Ski season underway in Slovak mountains

Ten resorts have opened their trails in Slovakia.

The ski season has started on the slopes of Chopok in the Low Tatras. The ski season has started on the slopes of Chopok in the Low Tatras. (Source: TASR)

SLOVAKIA as a mountainous country has plenty of ski resorts but since these are not located on glaciers, as for example in neighbouring Austria, their owners have to place their trust that the weather will secure cold temperatures and snow, and a good ski season. Ski resorts offer various attractions to draw a wider scope of tourists, including statues made from ice, bobsled toboggans or fairytale lands. They also hope that the women’s Skiing World Cup to be held in Jasná in the Low Tatras in March will make Slovakia a more popular winter sport destination.

“The winter season always depends mainly on the weather and temperatures,” Miroslav Dobrota, marketing manager of the Park Snow Donovaly ski resort in the Low Tatras told The Slovak Spectator. “Therefore it is difficult to make predictions [for the upcoming season].”

World class skiers in Jasná

Jasná Nízke Tatry, a popular ski resort in the Low Tatras, will host slalom and giant slalom events of the Women’s Skiing World Cup, an international circuit of alpine skiing competitions between March 4 and 6, 2016. The slopes at Chopok will host the world’s top female skiers, including Slovak Veronika Velez Zuzulová – who is also the ambassador of the event, and Petra Vlhová, who recently won medals at several prominent ski competitions.

Such an event is returning to Chopok after 32 years, Zuzana Fabianová, spokesperson of Tatry Mountain Resorts (TMR) which also operates the Jasná resort, recalled.

“We hope that this event will become a tradition and will be held in Slovakia regularly,” Fabianová told The Slovak Spectator. “It is an opportunity for the country and the ski centre for self-promotion. Jasná has capacities to manage world class events.”

The aim of the ski resort is to draw the attention of media and spectators.

“The action at the World Cup always make the holding country and the ski resort visible,” said Fabianová, adding that the resort has already held a ranking of important ski events.

Matej Pechota, the marketing manager at Vrátna Free Time Zone ski resort said that it is a challenge for other centres to draw the crowds attracted by Jasná, but other centres are also worth trying that increase the reputation of Slovakia as a skiing destination.

“We at Vrátna hope that also we will have the honour to host a European or World Cup event,” said Pechota.

Ski resorts gradually open

“Some ski resorts already opened the season in early December,” said Marta Kučerová, the CEO of the Slovak Tourist Board (SACR).

The ski season began at ten ski resorts in the High and Low Tatras as well as in Roháče in mid-December, while it is expected that more resorts will join during the coming days. The snow is now 20 and 40 centimetres deep, and even though some centimetres of snow have fallen at higher altitudes, most ski resorts have had to switch on their snow-making machines to prepare the slopes for skiers.

Man-made snow is prepared on the northern and southern side of Chopok from late November in order to be ready to open earlier than in previous years.

The Tatra Ice Cathedral at Hrebienok in the High Tatras was opened already in late November.

“This year we started with carving [the statues] one month earlier,” said Lenka Maťašovská from the destination management organisation Regional Tourism Organisation - High Tatras Region.

In general, while the week between Christmas and New Year is called the Golden Week due to the Christmas holiday, the best ski season in Slovakia starts only afterwards and lasts, if weather is favourable, until Easter or even May.

Ski resorts offer ski passes of various durations while potential skiers can save during pre-sales or get extra discounts at ski resorts’ partners.

A novelty on Slovak slopes is that children below 15 are obliged to wear a helmet. Otherwise the resort operator can ban them from the slope.

Safety at home

Slovakia has dozens of ski resorts offering a range of ski slopes and thus each kind of skier, from beginners and families with children up to experienced and demanding athletes can choose. Recently, ski centre Jasná won the World Ski Awards for the best ski centre in Slovakia for 2015 and Tatranská Lomnica was voted the best resort for beginners.

The increasing number of flight connections makes the resorts accessible to foreign tourists as well. In February 2015 The Guardian wrote that new flight connections have brought Slovakia’s Tatra mountains closer for skiers who are on a budget, which opened up expectations towards the upcoming winter season.

The number of visitors during the first nine months of 2015 increased by 14 percent compared to the previous year.

“We expect that this trend will continue into winter,” said Kučerová, adding that the good connection with the UK, Baltic countries and Scandinavia is an advantage for ski centres in Slovakia.

Additionally, Czech visitors can benefit from convenient rail connections.

“Over recent years, about 90 percent of all visitors to Donovaly have come from the Visegrad group countries,” said Dobrota.

Overall, the majority of holidaymakers (62 percent) are from Slovakia, but the Tatry region expects new tourists from the new routes to Poprad airport from Russia, Baltic countries and Helsinki that start operating from the middle of December.

“We hope that it will also help make Slovakia more visible for the Baltic region and Poland, and attract tourists from these regions,” Fabianová added.

The recent terrorism situations in Europe can convince people to stay at home.

“Slovakia is ranked among safe countries in terms of potential terrorist threats, therefore we expect that the people from nearby countries will prefer our mountains to more exotic destinations,” said Maťašovská.

According to Dobrota, some Slovak ski resorts, including Donovaly, can compete with centres in the Alps, mainly in terms of prices.

“They [Alps] offer more kilometres of ski routes; but the quality of services in Slovakia is growing,” said Dobrota.

On the other hand, Pechota from Vrátna sees the situation differently.

“Slovak ski resorts cannot compare themselves with Austria,” he said, adding that there is completely different support from the state, the municipalities and the providers of services. “Slovak ski resorts are trying to cooperate with nearby villages, but there are private interests and problems that prevent us from reaching the level of Austria.”

However, a visitor does not see this background and is interested only in the services.

“Therefore we still have lots of work to do and a lot to learn from abroad,” said Pechota.

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