FOREIGN AFFAIRS

A guide to skiing the Slovak slopes

IT had been 12 years since I'd last skied, so staring up the steep mountainside was discomfiting to say the least. Masking my fear, I put on my bravest face and joined the queue for the chairlift.
Getting on was no problem, which is more than my companion, a skiing veteran of the Slovak slopes, can say.
After getting me to believe that the hill was not that steep and that I would have no problems remembering how to ski, she promptly got blindsided by the metal chair, losing both poles, a ski and her rucksack in the process. Confused and shouting in English and Slovak, she nearly fell off, but hung on for dear life and managed to get to the top, one ski and all.

IT had been 12 years since I'd last skied, so staring up the steep mountainside was discomfiting to say the least. Masking my fear, I put on my bravest face and joined the queue for the chairlift.

Getting on was no problem, which is more than my companion, a skiing veteran of the Slovak slopes, can say.

After getting me to believe that the hill was not that steep and that I would have no problems remembering how to ski, she promptly got blindsided by the metal chair, losing both poles, a ski and her rucksack in the process. Confused and shouting in English and Slovak, she nearly fell off, but hung on for dear life and managed to get to the top, one ski and all.

No, getting on was no problem at all. Getting off was a different matter. As I stood and prepared to ski to the right, two things became clear: first, that I had forgotten how to turn and, second, that the strap of my rucksack was snared on the chair. I pulled frantically as the lift's momentum pushed me into the no return zone, where the chair swings around for the return trip down the mountain. But to no avail. The lift operator graciously stopped the chairlift as I crashed into a wooden barricade. He even freed my rucksack while I disentangled my limbs from the planks.

Thankfully, the rest of the day went much smoother. I quickly remembered how to turn and after just 15 minutes had almost completely stopped snowplowing for safety. This is great, I thought, and all for less than ten dollars.

Skiing in Slovakia is indeed a wonderful wintertime activity. It is remarkably cheap by western standards and with tens, if not hundreds, of ski centres around the country, there is a vast selection.

My ski experience, at the Plejsy resort in the eastern Slovak town Krompachy, cost just Sk200 ($4.17) for a two-hour lift pass, plus Sk180 ($3.75) for complete rentals, including boots, skis and poles. Most resorts around the country sell full day tickets for Sk250 to Sk500, with the most expensive tickets found in the High Tatras mountains.

A Spectator office survey serves up a selection of some of the countries top ski centres: Nataša in finances spent her holidays skiing at the Skalka resort near Kremnica in central Slovakia. It has a long run at affordable prices (one trip up the lift for Sk25), and lines for lifts were usually no more than five minutes. She did complain, however, that the slopes were poorly groomed, a result of the blizzards that struck Slovakia throughout December.

Deep in the Orava region, adds Nataša, is a hidden gem: Oravská Lesná. It has a long run with three different routes to the bottom, is cheap (Sk10 per ride up the hill), and has thin crowds, unlike Plejsy where I had to wait 30 minutes to get on the lift.

Tomáš in advertising offers his "secret tip": Liptovské Revúce, in the Malá Fatra mountains, off the road that leads from Ružomberok to Banská Bystrica. "It's got a very long slope, what some people say is the longest in Slovakia, but I can't confirm that," he says.

Zuzka in editorial says that Solisko, in the Tatra mountain town Štrbské Pleso, is among her favourites. It is certainly one of the highest, with lifts bringing skiers to altitudes topping 2,000 metres. But after her holiday ski trip in Krompachy, she now ranks Plejsy as high as any other resort. "It reminds me of skiing in the Italian Alps," she says.

Štrbské Pleso is also renowned for its cross-country skiing, as is Šachticky near Špania Dolina in central Slovakia. With Šachticky as a starting point, skiers can trace the scenic 30 kilometre trail to Donovaly, one of Slovakia's more well-known resorts north of Banská Bystrica.

Cross-country skiing is also possible in Slovak Paradise (Slovenský raj). Penzion Nemo in Spišská Nová Ves rents boots, skis and poles for Sk200 per day, plus provides ski-route maps of the national park. Contact them at 053 442 3728 or check out www.slovenskyraj.sk/nemo.html.

The most useful web-site for interested skiers is www.holidayinfo.sk. Tens of resorts are listed, including current conditions, number of running lifts, prices and maps of each ski centre. The site, which can be read in German, English or Slovak, also provides cross-country skiing information.

Not all resorts offer rentals, so your best bet is to get your gear together before travelling. Požičovňa lyží is the general name for a ski rental shop, where you can find bežky (cross-country skis), lyže (downhill skis), lyžiarky (ski boots) and palice (poles).

Now you're all set. The only remaining challenge is figuring out how to ride those pesky chair-lifts without getting bowled over or pushed into a protective barrier. Just in case, practice this saying: Prosím Vás, zastavte lanovku! Stratil som lyžu a palice a strašne sa bojím! (Please stop the lift! I've lost my skis and poles and I am terribly afraid!)

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