. The massive hotel that was built to hold olympians was now used to hold prisoners of the war. People had been lined against these walls and executed. It was a trip to be in a place that had seen so much suffering and try to change the energy around you into something positive, but that is what we did. I believe we had the blessings of the energy around us. None of us were hurt while filming and everything we set up was successfully accomplished. If you know Street skiing, you know it rarely works out that well in your favor.

Photo by Ethan Stone

All In all, The trip around the Balkans was extremely Eye Opening. When you travel from country to country, you can see the differences in the cultures and it becomes hard to imagine that they were made to be one country by the empires before them. The country of Yugoslavia. The hatred and bloodshed that had been seen in this region is the unfortunate results of the negligence of Empires as they create invisible borders through their own desires. Greedily taking other peoples land and dividing it in a way they deem fit for themselves without taking into account the people native to this land. The same Ill results are seen in the same extremities throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East especially being with Palestine. It's sad, destructive, and unfair for those that suffer.

We visited the national museum of genocide and read the stories on the walls of many human atrocities committed and extreme mutilations. We saw the jimmy rigged weapons used to beat and kill their neighbors, and watched documentaries that showed live footage of the unlivable day to day "living" conditions in the city. It was almost unbearable to comprehend all that had happened and left us with tears in our eyes. I found myself most heavily impacted, afterwards, as I walked around the Graveyards in the city of Sarajevo and saw names and dates of the demised, scribed into the tombstones. All the dates of their deaths were between 92' and 96'. I'm seeing people that were born the same year I was, 1988. they had only been given 5 years, maybe 7 (if they were lucky, or unlucky as you see it) to experience this "Beautiful" world. They would've been 30, like me.

I couldn't describe the feeling this instilled in me, tears welled up in my eyes. I had sadness in my heart, but there was something else I felt. I'm ashamed to admit it it, but there was hatred there, an angry hatred. Not for the ones that directly have done this. Instead, for the system that has led to this. For the human conditioning we have been put through is to blame for allowing these atrocities. Hatred for the power structure that has been set into play that has ployed man against their fellow man, allowing the rulers to rule without facing the wrath of the people. The people become busy displaying their wrath to each other.

Photo by Ethan Stone

Traveling through the Balkans is an experience I'll never forget, and I have no doubts that it was a pivotal point in my ski career to push it in the direction of Change. I meant to start this off as a simple explanation of this episode, then got off on a longer rant. If you made it this far, I want to tell you that I will be judging the first Freeride competition in Kyrgzstan in a month. It is in the idea of bringing skiers from all nationalities around the Middle East together to get to know one another and have a platform to share the love of skiing the mountains with one another. This is the direction I believe is right to take my skiing into, and if you are interested in helping, you can donate as much as you want using the link below


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