Tsakhkadzor, Armenia. 7 March, 2017.
Tsakhkadzor is Armenia’s biggest and least impressive ski resort. With 4×2-person fixed-line lifts and one non-functional 4-seater, the resort cannot handle large crowds, but that’s okay, because there’s no reason why a lot of people would want to go there. The slopes range from so flat that you have to walk instead of ski to just steep enough to not quite feel an adrenaline rush before it flattens out again. For those who come without backcountry equipment, you’ll get to stand at the peak and cry as you look at all of the epic terrain surrounding the resort and wonder who on Earth would choose the flattest mountain in the entire country to build a ski resort on. Tsakhkadzor is twice as expensive as skiing in nearby Georgia, and for that price you get slower lifts, flatter slopes, and even less to do after skiing. Woohoo!
I hitchhike from my couchsurfing host’s apartment to the mountain, surprisingly easy to do with my skis and boots on my back (hitchhiking in Armenia is a lot better than skiing!). My driver takes me out of his way to drop me off at the ski lift, because “nobody drives that way” …not a good sign. I walk through the desolate parking lot to the end where a maximum of five cars are parked. I ask in the one overly perfumed rental shop if I can leave my shoes there while I go skiing. They tell me sure, for 1000 Dram. Expensive! Oh wait, that’s just $2. I opt to hide my shoes in a large, cracked pot, half-buried in snow behind the building instead. I stand on the creaky plastic conveyor belt that leads to the chairlift and sit on the chair as it approaches me. It looks brand new yet it’s slow. Painfully slow. And it takes 3 lifts to get to the top. 45 minutes later I’m standing on the peak, having passed over more abandoned buildings than skiers on the ride up. Mount Aragats, Armenia’s biggest mountain, looms in front of me, towering over everything around it and looking like an epic place to ski. I should have brought my ski touring equipment.
In the resort, the conditions are icy. It’s all above tree line where the sun bakes the snow into slush every day and the cold wind freezes it into icy bumps each night. It appears that the slopes haven’t been groomed in weeks. Even in such conditions I go as fast as I can because the terrain is just so flat that it’s impossible to pick up much speed. I’m back at the bottom in five minutes. On the next ride up, I jump on the lift next to the only other guy in sight, yearning for something to break my boredom. This time I traverse to the resort’s one steep slope. 100 meters and about two seconds of fun before the bottom.
More exciting than the skiing itself is the slopeside entertainment. A very large man sits perched atop a tiny three-legged stool, of which only the bottom of the legs are visible as the rest seems to have become engulfed by the man’s enormous backside. With sweat dripping down his brow, he belts out schmaltzy Russian and Armenian tunes in a perfectly smooth voice, almost but not quite blocking out the vocals playing in the background music. Apparently he couldn’t find a karaoke version to sing along to. Not something you see at every ski resort.
During one of the 45 minute lift marathons, the singing man gave me inspiration to write this poem:
The chair scoops me up at the pace of a sloth,
nothing to do but drink Smirnoff,
fifteen minutes up to the top,
speakers blaring with Russian pop.
The snow is melting, no more winter,
must watch for rocks, or my skis will splinter.
A man at the bottom sings karaoke,
in a deep manly voice, but very hokey.
The guy next to me asks why I’m writing,
for the icy wind on my fingers is biting,
he doesn’t speak English and I can’t explain in Russian,
probably, he thinks I have a concussion.
The conditions are shit and the resort is flat,
but at least I can say been there done that.
I didn’t come to ski powder snow,
I came to get into the travel flow,
And though the skiing was not five out of five,
It’s travel experiences like this that make me feel alive.
My apartment had begun to feel like a locked pen,
I’m glad to be on the road again.