By Achille Mauri
By Achille Mauri
We had left the noisy Turkish capital for a week now. Istanbul was already far away, the dissolution of city needs began to fade. We were fine, our rhythms were regular and dictated by the king of winter sun. Elena and I, my partner, were looking for local adventures.
I well remember the moment where we decided to go to Petran. We were traveling parallel to the gray Black sea with our California t4 van – taken months before from Milan and parked in Istanbul during all of Elena’s work experience – with yet another chai at the gas station and the methodical latch of wi-fi we read this news: “The people of Petran, Turkey, have been snowboarding for roughly 300 years…”
I remembered a video I saw some time ago on the Patagonia’s Vimeo channel, which told the incredible story of Turkish peasants who approached the world of skiing down the snow with a singular wooden tool to optimize the descent once brought the herd to graze.
My enthusiasm for this news was immediately resounding, and I began to understand, together with Elena, how far away this essential mecca of snowboarding was. She, diligent and careful in choosing the itineraries – ability inherited from her father – planned our arrival within 3 days. So we started from that anonymous gas station with a goal: going to Petran to discover the petranboard.
The van, though “funky” and sporty in appearance, has limitations on mountain routes, given the “age” and the hiccups in the previous months (broken engine head in Albania, and a broken fifth gear from Istanbul) therefore it needed to be prepared for Petran’s destination, being at 1450 m asl.
So we went looking for snow tires, chains and everything necessary for a possible “fight with the hill”. The desire to reach that goal was however indisputable, and with us we had skis and splitboards with skins – we felt invincible. We approached the climb and came back after the snow on the road began to thicken making it increasingly risky. “Cielo”, Sky – the first name of our van – nevertheless gave unexpected performance, climbing for several terrifying harpin turns.
Calm and confident, we parked next to a harpin turn: from there we would continue on foot. Ele in the kitchen, in less than an hour we had a full stomach, skins assembled and backpack ready for a trip to this sacred destination for us. Not even the time to shut down the car and an off-road vehicle – much more attractive than Cielo – passed by us with a distinguished and smoker Turkish guy on board.
“Merabah”, his face was strangled by our alien look ready to go to the moon. With a simple gesture of his head he showed us to jump in. Elena, more enthusiastic than ever for the local lift, threw herself into the car. I stayed in the off-road trunk to try to photograph something and see the changing of the landscape more clearly. She, crazy for people’s stories, stayed in the car to talk to the gentleman.
The weather was bad and as we climbed we entered a thick fog, so my idea of staying out in the trunk was not successful. Also Ele had not discovered too many things about this man a little taciturn but with a very peaceful energy. Another 30-minute drive and eventually we arrived at Petran.
“La volontà di raggiungere quella meta era comunque indiscutibile, e con noi avevamo sci e splitboard con pelli di foca: ci sentivamo invincibili.”
Visibility was around zero. He parked the car near a woodworking shop, and took us to his house where Fatma, his wife, accepted us with a super warm welcome. Chai, looks and a few words about our journey were enough to understand that they were very good people, curious and simple in their life. Few inhabitants live in Petran during the winter and they were some of them.
We immediately told him the reason that led us to come up there and they weren’t surprised at all. The history of Petran has become quite famous lately and several people have visited that remote area of the Kachatr thanks to this extravagant attraction.
Without even having too much time to decide, we found ourselves guests for the night of this sweet Turkish couple. We also had a dinner guest, a youngster with the hands of woodworkers.
The following morning the sky was clear, the snow that had fallen during the night had covered the few human traces of that country. It was very cold, we saw the sun still far in the wide Turkish valleys. So we geared up with our modern climbing stuff and began to walk upwards, first through the village and then observing it from up above.
Our intention was to return in a few hours, even if the day and the snow were perfect for climbing up to a few mountain tops. It was one of those rare times where the only discovery was the starting point and did not need to go higher than that in search of something. The mountains have the ability to create cradles of traditions that are not based on the peaks but on the arena that they create.
Petran is one of these cases.
10.30 am we were back in Petren. Fatma and Pietro were waiting for us for the inevitable chai. At this point my desire to see that object of the past was too much to contain and I began to be insistent towards them.
The young man from the night before arrived from the middle of the country with a petranboard under his arm. The simplicity of the object was phenomenal: a wooden plank with two footstoppers placed perpendicularly to the direction of the table, without any type of sidecut or edges for riding. Everything was handled by a string with a wooden handle at the front end that held by hand during the descent, it would deform the wood and avoid to sink in the snow: pure genius.
Now they just needed two of those things to teach us properly, so we went to the carpentry shop where the car was parked. A rustic but very nice atelier in the subdivisions of the petranboard construction phases. After a gesticulated explanation of how this object is assembled, we set off towards the mountain in search of some easy slope.
At that point the camera was donated to Elena who hopped around in search of the best shot that represented us in this unprecedented playful moment. It had been years since I last had so much joy in performing such a simple act. The first attempts I was clearly in difficulty because I was trying to brake bending in search of the edge – error! You try to stop and break with the petranboard through the pressure of its back, both with the weight and with the help of the stick – also used to tame the pastures of cows
The softness of the carpenter in designing lines in his city with an object that comes from his plants and created by him was pure harmony. Everything was so suave and native, his view of the slope was completely different from any person who approaches downhill skiing in the western world.
“Everything is allowed, always save the imagination”, wrote Carlo Mollino.
A skilled experimenter of descent techniques, had he seen this scene he would certainly have taken inspiration for some kind of surreal definition. Eventually he left the playing field, and I continued under Elena’s omniscient lens that trapped my little boyhood moment. Mild and respectful, she waited to try the Petranboard only at the end, receiving applause from all over the country for her extraordinary and unusual sporting abilities.
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