These articles were published in the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide, published annually by The Slovak Spectator since 1996. The latest editions can be obtained from our online shop.



Skiing in a Winter Wonderland

Slovakia has long, cold winters and loads of mountain ranges - perfect terrain for skiing.

By Tom Philpott

    Martinské Hole
 Martinské Hole
 Photo: Ján Svrček

Slovaks love to ski. All winter long in villages and towns throughout the country, hills and low mountains are tricked out with ski lifts and dotted with skiers blazing down the slopes. Bratislava has one, too. On a winter weekend morning, simply take the 203 trolley bus to Koliba, get off at the last stop, and follow your fellow skiers through the woods and up the hill to the packed, family-oriented slope.

Slovakia also boasts dozens of fully appointed ski resorts, concentrated in its northern mountain ranges such as the High Tatras. While they might not be up to the difficulty and accommodation standards of alpine ski centres in Western Europe, Slovak resorts provide dramatically beautiful settings and fun, inexpensive skiing for enthusiasts of all skill levels.

Nearly every resort has at least one ski-rental shop near the ski lift, where skis can be rented for about €10 per day. The rental shops typically offer lessons for about €15 per three hours; at many of them, lessons in English can be arranged. A full-day ski pass at even the poshest slopes rarely goes for more than €13.

The ski season typically lasts into March, but that late in the season it's advisable to check with the respective locations' information bureaus, or with the Slovak Meteorological Institute's Slovak language web site at www.shmu.sk.

What follows is an overview of Slovakia's major ski areas.

The High Tatras

By far Slovakia's most celebrated mountain range, the High Tatras are the highest mountains in the former Czechoslovakia as well as in the entire Carpathian mountain chain. With a span of just 25 kilometres, 25 mountains of at least 2000 metres jut grandly into the clouds, creating Slovakia's quintessential skyline.

Ski centres are spread throughout the High Tatras mountain range and the Tatras Electrical Railway runs between most of them. The best-known ski slopes are around Štrbské Pleso, Starý and Nový Smokovec, Tatranská Lomnica and Ždiar. Visitors can expect artificial snow when necessary and good quality ski runs. Štrbské Pleso and Tatranská Lomnica also offer night skiing. In each ski resort you will find a panoramic map displaying information about the length and the level of difficulty of the various ski runs in that area. Here are the area's two most popular resorts:

At 1351 metres, Štrbské Pleso is the highest resort in the High Tatras.

And it boasts a beautiful blue glacial lake located right under some of the range's most dramatic peaks. Unfortunately, the lake is fringed by what are mostly ugly modern hotels. Still, this is one of the most comfortable and relaxing places to ski in Slovakia.

Looking at it now, it's hard to believe that's its only been a resort for about 100 years. It was founded by a Hungarian count in 1873, and turned into a ski venue with the building of a railway line 20 years later. It remained a rather sleepy ski village until the late 1960s, when the present hotel blocks were erected ahead of the 1970 World Ski Championships. Another remnant of that event is the forlorn, rusty ski jump that scars the landscape.

Nevertheless, the lake remains gorgeous, the skiing is wonderful and the surrounding trails offer lovely winter hikes. (They're lovely in summer, too, but loaded with tourists.) The mood in winter, with hundreds of Slovak, Polish, Czech, and Hungarian families milling about on holiday, is remarkably jolly.

While Štrbské Pleso is the High Tatras' most popular resort, expert skiers prefer the one at Tatranská Lomnica, with its steep slope up to Lomnický Peak. Its ski runs are the most difficult in the region. Another plus is that while the village has developed considerably in the last 10 years, it remains significantly more low-key than Štrbské Pleso. The hotels and pensions tend to be set back away from the road, helping to avoid the packs of hotels that prevail in Štrbské Pleso.

Non-skiers along for the ride must not miss the cable-car ride up to the summit of Lomnický Štít, at an eye-popping 2,634 metres. The journey has two parts - the first one to a glacial lake, the second a white-knuckle journey to perhaps the most dramatic view in all of the Tatras. Dress warmly. If you think it's cold below in Tatranská Lomnica, you have no idea what awaits you above. Another tip: on clear days in winter, this is an exceedingly popular activity, so queue up earlier.

Other Places

Beginners are advised to go to Ždiar, where the runs are easy to moderate.

Cross-country skiers will find tracks running around Štrbské Pleso (five circuits), Ždiar (two circuits) and starting from Tatranská Lesná and Tatranská Lomnica. The tracks are from 3 to 30 kilometres long, with a combined vertical rise of 135 metres.

Most of the High Tatras ski resorts are equipped with ski lifts, there is a chairlift to Solisko in Štrbské Pleso, a cog railway running from Starý Smokovec to Hrebienok, and a gondola leading up to Lomnický peak in the Tatranská Lomnica resort.

Low Tatras

Not nearly as famed as their taller cousins, the Low Tatras nevertheless boast some excellent skiing opportunities. In fact, some Slovak ski enthusiasts claim the country's best skiing lies in this mountain range.

Wedged between the Váh and Hron rivers valleys, this mountain range extends about 80 kilometres - three times the width of the High Tatras. Its eastern part is largely unspoiled, but has few skiing opportunities. The western part, however, brims with ski resorts.

The most famous is Jasná, which lies in the Liptov region along the edge of mount Chopok. The place is a bit of a madhouse in the high winter season, crowded with Czech, Polish, and domestic tourists, but the mood is jolly and the skiing is some of Slovakia's best. It's also loaded with posh hotels at prices significantly lower than at other European ski centres.

Jasná boasts seven chair lifts, 14 ski-tows, one cable car, a ski school, a ski equipment hiring services, ski-servicing, excellent conditions for ski-alpinism and paragliding, and winter bathing in the thermal swimming pool in Bešeňová. For more information, check: www.ski-jasna.sk.

Other locations in the Low Tatras:

  • Chopok Juh: 7 kilometres of slopes, 4 ski lifts and one 4-seat chairlift.
  • Liptovský Ján, Vyšná Boca, Tále, and Čertovica.

Other Key Resorts

A less posh - but equally popular - alternative to the High Tatras is Donovaly, at the western edge of the Tatra range. Donovaly is Slovakia's great middle-class ski resort. The food in the hotels is hearty and not too expensive, the slopes are relatively easy, and there are plenty of options for renting skis and taking lessons. The trails around Donovaly provide excellent cross-country skiing as well as winter hiking. In short, this is the place to take a group with varying levels of ski skill and enthusiasm.

The main slope is the Nová Hoľa, 1360 metres above sea level and 1325 metres long. In all, there are 10 kilometres of downhill ski slopes in Donovaly. Cross-country enthusiasts will find the resort quite accommodating, as it maintains 30 kilometres of tracks through lovely snow-dusted forestland. Unlike the downhill slopes, which are loaded to the breaking point with enthusiasts, the trails around Donovaly are actually pretty peaceful.

As an added bonus, the village hosts dogsledding races in the winter. During these events, the peaceful cross-country trails become raucous.

Donovaly: 14 ski lifts and 10 kilometres of slopes, also with snowmaking, cross-country and night skiing, additional sporting activities - dogsled racing, paragliding, ice skating.

For more information, check: www.skidonovaly.sk/uk.html.

Another option is Ružomberok, a ski resort just outside of the town of the same name. The skiing is only average by Slovak standards, but it's a fine place to practice for beginners and intermediate skiers, or to learn something new, such as snowboarding.

Also, non-skiers can sneak away from the hubbub of the slopes by taking a hike to Vlkolínec, one of Slovakia's best-preserved folk villages, recognized by UNESCO and highlighted in our architecture section.

Ružomberok: 7 ski lifts and 2 chairlifts, slopes for all categories of skiers, ski and snowboard schools, snow tubing (sliding down the hill on an inner tube).

For more information, check: www.skipark.sk.

Other locations: Jasenská Dolina, Malinô Brdo, Krahule, Liptovské Revúce, Turecká.


These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2003.

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