Europe's Mid-Atlantic
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johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
January 21, 2004
Member since 07/18/2001
1,914 posts
I was asked early in the season to partner up with a Slovakian ski journalist to write DCSki style resort profiles in English of some of Slovakia's ski areas for the Slovak Spectator, the country's expatriot newspaper.

It's been an interesting experience to say the least.

http://www.slovakspectator.sk/clanok.asp?vyd=2003048&cl=14676

http://www.slovakspectator.sk/clanok-14857.html

http://www.slovakspectator.sk/clanok.asp?vyd=2004001&cl=14797

Slovakia suffers from many of the same problems as the Mid-Atlantic: mountains with smallish verticals, old lifts, and limited natural snowfall.

What has surprised me about Slovakia is that unlike many Mid-Atlantic resorts, the Timberlines, Blue Knobs, and Laurel mountains in Slovakia are upgrading their infrastructure in a major way. Just about every mid-sized mountain of any importance in this country is installing new lifts (mostly higher speed fixed grip quads made locally under a license agreement with the Austrian lift manufacturer Doppelmayer). These mountains are also installing more snowmaking equipment although most mountains here still blow these places away in terms of snowmaking. Europe is not keen on snowmaking because of the high cost of energy there, and limited water resources.

Resorts in Slovakia are securing the money to build this new infrastructure mainly through private investment, and NOT public grants. If Slovakia, a poor, former East Block country, can renovate its mountains in a big way, surely this region can do the same thing. It gives me some hope for our future.

PS My partner has posted some nice photos of various ski areas in Slovakia on his web site: http://www.millan.sk/

[This message has been edited by johnfmh (edited 01-21-2004).]

lorka
January 21, 2004
Member since 01/21/2004
3 posts
I lived in Poland for 2 years and skied both the Polish and Slovakian sides of the High Tatras. I agree that the potential for great skiing is there and that they are making improvements, but one thing you didn't mention is that the most of the High Tatras in both Poland and Slovakia are parts of national parks. Europeans build ski areas in national parks unlike in America, but in Poland I know that the national park status has limited the amount of ski infrastructure in the Tatras. As a result, the local ski industry in Poland lobbied to decrease the size of the Tatra National Park in order to install more ski lifts, which caused a national controversy. I can't say for sure what the park regulations are in Slovakia, but I imagine they are similar. I love to ski and think that with good planning and some restraint it can be done right, but I also worry about the impacts of expanding the ski industry into small, unique, and at theoretically protected areas like the High Tatras.
tommo
January 21, 2004
Member since 01/16/2004
303 posts
>unlike many Mid-Atlantic resorts, the Timberlines, Blue Knobs, and Laurel mountains in Slovakia are upgrading their infrastructure in a major way. Just about every mid-sized mountain of any importance in this country is installing new lifts<

I think that issue is unique to the three you've listed. Seven Springs, Wisp, Liberty, Snowshoe, Whitetail, Homestead and even to some degree Canaan have been spending lavishly to upgrade their facilities. Certainly the lifts and snowmaking at Snowshoe, Wisp and the Snowtime resorts have to be considered state of the art (which does not have to mean "high speed detachable" when you are dealing with <1500 vertical feet....)

It is interesting that they see skiing as a growth industry, though. You'd think that it could be around here also, esp. in the areas up on the Alleghany plateau.

johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
January 21, 2004
Member since 07/18/2001
1,914 posts
I did mention Slovakia's national parks in the main article but you are right, I failed to mention that many ski areas are on national park land (Vratna, Jasna, High Tatras, etc) and many others sit on protected goverment land of one sort or another.

You also are absolutely correct in pointing out that National Parks are a potential curb on expansion and also snowmaking. I don't know what the ultimate solution will be but I suspect that development will be curbed in some areas but allowed to proceed in others. The country wants to develop Jasna as an international ski venue capable of hosting FIS races and maybe one day, the winter olympics. I suspect that rules will be ammended at Jansa but strictly adhered to in the High Tatras (higher mountains but not as suitable for skiing as the north facing slopes of Jasna).

BTW, I once crossed the Polish border by foot at Lysa, Polana, and then took a public bus to Zakopane--it was a lot of fun.

PS Tommo, I was thinking more about our underdeveloped resorts as opposed to finished places like Whitetail and 7 Springs. Sorry for the confusion. What struck me, however, about Slovakia is that despite how close the country is to the Alps, they are still investing in small, Timberline style resorts to capture weekend skiers from Brno, Bratislava, Krakow, and Budapest. I couldn't help but see the comparison between WV and SK--similar geography and about the same distance from major population centers.

[This message has been edited by johnfmh (edited 01-21-2004).]

Roger Z
January 21, 2004
Member since 01/16/2004
2,181 posts
Makes perfect sense!

I was just wondering about the town of Zakopane versus the town of Jasna. I lived for a semester in Krakow and got to ski down there once-- at a farmers field who had a rope tow going up it (with snowmaking). It really was a throwback to the 1930s but quite fun! My host brother's skis kept popping off so it's probably better that we weren't on anything serious.

I went up the gondola at Zakopane in late September several years ago. The gondola covers about 3000 vertical but the terrain beneath it was marginally skiable. It accessed two high bowls that had their own chairlifts with about 1000 vert and a couple of steep chutes that dropped off the ridgeline. The bowls alone I'd reckon at no more than 200 acres of terrain. Skiing to the bottom would have been a pretty big resort.

In the late 90s Zakopane was lobbying for the Olympics, but the national park didn't dig it. Also some local environmentalists were saying that resort expansion would damage a fragile alpine moss that grows there! Not sure how skiers can damage moss under a three foot snow base but there ya go.

johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
January 21, 2004
Member since 07/18/2001
1,914 posts
What your saying about Zakopane sounds similar to Slovak side of the High Tatras (Strbske Pleso, Stary Smokovec, Tatranska Lomnica). The High Tatras are pretty mountains with great hiking but not so great skiing, owing to the short length and flat grade of the slopes. The Slovak slopes on the High Tatras also suffer from their southern exposure. For some reason, Russsian mafia gravitate to these slope--don't know why but easy skiing may have something to do with it.

The LOW TATRAS are a different story. There you have more vertical, north facing slopes, steeper terrain, trees at lower elevations, and better off-piste potential (back bowls). If you are ever in the region, I'd give Jasna a try. It's a place where you will find more serious skiers and ski alpinists.

There's no village per se at Jasna--just a cluster of hotels at both the Jasna and Chopok Juh bases. I stayed at the 4 Star Grand once when the dollar was higher and it was cheap ($37 a night). Prices have changed a lot in the past two years, but you can still probably find inexpensive accomodation at guest houses and smaller hotels. I personally like the cheaper places because that's where you meet locals and learn where the good lines are. On a recent hiking trip to Chopok Juh (a place with many cheap hotels), I talked to a Snowboarder in May who offered me some slivovitz (deadly plum brandy), which I respectfully declined because I still had 1,000 meters of steep uphill to climb, and then proceeded to tell me what a great season it had been for off-piste on the Juh side. You just have to watch the weather and hit it at the right time.

johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
January 21, 2004
Member since 07/18/2001
1,914 posts
What your saying about Zakopane sounds similar to Slovak side of the High Tatras (Strbske Pleso, Stary Smokovec, Tatranska Lomnica). The High Tatras are pretty mountains with great hiking but not so great skiing, owing to the short length and flat grade of the slopes. The Slovak slopes on the High Tatras also suffer from their southern exposure. For some reason, Russsian mafia gravitate to these slope--don't know why but easy skiing may have something to do with it.

The LOW TATRAS are a different story. There you have more vertical, north facing slopes, steeper terrain, trees at lower elevations, and better off-piste potential (back bowls). If you are ever in the region, I'd give Jasna a try. It's a place where you will find more serious skiers and ski alpinists.

There's no village per se at Jasna--just a cluster of hotels at both the Jasna and Chopok Juh bases. I stayed at the 4 Star Grand once when the dollar was higher and it was cheap ($37 a night). Prices have changed a lot in the past two years, but you can still probably find inexpensive accomodation at guest houses and smaller hotels. I personally like the cheaper places because that's where you meet locals and learn where the good lines are. On a recent hiking trip to Chopok Juh (a place with many cheap hotels), I talked to a Snowboarder in May who offered me some slivovitz (deadly plum brandy), which I respectfully declined because I still had 1,000 meters of steep uphill to climb, and then proceeded to tell me what a great season it had been for off-piste on the Juh side. You just have to watch the weather and hit it at the right time.

Roger Z
January 21, 2004
Member since 01/16/2004
2,181 posts
The Low Tatras eh? That's worth taking a look into.

Did you get to Slovenia by any chance? The skiing there is supposedly good-- maybe southern New England as opposed to the mid-Atlantic of Slovakia and Poland?

Roger Z
January 22, 2004
Member since 01/16/2004
2,181 posts
John for reference how did Zakopane compare to Jasna? I've been to the former but not the latter...
johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
January 22, 2004
Member since 07/18/2001
1,914 posts
Roger:

I never saw the slopes of Zakopane when I was there--just the town and I was rushed because I was trying to make a train connection to Krakow.

I've visited Jasna, however, many times--mainly for hiking in the Summer since it is relatively close to where my in-laws live.

Jasna has some qualities that make it similar to Vail--mostly tree lined slopes with a 3,000 foot vert. on the north side (Jasna), and treeless, steeper back bowls on the south slopes of MT. Chopok.

The big problem with Jasna is that the front and back sides of the mountain are currently not linked by lifts. However, that will change next year, once Chopok Juh installs a high-speed, detachable 8-pack. With that lift and the new high speed 6 on the front face, Jasna will really come of age as ski resort.

However, there are still issues with snowmaking that will need to be resolved. To be a viable, international, destination resort, Jasna will have to make snow on the scale of a Mid-Atlantic resort like Snowshoe and I'm not sure they are willing to do that, or that the Slovak National Park authorities will allow it.

IF, however, snowmaking issues are resolved, Jasna will be the Snowshoe of Central Europe--everyone's first choice for a 3-4 day ski trip. Like Snowshoe, it will not be a destination resort for oversees visitors, but an excellent venue for those within 5 hour drive of the resort. If Jasna becomes Snowshoe or maybe even the Stowe of Central Europe, St. Anton/Trois Valleys/Espace Killy and other big resorts in the Alps will still be the Park City/Whistler/Aspen of Europe. In otherwords, Americans still will not travel to Slovakia to ski unless they have other reasons to be in the area. Does that make any sense?

johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
January 22, 2004
Member since 07/18/2001
1,914 posts
Never got to Slovenia but it should be better there because that country straddles the tail end of the Alps, whereas Slovakia sits in the Carpathians (older, less steep mountains).
lorka
January 22, 2004
Member since 01/21/2004
3 posts
Johnfmh, I realize we are getting way off subject here, but is there some sort of Slovakian library in DC? I have an extra copy of a documentary produced last year jointly by environmental groups Poland and Slovakia on the expansion of the ski industry on both sides of the border. It's takes a radical stance, but addresses issues that folks who posted reports on Blue Knob know can happen anywhere when ski areas don't consider the environmental impact of their projects, such as erosion and flooding. I placed a copy in the Polish Library near Dupont Circle and would like to see if there is a Slovakian equivalent that could use a donated video.

Regarding Zakopane, I skied there a number of times in 1999 and 2000, and at the time they had a single seat chairlift like the one at Mad River Glen. I think it's been replaced with a quad since then, but it was fun to ride. It was located on one of the big bowls in the main ski area, which is called Kasprowy Wierch. This is the area mentioned earlier with the two bowls that is accessed by a tram. There are some other ski lifts in and around town that most access small amounts of terrain. By the way, if you look straight up by the fireplace at Seven Springs you'll see a chandelier with a mini-ski that says Zakopane on it.

Regarding Slovenia, I went hiking there for a week once in the Triglav area, which seemed to be the main ski region as well. While I didn't ski there, I'll say that Slovenia is many years ahead of Slovakia and Poland economically, the Julian Alps are big, and Slovenia even export skis (Elan), so I'd expect decent skiing.

johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
January 22, 2004
Member since 07/18/2001
1,914 posts
That film sounds interesting. I don't know of a SLOVAK library in DC, but I suspect the new embassy will accept it. Another group that may be interested is Friends of Slovakia:

http://www.friendsofslovakia.org/

My Slovak colleague is headed to Martinske Hole this weekend. We just finished writing about Donovaly--a place in the Low Tatras that I've visted several times. I was thrilled to hear that it just installed a new, fixed grip quad. Donovaly has a 1200 foot vertical and also offers some really cool off-piste possibilities. That article should appear in the Spectator next week. The Martinske Hole piece should appear about a week later.

johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
January 26, 2004
Member since 07/18/2001
1,914 posts
Roger:

Yeah, this is what I've heard--too crowded on the Polish side and not enough manmade snow. The good news is that Slovakia is upgrading most of its decent resorts to try and meet the high demand for snow sports in Eastern Europe. Here's our latest profile:

http://www.slovakspectator.sk/clanok-14911.html

Roman Milan, my Slovak partner, visits the resorts, takes beautiful photos, and then sends me notes in English and Slovak. I then put the package together in a form that most skiers from America and the UK can understand. We then argue back in forth about article content(we have a 500 word limit). In the end, he gets royalties because he does all the legwork.

Anyway, no Slovak skiing for me--i'm heading it Ischgl, Soelden, and St. Moritz. Lots of snow and cold weather in the Alps this year--it should be good if it will just stop snowing. The avalanche (lawine) hazard is 4 above 2,000 meters, forcing some places to close upper slopes. Snowy, overcast conditions are also causing flat light conditions--nasty above the the tree line.

Roger Z
January 27, 2004
Member since 01/16/2004
2,181 posts
John up at Whitetail yesterday I rode the lift up with a Polish guy who was in the U.S. for a short stint. He says Zakopane skiing is not very good-- not surprising but I thought of you as soon as we started chatting about the High Tatras.

Have a good ski trip to Austria, btw!

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