NARCIS | Snowboarding in Kosovo

Elias Elhardt explores the war-torn region of Kosovo through snowboarding

It’s not even been a year since the world was introduced to ‘CONTRADDICTION – a complicated reflection on snowboarding’s beautiful simplicity’. The purity of Elias Elhardt’s last film took the snowboard world by storm, and its nomination for Vimeo’s ‘Best of the Year’ is well deserved.

“NARCIS takes us to the small mountain town Brezovica in the war-torn region of Kosovo that is no stranger to ethical conflicts”

Now, together with Alex Tank, Elias introduces us to yet another film with a distinctive take on snowboarding. ‘NARCIS’ takes us to the small mountain town of Brezovica in the war-torn region of Kosovo which is no stranger to ethical conflicts. The guys made friends with Hamdi, the local snowboard enthusiast, who takes them through the town’s history while simultaneously struggling with the question of how to build a future for a town that is still so heavily affected by the past. Will it be a case of foreigners investing in the town as they come to discover its financial potential, thus resulting in the end of the community as they know it – or will they continue life as it is?

Elias also sits down with Benjamin Mohr to discuss the effects globalisation has had on people and their seemingly rising need to become more orientated towards their own regions and cultures – a pattern that not too long ago drove the former Yugoslavian republic to its end.

We caught up with Elias himself to find out what it was really like to spend weeks in an area where the aftermath of the Yugoslavian breakdown is still so present in the local life.

Photo: Carlos Blanchard.

According to Google Brezovica’s total population is 68 – could this be seen in the city itself and the ski resort nearby?

The area surrounding the Brezovica ski resort is predominately made up of small rural villages, one of the many villages is called Brezovica. As my girlfriend found out, if you type Bresovica into google maps, it will take you to one of the small villages at the base of Shar Mountain and not directly to the ski resort.

“People wave and greet each other as you drive through and everyone seems to know and help one another out”

The cluster of remote rural communities that make up the area around the Bresovica Ski resort contributes to the vibe of the area. People wave and greet each other as you drive through and everyone seems to know and help one another out. I suppose for many remote mountain communities around the world, their remoteness in a challenging landscape helps bring one another together.

The closest town to the ski resort is Prizren which is about 45km away but will take about an hour to reach through the mountain roads.

Photo: Carlos Blanchard.

Could you sense the ethnic conflicts in the city?

The area surrounding Brezovica ski resort is made up of various small villages, some bigger than others but collectively they are all pretty small. Each village identifies with the population it homes, for some, they are Serbian villages, and some recognise themselves as Albanian. While driving to the ski resort, you quickly notice how clearly, they distinguish themselves from one another with their flags. Straight away you will know if this is a Serbian or Albanian identified home or village by which flag hangs at the front of the building. In this sense, you do get a feeling of the lines between one another, a strong sense of nationalism that suggests ‘us and them’.

“Some of the slopes are well-groomed but the lack of capacity to groom all of the terrain leaves much of it untouched”

Saying that though, on the mountain, all the lines are completely blurred. People are coming together, either building their futures around the resort or coming to enjoy the mountain. You have to remind yourself that this area was stricken by war in the not so distant past.

How did the locals feel about you being there/snowboarding there?

One aspect that has kept surprising me is the openness and hospitality we found at the resort. During our 3 weeks stay, we felt like we became locals. We got to know everyone, we were always invited for a coffee or meal, we had a team of eager locals helping us build kickers, show us their best spots and manage crowds for any big air jumps. It was incredibly special to be so openly invited into other people’s lives and for them to share the mountain with us. It’s for sure a way of being with one another that I would wish to find more often in Europe.

Photo: Carlos Blanchard.

We read that the Brezovica resort hasn’t received any significant infrastructure investment for more than two decades, in what ways was this visible?

EE: You’re right, there hasn’t been any large-scale investment in the resort since the war and while some might wish for a heated chair lift, the current state of the resort has a very authentic and real feel to it. You could almost describe it as a time machine. The abandoned hotels have a soviet architecture influence and retro furniture straight from the 80s. Before the war, they had 5 operating chair lifts and now only two-run off generators. Depending on how many people are on the mountain, they will decide to run both or just one. It makes the decision of where to ride that day pretty straight forward. The chair lifts that are no longer operating have semi collapsed and lay rusting along the slopes adding to the feel of being in another world.

“Whether it’s winter sports or summer sports, the connection point is outside the lines of religion, background or beliefs”

Some of the slopes are well-groomed but the lack of capacity to groom all of the terrain leaves much of it untouched. Perfect for those seeking off-piste runs and the backcountry is easily accessible. Many locals have seen the opportunity of the resort and while there is no large-scale external investment, they invest themselves. There are a couple of restaurants on the mountain and for those creating futures here are maintaining and developing the area for what they need.

Photo: Carlos Blanchard

As mentioned in the press release, you wanted to find out ‘if a common passion for winter sports can serve as a platform to bring people together’ – did you get your answer?

Yes, I believe we did. Whether it’s winter sports or summer sports, the connection point is outside the lines of religion, background or beliefs. For me and my platform of snowboarding, it was rewarding to see how it can bring people together. Of course, you can imagine how many people in different countries and places all love the sport, but it is something special to see it first hand in a place defined by its conflict bringing people together.

Any other things you’d like to mention about the experience?

We spent a total of 5 weeks travelling through Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia and of course we had our predetermined picture of what lay waiting for us. We quickly realised how little we knew and how far off our picture was. It was astonishing to see how good the mountains were in comparison to what we would find in the alps. The natural beauty of the Balkans is breath-taking, but it was the people and the interactions that defined our experience. We picked up a hitchhiker in Albania thinking he needed help as it was the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. After 5 minutes of driving and translating through the phone, we realised he thought we needed help and was happy to drive us an hour into the valley and back just to make sure we got to where we needed to be. We ended up having experiences like this over and over again no matter where we went. Considering the Balkans are on Europe’s footstep, we found that we didn’t need to travel to Japan or Alaska to find another world or another way living.

Written & produced: Elias Elhardt.
Directed: Alexander Tank & Elias Elhardt.
Starring: Hamdi Hisari, Elias Elhardt, Benjamin Mohr, Alexander Tank.

Get the lowdown on Elias Elhardt’s merch!

Elias Elhardt DaKine ProLine ‘TRUSTED’

Elias Elhardt Deeluxe Signature Deemon Snowboard Boots

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