Far Out: Macedonia’s turns and tunes

The Photo Annual is on the newsstands, and across the U.S., winter is gearing up. To keep that stoke rolling, we present “Far Out,” a new web series where some of our contributing photographers share their wildest and most remote adventures.

First up is Oakland, Calif.-based photographer Chris Bezamat, 40, who has been shooting skiing for nearly two decades and has worked with numerous athletes and media houses along the way. He travels to some pretty “out there” places in the process, so we caught up with Bezamat to learn about one of his favorite journeys to the far reaches of the globe. Here is what he had to say.

 Erik Roner blasts through the pow in Zabljak, Montenegro.

The late Erik Roner blasts through the pow in Žabljak, Montenegro.

I traveled to Macedonia in 2011 to film a segment for a TGR movie. A couple years prior, we met a group of guys from Croatia who had skied in Macedonia, which sparked our interest in skiing there. These Croatian guys saw firsthand what we were trying to do, and that was helpful for trip planning, because trying to explain skiing to people who largely live without skiing can be a challenge.

Dustin Handley captures the early morning light at Popova Sapka, Macedonia.

Dustin Handley captures the early morning light at Popova Sapka, Macedonia.

The Croatians helped organize the trip, which basically turned into a road trip from Zagreb, Croatia through Montenegro and then to Macedonia. I think it took 15 hours of driving, and we had to cross three borders. Of course, we didn’t have any paperwork, and we had tons of gear; the border patrol didn’t like that. So we would get harassed exiting one border, drive 10 feet forward, and get harassed by the next country. It was a process.

Dylan Hood steps into an old bar in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Dylan Hood steps into an old bar in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Macedonia was a little spooky; it’s former Yugoslavia territory, and it was eye-opening. Just outside of Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, we literally walked one block, turned around and jumped back in the van, because it was so sketchy. It was one of those places where everyone is so in tune with one another, and foreigners are blatantly obvious.


Erik Roner prepares to ski-BASE jump above the inversion. Popova Sapka, Macedonia

We were warned to be super stealthy if we were going to check out the local Roma scene, but as a group of several American guys toting camera gear, we were a little less than discrete. Within minutes, we were being yelled at for filming in a market and people were threatening to take our gear. It got pretty hostile very quickly. The whole area felt a bit lawless; the only place we saw police was far away near the U.S. embassy. 


Everyone gathers around a celebratory bonfire for an incredible trip to Macedonia.

The skiing itself was OK. We did one run from a heli in Montenegro, and that was in a huge police helicopter. The dudes flying it had these leather jackets on and were not prepared for the mountain climate whatsoever. I was so happy to get out of that thing.

In Macedonia, there was a guy called Eskimo Freeride who had a snowcat, and we skinned some of the terrain. There was also a really rudimentary ski resort that was maybe an hour and a half from Skopje (the capital of Macedonia). The snowpack was pretty thin there, but we had some fun runs.


Dash Longe skis conditions that looks better than OK in Kolašin, Montenegro.

We experienced an inversion in Macedonia. The ski resort was on the cusp of the cloud layer. I experienced some of the worst whiteout conditions that I’ve ever been in. There were no trees or anything for contrast. But when the sky cleared a bit, we could just see this barren expanse.


A Macedonian rental shop.

At the resort, the ski rental shop was in the back of a truck. They just jammed the skis into the snow. There were a bunch of rear-entry boots lying around getting snowed on, and people were willingly signing up for this whole operation. I felt like we were just winding time backwards. There was probably better gear when I started skiing in the ’80s than what they had in Macedonia in 2011. But for contrast, there was also a dude with a snowcat there, so it was a funny experience.


Dylan Hood sets out for a hike in Popova Sapka, Macedonia.

No one really understood what we were doing in Macedonia, but a lot of people were into it. An exciting part of the trip was when Erik Roner pulled off what was likely the first ski-BASE jump in Macedonia. But after Roner jumped, a 50-year-old guide for the snowcat operator asked if he could try. Apparently, he had done some BASE jumping before, and he wanted to hit this one. Roner agreed and gave him some pointers. 


Erik Roner completes the first ever ski BASE in Macedonia.



“Neno,” the snowcat guide, completing the second ski BASE ever in Macedonia.

The guys running the D Haus hostel in Popova Sapka were pumped that we were staying with them. We didn’t arrive until three in the morning, but they had dinner for us and stayed up while we ate. 

Skiing didn’t seem like it had much of a history in Macedonia. On my travels to other countries, I’ve seen army people training [with skis] in that type of environment, and it even seemed more significant in Montenegro. But we only went to one region of Macedonia to ski, so there may be other mountains we were not able to explore that had more of a ski presence.


Erik Roner carving through Macedonian cliffs in Popova Sapka.

While in Macedonia, I got the sense that the people there are still trying to be stable as a region to some degree. Skiing could definitely be a unifying sport across boundaries, but Macedonia almost had a militarized feel, and when you have that sort of vibe, skiing is not likely on many people’s minds.

Find out more about Chris Bezamat at chrisbezamat.com.

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