Slovakia’s mountainous terrain makes it a natural place for skiers in search of medium and small-sized ski resorts offering a variety of options for enjoying winter.
Being aware of their natural attributes, ski resorts have invested huge sums of money over the last decade to improve their services. If you ski with your family, for example, you can find children’s parks where instructors teach junior skiers the basics, while you enjoy skiing down more demanding slopes. Off-site activities are also improving, and many resorts offer wellness centres and massage. The resorts also cooperate with the major aquaparks in the north of Slovakia, with shuttle buses provided to and from the slopes.
“A vacation in the mountains is not only about running down the hill anymore,” said Zuzana Fabiánová, the spokesperson for the Tatry Mountain Resorts. “Tourists want to spend their time efficiently; therefore, they are looking for fun, relaxation and sports under one roof. To put it simply, they want everything and they want it immediately.” On the other hand, what Slovakia lacks is longer ski runs comparable to those found in the biggest foreign resorts. It is not easy to create such places in Slovakia since the country’s environmental protection policy does not permit the construction of lengthier runs, said Daniel Onderčanin, a ski racer.
What is waiting for tourists
Skiing in Slovakia
There are up to 30 ski centres with ski-lifts in Slovakia, more than 10 of which have express elevators that reach a speed of 18km per hour. Most Slovak ski slopes lie below an elevation of 1,500 metres, where the mountains are also covered in forests. The season begins in late November and typically ends towards the end of March. In Vysoké and Nízke Tatry (the High and Low Tatras) you can often enjoy spring skiing until May.
The elevation of the highest slope in Slovakia – Lomnické sedlo (1,800-2,200m) – often means glacier-like conditions, especially in March and April. Skiers can experience a drop of as much as 1,000 metres at Chopok, and the steepest bluff in Malá Lučivná Magura (northern Slovakia) offers the chance to experience an altitude difference of 500 metres on a 1,300-metre run. Visitors can find the largest package of experiences in the biggest ski resorts. Vysoké Tatry – Hrebienok offers a bobsled track even in late evening hours, and a night ride on a snow groomer. Furthermore, snow paragliding is gaining popularity in Vrátna – Chleb, Martinské hole, Chopok, Donovaly – Nová hoľa and Malinô Brdo. Lovers of night rides should visit Vrátna, Donovaly, Jasná or Veľká Rača, where there is also an adrenaline-packed 1,300-metre long Alpincoaster with a maximum speed of 40 kilometres per hour.
Keen skiers may enjoy morning skiing with a guide who can show them the best and most untouched slopes at Chopok from 7:30 to 9:00, before the ski-lifts start running. The biggest set of cross-country tracks is in the Skalka arena ski centre, and the best maintained area for cross-country skiing can be found in Štrbské Pleso.
A well-maintained ski slope is good for both skiers and snowboarders; however, ski resorts with seat lifts are more suitable for those who prefer snowboards. More experienced snowboarders usually go for freestyle and free ride activities. The best options for free rides outside of maintained ski slopes are in the Low Tatras. For freestyle fans, most of the bigger ski resorts, including Donovaly, Jasná, Štrbské Pleso, Valča and Malinô Brdo, have snowboard parks, and Park Snow in Donovaly has the biggest, according to Slovak Snowboarding Association President Július Hermély.
Where to take children
The best place for children is probably the Funpark at the Park Snow Donovaly resort, which is the second biggest fun park for children of its kind in all of Europe. The new complex not only teaches children all they need to know about skiing and snowboarding in an engaging way, it also offers numerous surprises for youngsters, including games, competitions, animation programmes, a carnival and a menagerie of mascots to accompany them the whole day through. Donovaly also offers the option to admire local nature on a dogsled ride.
Those who visit eastern Slovakia with their family during the winter should try the easier slopes of Jahodná and Kavečany which are suitable even for cross-country, bobsled and winter hiking. There is also a relaxation centre with a pool, a sauna and massages in Jahodná, while Kavečany offers a great experience for children with a zoo just 500 metres from the ski centre. The great advantage of Slovakia is that it has plenty of small ski facilities with easy ski slopes and few people using them which can be suitable for families with children on a budget, Onderčanin said.
Joining the group of Best
One problem with Slovakia’s big ski resorts is that they generally have not been successful in creating complexes of hotels, bars, ski shops and more in proximity to their slopes; therefore, those services tend to be located further away, according to Onderčanin. Some locals solved this problem by offering inexpensive accommodation and services in nearby villages, which are connected to the ski centres by various forms of public transportation, taxis, and so on.
After many years of waiting, the dream of a proper, all-encompassing resort may have come true after the massive construction project at Jasná ski centre was completed in 2013. Since then, the biggest ski resort in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland became even bigger, with a total length of ski slopes reaching 49 kilometres and maximum transportation of 32,854 people per hour. Moreover, in March 2016, it hosted the women’s World Cup giant slalom for the first time after 30 years. In recent years, the resort has also improved its after-ski activities and accommodation facilities. If we add to that the thermal aquapark Tatralandia, open year round and only 15 kilometres away, Jasná can compete with any resort in central Europe. In fact, thermal aquaparks cooperate well with ski resorts in Slovakia; one of them in Oravice actually has a thermal aquapark located right at the ski slopes. Some other aquaparks, such as Tatralandia, Bešeňová or AquaCity, use ski buses to transport tourists to nearby ski centres. They also participate in local programmes that give people discounts on accommodations, food and plenty of the region’s major attractions, including ski centres.
Furthermore, thermal aquaparks are improving and offering more facilities year by year. Wellness centres are also blooming and almost every important hotel has recently modernised its relaxation zones. So the only thing we can wish for is plenty of snow to fall, and plenty of friends to join and share the skiing experience.
By Roman Millan and Roman Cuprik
T2 Štrbské Pleso, www.vt.sk
T7 Tatranská Lomnica, www.vt.sk
29 Chopok - Jasná, www.jasna.sk
42 Malinô Brdo, www.skipark.sk
46 Lučivná , www.slovakiainn.sk
48 Kubínska hoľa , www.kubinska.sk
54 Zverovka - Spálená , www.tatrawest.sk
55 Ski Oravice, www.skiparkoravice.sk
62 Veľká Rača , www.snowparadise.sk
65 Vrátna , www.vratna.sk
77 Valčianska dolina, www.snowland.sk
78 Martinské hole, www.martinky.com
44 Skalka, www.skalkaarena.sk
41 Donovaly, www.parksnowdonovaly.sk
1 Košice - Kavečany, www.kavecany.sk