As winter 2016 released its uncharacteristically gentle grip on Belgrade, green leaves, varicolored flowers, and pale skin all burst exuberantly from hiding. However, Tadija, Fraser, and I remained preoccupied with snow, unable to bear the idea of cranking down bindings, laying the wax on thick, and bagging up skis for summer hibernation (I don’t really do all that, but I usually think about it in late May rather than early April).
Despite the relentless and too-early onslaught of sunshine and warmth, we knew some slopes beneath the Balkans’ highest peaks still held the goods. This wasn’t some uneducated hunch; we follow Montenegrin Instagram star Janko Šćepanović and had seen his photographic evidence. A few messages were exchanged and a target set, and we set off with a loose plan for ski touring in the Komovi Mountains and another destination to be determined later.
Leaving Belgrade Sunday, April 10h in the morning, our long and winding path to Montenegro (is there any other kind of path there?) brought us to Kolasin some seven hours later. There, we settled in the comfortable digs at the home of Lidija and Ljubiša Rakočević. Janko found us at the SFRJ bar and we agreed to meet the following morning by the Štavna cottages at the foot of Vasojevički Kom mountain.
We set off bright and early Monday, fortified by a couple shots of Ljubiša’s rakija (one for each leg, as our host explained). Unfortunately, a thick fog blanketed the Komovi, forcing us to retreat to a kafana and wait for the skies to clear.
We managed to finally hit the trail around 1pm, walking until we hit the line of uninterrupted snow. Kom Vasojevicki gets vertical quickly, so our skis were soon strapped to our packs rather than our feet and we ascended one arduous step at a time.
We followed the path blazed by Montenegrin backcountry legend Đoko Đinović, who’s known in those parts as “Highlander”, but he quickly left us in the dust (literally, the snow was actually pretty dusty because spring storms in the Mediterranean can suck up Sahara sand and drop it on Balkan mountains). As we reached the top of a chute beneath a false summit and caught our breath, Highlander was putting the finishing touches on his snow signature far below.
We gathered ourselves, clicked back into our skis, and starting carving down the steep pitch, throwing slushy sand-flecked snow with each turn.
We met back up with Đoko and Janko, who was hosting a British friend, at the bottom and trekked across thin blankets of purple wildflowers back to our cars.
As we dined that night, we settled on Sinjajevina as our target for Day 2.
We were up early again on Tuesday, quickly downing our breakfast of eggs and rakija before heading back into the mountains. Just outside Kolašin, we turned off the paved surface and picked up what could be loosely termed a country road.
As we bumped and bounced along, Tadija, from behind the wheel of a late-model Volvo SUV, told us that he’d been informed a Volkswagen Golf could navigate the small boulders that lay ahead and reach the snowline. Skeptical, we called it quits as soon as our path inclined into a series of switchbacks, strapping skis and boots to our backs and hiking the rest of the way.
An hour later, we reached the martian plateau of Sinjajevina, finding patchwork snow barely covering a set of knolls. Unsure of our prospects for legit turns, we forged ahead with slim hope that we could reach the distant peaks with enough daylight to spare.
Fortunately, we made decent time along the plateau and began to incline up a promising slope. As we did, Tadija spotted a four-legged creature with pointy ears standing along the ridgeline. Our city-slicker hearts skipped a beat. A wolf? We reassured ourselves with the reasoning that lone wolves rarely attack humans and trudged onward.
The beast on the ridge continued to eye us as we nervously skinned up a chute. Then, behind it, another skier appeared. As the pair glided near, we discovered it was just a German shepard and his human, Boban, a nordic skiing machine hailing from Kolašin.
After we made introductions, Tadija asked Boban if he’d passed a Volvo on his way up to the plateau. Boban confirmed that he had, by quite a ways. In fact, Boban had made it all the way up to the snowline. Tadija inquired as to what type of vehicle Boban drove. The grizzled veteran of ski marathons between Sinjajevina and Durmitor replied, “Golf II.”
We all skinned up the chute together, reaching the basin at the top, which opens up to the great amphitheater formed by Sinjajevina’s peaks. At that point, Boban bid us adieu and dashed toward the rocky spires with his four-legged friend running alongside.
After a short rest, Tadija, Fraser, and I chose a peak and a path and made tracks. We reached our summit ridge about two hours later and paused there to eat lunch and soak up some rays. We took a steep winding line down, catching fast corn snow despite our late afternoon timing.
Following a total of five hours up and five minutes down, we found ourselves skinning back along the plateau toward the access road. Switching back to shoes, we hiked along the path and marveled at Boban’s ability to steer his compact car through snow patches and around small boulders. At some points, it appeared the wheels on only one side were in contact with the road. Perhaps Boban’s Golf II possesses a special gear for levitation.
As dusk settled, we reached our car and tiredly headed back to town to chow down at Vodenica restaurant. The next morning we quickly drank some rakija, slowly gathered ourselves, and hit the road back to Belgrade.
Locations: Mt. Komovi (east from Kolašin), Mt. Sinjajevina (west – northwest from Kolašin)
Riders: Steve Effron, Fraser Wilson, Tadija Vasiljević, Đoko Đinović, Boban Brković
Text: Steve Effron / Photos: Tadija Vasiljević / Video: Steve Effron