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A Journey Of Heritage & Skiing With Giray Dadali

Words by Giray Dadali, Video by Hennie Van Jaarsveld, Photos by Ross Downard and Alexa Dadali

Behind the camera of Stio Ambassador Giray Dadali’s upcoming new film “Of The Black Sea,” the pro freeskier traces his journey across Türkiye navigating the intersection of skiing, family and tradition.

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Comfort zones, those familiar spaces where we feel at ease, differ for each individual. As someone who has spent a lifetime performing on ski jumps, cliffs, and street rails, my comfort zone may seem unconventional to others. However, it wasn't until I ventured into the heart of Turkiye, my father's birthplace, that I discovered a zone pushing me further than ever before.

Accompanied by my team—filmmaker Hennie van Jaarsveld, photographer Ross Downard, and my wife Alexa Dadali—we embarked on our expedition in March 2023, crisscrossing the diverse landscapes of Türkiye. 

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Our first destination was Ovit Mountain, a recently constructed ski touring lodge nestled in the remote Kaçkar Mountains. Towering at 12,000+ feet, these peaks, kissed by the snow blowing off the Black Sea, presented a new geographical challenge. 

Among the unfamiliar peaks, I found elements I knew and loved: mountains, snow, Turkish cuisine, the local language, and warm-hearted mountain people. In this foreign terrain, I felt an unexpected sense of belonging, as if Ovit were a second home across the globe.

We found ourselves halfway up a mountain in the middle of a storm, digging a pit at the bottom of a chute surrounded by rock walls. The wind howled and the mountains began shedding their recent coat of snow. Snow and ice collapses from rock walls, echoing deep into our bodies. Most would have succumbed to extreme anxiety, feeling as if their life hung in the balance. However, years of share experience kept us cool as we collected vital avalanche information. The mountains made their aggressive call, and we knew it was time to leave, and so departed to save ourselves for a future day of skiing. 

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The subsequent leg of our journey brought me face to face with the limits of a different comfort zone—my family. In an uncomfortable interview with my aunt, "Hala," I confronted questions I had avoided for a lifetime. What must we preserve in our culture, especially as Turks and Dadalis? The response, centered on religion and marrying within our culture, unveiled a harsh reality. Although my Turkish family loves her, my wife, a white woman, was seen as an unwelcome "guest" in the Dadali family according to the “ideal” cultural philosophy. 

The cultural clash extended to my skiing. While my family often boasts proudly of my brother and I as professional skiers, when discussed in the household skiing was viewed as dangerous, overshadowed by the emphasis on religion and family. Throughout the trip, I often faced these uncomfortable contradictions of new and old worlds clashing.

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While older generations may deem change impossible, I embarked on this trip with a mission to shape a new cultural norm for the younger ones. Breaking free from traditional constraints, I brought my older cousin Engin, his wife Nagihan, and their 4-year-old daughter Arya to Kartalkaya, a ski hill four hours away. Witnessing their hesitance transform into exhilaration as they embraced the thrill of skiing filled me with joy. Engin, trapped in the city grind for years, discovered a newfound youthfulness on the slopes. His wife conquered her fear of skiing since a leg injury in Istanbul, and Arya couldn't stop talking about their next skiing adventure.

Engin's journey, braving a snowstorm and letting the unknown in, resulted in a cascade of positive changes—a wife having conquered her fears, a daughter eager for more skiing adventures, and a rejuvenated sense of life. Perhaps, for the Dadalis of Türkiye, the mountains will evolve into a sanctuary, a place that soothes the soul and becomes a cherished part of their identity, just as it has for me. As I reflect on this transformative experience, it’s clear that letting the outside in goes beyond exploring physical landscapes; it's about breaking cultural barriers, fostering understanding, and creating new paths for generations to come.

Giray Dadali and Hennie Van Jaarsveld’s film “Of The Black Sea” can be viewed in film festivals starting in spring 2024. For more, view the Behind the Scenes Episode 1 and the Behind the Scenes Episode 2

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