After meeting the team in Skopje and having a very local meal and 25 bottles of wine last night, we were slightly jaded on our saunter around the capital city. There were also pods of 8 military and armed police everywhere because it was the birthday of a revolutionary 150 years before.
With helicopters circling, we wandered the streets, seeing the sights and drinking coffee. We then drove to the south-western city of Ohrid on the most stunning lake and checked into our hotel.
This is no longer in the itinerary of our trip to N. Macedonia. We ski toured in a blizzard up to a mountain rescue hut on the mountain in between 2 large lakes, Ohrid and Prespa. The mountain is Galicica and probably has the best views in Europe when you can see them! The weather was windy with low cloud unfortunately. After a cheeky lunch prepared by our in country fixer, we skied some nice turns through a forest back to the car. Ready to help the hundredth person get their car out of a snow drift. We then had a fish dinner in a local restaurant, and fancy dress party for a belated 60th of David.
Back to the north-western mountains, we had a snow-cat (piste basher) for the next 2 days. It took us around the back of the mountains from the village to the more sheltered regions holding some good snow in the trees and lower valleys.
We skied our socks off all day, descent after descent followed by uplifts in the snow-cat. The cabin on the back has bench seats and thank-goodness seatbelts as it gets quite steep in places.
Another day of Cat skiing on the cards after the weather had settled down and wind dropped. Today we skied in a similar place and altitude, however the weather was markedly different and more peaceful. Though the tops were scoured from previous days, we could get up high and make the most of the long descents back to the cat.
With tired legs, we all made the most of the swimming pool, jacuzzi and hot-tub in the spa of the hotel. Dinner was another massive salad, followed by a traditional course and dessert. The hotel also has a nice bar serving great Macedonian wines and beers.
Ski touring day, with a cat uplift to cheat the start. We headed to the top of the highest mountain around, and got an immediate descent which is rare for a ski touring day. We were a tad early for spring snow but got some good gulleys of wind-blown powder. From there we toured up a south face hoping for more sheltered powder on descent. David didn’t bring any ski crampons, so he and Terry bootpacked a significant ascent up some slick snow while the others zig-zagged up. The views on this side of the mountain looking back over Macedonia and spying all the peaks in Bulgaria are absolutely incredible.
With Rich nipping back to his family now on half-term, Terry took the group on a ski resort day. If you’re thinking resort with fast, modern chairlifts and hundreds of kilometers of piste, you’re barking up the wrong tree. The long chair lift to access the black run, only works on weekends. We lapped this many times as the black run was in fact a single strip of piste about 4m wide from the top to the bottom. However, on both sides we had two large ampthithetre bowls to access carefully due to avalanche risk. With the cheapest and best multi-course lunch (about €7 a head) I’ve probably ever had we skied a little in the late afternoon and made the most of our lift ticket. Such a cool experience.
After a chilled breakfast spread in the hotel consisting of omelettes, eggs, hot tomato paste stuff and all kinds of bread and pastries; we packed our bags and loaded up the transfer minibus.
Getting to the airport a few hours early for our flights to different locations and Terry grabbing a bite to eat from the mortal area while the whole team were in the 'business' class lounge.
Sporting our new Macedonia baseball caps from Andy, we parted ways, happy with a bizarre week of adventuring.