Photos: Skiing with (almost) no snow

Brody Leven went to Romania seeking backcountry snow. He didn't find much – but had fun anyway.
Dirt surfing, anyone?
Skin this - Brody Leven searches for snow. © KT Miller
By Brody Leven

Whoever says you need snow in order to ski is terribly mistaken. Although snow was likely hidden somewhere beneath the mud, dirt, sticks and avalanche debris that composed the majority of the runs we skied in Romania, we rarely saw very much of it.

American ski mountaineer Brody Leven tries to find a train home in Busteni, Romania
S(no)w train: waiting for a ride in Romania. © KT Miller

Instead, we naïvely entered couloirs after short ski tours from a Soviet-era cable cable that deposited us, with a complete disregard to the posted schedule, atop the Bucegi Plateau. We had no idea what dropped away beneath us.

Part way down Valea Malaiesti, Brody Leven skis away from Dracula in the Transylvanian Alps.
Slushy skiing in the Transylvanian Alps. © KT Miller

The marginal snow would dissipate after 1000 vertical metres of skiing and we would find ourselves another 1000 vertical metres above the Prahova valley floor.

Brody Leven hiking in the Carpathian mountains
Not our idea of 'tree skiing'. © KT Miller

Ski gear would be strapped to our backpacks, hiking shoes would replace ski boots and we would spend the rest of the day using every last bit of sunlight and energy to walk steep trails back to town, then to the bus station and then to the train station, after the bus to our village undoubtedly never arrived.

We'd be on the trails on which bears find their food. The trails that lead to the castle regarded as Dracula’s medieval home. The trails that we found ourselves stumbling down after long days in the mountains. The trails upon which we made dear Romanian friends, Vlad and Mihai, two of the few backcountry skiers in the region.

Brody Leven looks at Dracula's castle
'Hey look! Dracula!' © KT Miller

I arrived in the mountain town of Busteni with KT Miller, a photographer from Montana, USA, to a complete lack of snow. Townsfolk were wearing shorts and t-shirts; we were carrying skis and down jackets. But we wouldn’t be dissuaded.

Brody Leven during the second descent of Albisoara Crucii, a Romanian climbing route
Brody claimed this first descent earlier that day. © KT Miller

For two weeks we ventured into the Southern Carpathian mountains with absolutely no information about the ski possibilities, aside from what our eyes provided. Vlad would regale us with heartbreaking stories of the difficult task of trying to acquire backcountry skis in Romania before all of the season’s snow melted.

Warning: turn before hitting rocks
Soft snow and a wide section of couloir? Thanks! © KT Miller

Mihai pointed us in the direction of the steepest couloir he recognised, and waited for us at the trailhead, hours after skiing it and hiking to the valley floor. Anyone as excited about backcountry skiing in a snowpack that more resembled August than April is an instant friend of KT’s and mine. If they willingly take the time to introduce us to their town, mountains and food, even better.

Is it ski-o-clock yet?
Time to rappel! Below Caraiman Peak. © KT Miller

KT and I stayed in a distant mountain hut without sharing a word of mutual language with the hut keepers, skied first descents of climbing routes and walked through Dracula’s Castle on our rest day. The Transylvanian Alps added a specific allure to skiing that is certainly lost on many skiers.

Slushy slurpy skiing fun
Steep slush guards the entrance to Valea Costilei. © KT Miller

But the same way that some people see vampires as monsters and other see them as captivating, the mountains that Dracula once roamed were not our worst nightmare, but our most interesting mid-summer dream – unfortunately, without the mid-spring snow!

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