Author: Wendy King
Slovakia is the cool new winter destination for budget-conscious Brits. And while on a smaller scale than many popular Alpine resorts, recent investment means its main ski areas now combine quality and value.
Modern lifts, expanded snowmaking and improving base facilities are all part of the ‘new look’ Slovakian skiing – the main areas can rival western equivalents in these respects. At the same time prices have remained low: a beer can be eight times cheaper than in some French resorts. And lift pass prices are cheaper than a year ago. Tour operator presence has increased opportunities for low cost packaged trips too.
Slovakia’s principal resorts are located in two mountain regions: the Low and High Tatra. These mountains stretch to the north and west of the city of Poprad. The Tatras are characterised by pine forests and craggy ridges, reaching heights over 2500m. The largest ski areas are in the Low Tatra. By contrast, those in the High Tatra are limited individually and lend themselves better to touring or day trips from Poprad.
The Low Tatras (Nízke Tatry)
Don’t be put off by the name: many of the mountains in this range rise to over 2000m. They are also home to Slovakia’s largest ski area – Jasna – and to one of three resorts marketed under the ‘Park Snow’ branding, Donovaly.
Jasna is a purpose-built resort, receiving huge investment. A new eight-seat gondola opened for 2009/10 and there is a new Burton-sponsored terrain park. The ski area spans both sides of Mount Chopok, rising to almost 2025m. With the lowest slopes at 1028m it is possible to ski a vertical of almost 1000m. The terrain offers something for all levels: there are wide treelined red runs, mogulled blacks and one or two ski-routes, but also blue runs and a children’s nursery area. For experts, there are several well-defined freeride zones off the crags below the summit ridge. You can stay at the base or in town.
Donovaly shares the new Park Snow lift pass with Strbské Pleso and Vel’ká Raca in the High Tatra. The resort is low at 915m, and with a high proportion of draglifts, but there is a newish combi-mix lift and a fast quad too. Slopes span either side of the main north-south road; those on Nova Hola are almost entirely red, while there are gentle blue runs on the other side. It makes a good choice for families; there is free ice-skating, toboggan run and kids’ parks.
The High Tatras (Visoké Tatry)
Two of the key resorts in the High Tatra Mountains run along one valley, and are connected by electric train. They are just 15 minutes from Poprad, so ideally placed for short breaks or touring visits.
Tatranská Lomnica is a tall but narrow area, with some of Slovakia’s steepest slopes on Mt Lominicky Stit. Recent development has added a fast quad and a few new runs. The pistes get tougher the higher you go, so all the blues are on the lower slopes; the two blacks at the top. The resort is compact, but there is a children’s area, school and childcare – plus various other activities including a 2.5km long floodlit toboggan run.
Strbské Pleso is part of Park Snow, so it is covered on the same lift pass as Donovaly (about an hour away). For a ski area with fewer than a dozen pistes, it boasts a brand new six-pack for 2009/10,100% snowmaking and a new terrain park and kids snow garden. Most slopes are red, but there are a couple of blues and a nursery slope. There is little to interest at the base, except a couple of hotels and some Nordic trails, so suits day-trippers best.
In between these two ski areas is Stary Smokovec, often marketed with Tatranská. Its limited slopes provide an alternative to its neighbours.
The third Park Snow
Vel’ká Raca is rather on its own and considered mainly with the Park Snow pass. For a resort its size (14km slopes) it boasts three fast lifts, including a combi-mix – but the slopes are low, reaching a top height of only 1050m.
Off the slopes
Slovakia loves its geothermal water parks, and they make great family attractions. AquaCity in Poprad and Tatralandia near Jasna are the main ones.
The nearest airports are Poprad and Bratislava.
Danube Wings flies from London Luton and Manchester to Poprad. Ryanair serves Bratislava.
You can also fly into Krakow (Poland) – but transfers are about 3hrs by car / coach
Slovak railways are offering return day trips to any of the Park Snow resorts EG Poprad to Strbské Pleso – including lift pass and bus transfer from the station.
Lift passes / rental
A combined lift pass does allow for a two-centre holiday too, covering about 55km piste. The Park Snow lift pass covers the three resorts.The main resorts all have rental shops for ski / board hire.
There is a wide choice of 3- and 4-star hotels, some rather grand!