Ski down the new season

TOWNS have barely received the first snowflakes but the ski centres already tempt with perfect snow and great slopes. This season promises a lot. Slovak ski centres have invested more money than ever into modernization.

TOWNS have barely received the first snowflakes but the ski centres already tempt with perfect snow and great slopes. This season promises a lot. Slovak ski centres have invested more money than ever into modernization.

Until recently, people in this country were satisfied with just skiing. But over the last few seasons the managers of Slovak ski centres have begun to adopt the strategy of their colleagues in the Alps. This means getting visitors to stay longer by offering more than just perfectly groomed slopes. Now winter holiday makers are packing swim suits, ice-skates and disco gear into their suitcases.

A prime example of this trend is the Meander Park Oravice ski centre in the Western Tatras, which starts at an altitude of 790 and ends at 1,020 metres above sea level. After skiing down the slope, you can slip off your skis and literally jump into the hot thermal water. Or vice versa. The start of the four-person cableway with heated seats lies close to the thermal pools, which range in temperature from 28 to 38 degrees Celsius.

The hit of the 2005/2006 winter season should be the eight-person cable car up to the Malá Fatra ridge from Vrátna dolina. The centre spreads at an altitude of between 600 and 1,709 metres above sea level. The 1,860-metre lift offers access to one of the best ski slopes in the country. Moreover, a shuttle bus will join all five skiing areas in Vrátna together.

Park Snow Donovaly (940 to 1,361 metres), nestled in a deep valley some 30 minutes north of Banská Bystrica, has a new lift. The unique six-person chairlift combined with eight-person cabins replaced the old three-person chair to Nová hoľa. The centre also boasts a professional ice rink and night skiing on the illuminated Záhradište ski slope. Lifts also link individual localities in the area and people can catch ski buses at weekends.

Ski enthusiasts will rejoice in the resurrection of Kubínska hoľa (790 to 1,396 metres). The new owner has equipped the great but long neglected ski centre with a new four-person chairlift and added snowmaking in the lower part of the centre. All lifts have been reconstructed and all car parks made larger.

The High Tatras have also begun to develop as a skiing destination. Its municipalities have finally understood the need to stick together rather than pursue individual business plans, and have improved the service to tourists while assuring the sustainability of the natural surroundings.

The most significant change in the Tatras is grouping its main ski centres (apart from Štrbské Pleso) under one supervisor - Tatra Cableways. The ski slopes at Hrebienok, Starý Smokovec and Tatranská Lomnica are under a single operator for the first time in their history. Thanks to the joint venture, visitors can use one ski-pass in all the above-mentioned centres. A shuttle bus joins Starý Smokovec to Tatranská Lomnica and Tatranská Kotlina.

A new, four-person chairlift was added to Valčianska dolina, quite a new ski centre in the Malá Fatra mountain range. Praised for its family atmosphere, the cableway, taking skiers 320 metres up the mountain, should also attract a more demanding clientele (see adjoining article).

The country's largest centre, Jasná in the Low Tatras, has widened its slopes, completed its snowmaking facilities and built a new Ski Data turnstile system as well as an ice rink near the hotel Liptov. Ski buses will run between Brezno and Srdiečko.

Another popular ski centre, Snow Paradise Veľká Rača Oščadnica, will, apart from skiing, raise adrenaline levels with its bobsleigh run full of serpentines and jumps.

The bad news this season is that long-time favourite Martinské hole ski centre will be closed because of an unsolved property dispute.

The good news is that prices of ski passes have increased only slightly. These range from Sk600 to Sk690 (€16 to €18) per day. Many centres charge nothing for parking or for using the ski buses. The damage to your wallets will come through the new attractions.

But if you get your skis out now you can still save money. Until Christmas the following centres are offering discounts of almost 30 percent: Štrbské Pleso in the High Tatras, Donovaly, Veľká Rača, and Zverovka-Spálená in the Western Tatras (weekends only).

New ski lifts in 2005/2006 season:

Park Snow Donovaly - 6/8 Telemix Poma
Vrátna - 8-person Doppelmayr high-speed gondola
Kubínska hoľa - 4-person Poma Unifix chairlift
Meander Park Oravice - 4-person Doppelmayr chairlift with heated seats
Valčianska dolina - 4-person Doppelmayr chairlift

Ski buses will run in Vrátna, Veľká Rača, Donovaly and Tatranská Lomnica

Apres ski:
Extra attractions include new ice rinks, bowling centres, disco bars, thermal swimming pools. Several smaller ski centres offer joint services.

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