Albania conjures no preconceptions, no mental pictures, no stereotypes. Despite being home to the steep spires of the Dinarc Alps up north and Pindus Mountains down south, it’s largely off the map when it comes to snowbound pursuits. There are only two lifts in the country at Dardha, a tiny blip with a vertical drop of just a few hundred feet in the southeast of the country near the border with Greece. For snowboarders, Albania may as well be the black hole of the Balkan Peninsula.
This is precisely what has drawn us to Albania— few places in Europe are so remote, so ripe for exploration. Along with Mitch Tölderer and me are riders Joi Hoffmann and Klaus Zwirner, as well as filmer and experienced mountain man Jakob Schweighofer who will make a short film entitled “When the Mountains were Wild.” For five days we drive southeast along the north coast of the Adriatic Sea, an extension of the Mediterranean that separates the boot of Italy from Eastern Europe. First Croatia, then old Yugoslavia, cities like Sarajevo and Mostar and Kosovo slide past, still showing signs of a war that ended not too long ago. For the moment it’s fresh and white out there, a page yet to be written, a whole new chapter in that master plan of life.
We arrive in the northern reaches of Albania, a few hundred miles north of Greece, just west of Montenegro and east of Kosovo, and I’m not sure I’m ready for this. The details of daily life left little time to prepare for a valley we only know from Google Earth and rumors of summer-use mountain huts, now buried by snow, that we hope to find in the alpine.