Armenia's Mount Aragats from the road to Pemzashen. The rocky North Summit, one of four peaks that surround the volcano's crater, is the highest.
Hovhannes Martirosyan claims to be one of the only backcountry skiers in Armenia. And I think I believe him. On the sunny day we skied powder snow down the North Face of the North Peak, I'm sure we were the only souls skiing in the country. After a few days of internet research and spreading our good word around town, we found Hovhannes, and after watching his GoPro video of the Armenia ski dance down the mountain, we were convinced he was our man.
With warm, almost summer-like conditions in the capital city of Yerevan and a thin snow pack across Eastern Europe, our expectations were low. However, after spending a day skiing a few thousand feet of Lower Caucasus corn in Hovhannes' top-secret local stash, things were looking up in big way. Driving to Pemzashen in the late afternoon sun to stay with Hovhannes' parents for the night, we had our first real view of the North Summit and the the North Face. Expectations turned to high.
We drove from Pemzashen early in the morning to a village 15km below the mountain where we were to meet a 4X4 rig to take us to snow line. Hovhannes had called the mayor of the village the night before to set up the ride.
If you are friends with this guy, you can go pretty much anywhere!
At the summer sheep pastures just below snow, we started the 3,000 ft climb through the foothills and gorges that would access the steep slopes of the North Summit. Temperatures rose with each foot we gained and each hour that passed. Hovhannes was soon stripped-bare chested which he would later pay for with a wicked sunburn. Miraculously, the snow on our chosen aspect was slowly turning to powder, and after 3,000 more feet of steeper climbing, we found ourselves booting up a stable 45 degree slope in knee deep Armenia cold smoke. We passed a gigantic wind pillow, up a small couloir and reached the "Skier's Summit" about 800 feet below the rocky high point. We were here to ski, this was our top and we pointed our skis down.
Regardless of high or low expectations, how can you not enjoy steep powder snow in the sunshine off Armenia's iconic high point? Down, down, down til our legs could take no more, then down some more and a shake of the head in awe and appreciation. Sun-sheltered snow in Aragats' many gorges allowed us to keep our skis on and turn for more than 6,000 feet with only brief sections of "dry skiing". We again met our 4X4 driver and after coffee with his family in town, we were parked in front of a huge Armenia dinner spread care of Hovhannes' mom.
Onward to Bulgaria, but that's another story!