Balkan Express: Cycling and Skiing Europe’s Wildest Mountains (Film)
“Balkan Express” is a visually spectacular new film that follows German mountaineers Jochen Mesle and Max Kroneck on a 2,500-kilometer bikepacking and skiing expedition across the Western Balkans, where they take on some of the continent’s wildest mountains. You can read more, find photos, and watch the 40-minute film here…
Film and photos by Philipp Becker/El Flamingo (@elflamingofilms)
Created as a follow-up to 2019’s Ice & Palms, which followed dynamic mountaineering duo Jochen Mesle (@jochen_mesle) and Max Kroneck (@maxkroneck) on a bikepacking and skiing trip through the Alps to the Mediterranean, Balkan Express is director Philipp Becker’s latest film release. Jochen and Max are back for another multi-sport adventure, this time pedaling and skiing across the Balkans from Greece on their way home to Germany.
Four years after the trip captured in Ice & Palms, Jochen and Max were itching to get out for another journey together. As passionate about cycling and skiing as ever, they decided to combine the two once more for their latest unique escapade. Looking at a map of Europe with places they could reach by train in mind, the Western Balkans stood out as the obvious destination for a reunion tour. They would plan to catch a train from Germany down to Greece and cycle and ski some 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) back home from there, ultimately packing in around 40,000 meters (131,000 feet) of climbing.
Max and Jochen planned their route on the fly, with only the starting point of Thessaloniki and the final stop of Munich set in stone. They picked a mountain range to pedal up and ski down in each country in between and used those as rough waypoints to guide them north. What transpired in between was mostly improvised, and their planning scale was typically measured from one coffee break or meal to the next rather than adhering to a broader fixed route.
“Wet and cold and always changing between snow and rain” is how they described the weather during most of their ride, which they say was one of the trip’s significant challenges. Thankfully, conditions that make for miserable riding typically result in excellent conditions on the slopes. They did their best to maintain a positive attitude, knowing that a tough day of pedaling through the rain would be rewarded with great snow for skiing the following day.
Philipp and his filmmaking team joined Jochen and Max for the first couple of weeks and the final few days of their ride, but they were on their own to document the parts of the trip in between. Combined with the strenuous mountain riding and skiing, they say the demands of capturing the ride amid the logistical challenges of keeping the trip on schedule were another big challenge. For most of us, the riding and skiing alone would be more than enough to take on, and Jochen and Max also had to manage keeping cameras charged, setting up shots, and hauling all of the equipment needed to make the film possible. Lucky for viewers, as evidenced in the film, they were up to the challenge again.
Asked about how riding bikes instead of driving between mountains changed the dynamic of the trip, both said they think a bikepacking pace is the perfect one to soak up their surroundings while still making reasonably good progress each day. Plus, they were more than happy to fuel their voyage with delicious new foods in each country rather than gasoline. “It gave us a good feeling to travel just with our own power. We both try to access mountains and nature in a respectful way, and cycling is a great way to do so,” they added.
Max and Jochen carried a lightweight tent but never set it up. Because of the often brutal conditions and long days on bikes and skis, they stayed in several small guest houses along the way. And, when weather permitted, they’d simply roll out their sleeping mats and find a quiet spot to sleep in the open air rather than going through the effort of setting up the tent. They both rode Rose Backroad bikes with 650B x 48mm tires, EVOC bags, and SON dynamo hubs that enabled them to charge power banks as they pedaled along, which they then used to charge batteries for their camera, drone, and phones. Loaded with skis and gear, they estimate the weight of the bikes at around a hefty 40 kilograms (88 pounds) each.
Beyond being a beautifully shot and edited film, Balkan Express is a testament to Max and Jochen’s skills as backcountry skiers, mountaineers, and riders. It offers an unparalleled look at some of the wildest and most stunning mountains in Europe, as seen by a pair of uniquely talented and qualified athletes. Jochen and Max also bring enthusiasm and lightheartedness that make the experience feel approachable rather than extreme, and it’s clear that they care deeply about the people and places they encounter throughout their journey. We invite you to enjoy the full film above. And, if you missed it back in 2019, be sure to catch Ice & Palms in the Related Content grid below. With thanks to Max, Jochen, and Philipp for sharing their story.
You can find more details about the film by visiting BalkanExpress-Film.com.
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