Join the Tatra pack: Skiers can expect low costs and high excitement in Slovakia

Jamming the revolving doors of Slovakia's newest five-star hotel is not the best way to make an impression as you attempt to stride towards reception, but at least it ensures the staff remember you. And if, like me, you're foolish enough to try to get through a set of revolving doors with a pair of skis over your shoulder what else can you expect?

I was making a clumsy arrival at the beautifully refurbished Habsburg Empire-era Hotel Grand Kempinski in Slovakia's High Tatra mountains, fresh from three days skiing in Jasná, the country's biggest ski resort 60km away in the Low Tatras.

In this case, "biggest" does not mean huge; Jasná boasts just 35km of marked pistes. The resort is neatly divided into two distinct ski areas on the north- and south-facing slopes of the 2,024m Chopok Peak. The northern slopes have an excellent range of pistes for beginners through to intermediates; the sunny south side, meanwhile, is steeper and appeals to more experienced skiers.

There's 1,000m of vertical, so unless you're a Winter Olympian your quads are guaranteed to be burning by the time you've skied top to bottom, and there are also five impressive freeride zones. All consist of wide, open "Alpine" areas which plummet down to tree runs that will challenge anyone with a pair of wide skis and a go-for-it attitude. Indeed, so good is the freeriding here that Jasná is a venue for the Freeride World Tour in March.

It's all remarkably good value, too. I ate most meals at the Pizza Von Roll mountain restaurant, which has been built around the top mechanism of a disused ski lift. Here excellent pizza and fine Slovakian beer cost just less than €10. What's more, the restaurant's décor (porthole-style windows, wood burner and contemporary furnishings) and friendly service knocked spots off the pricey, surly mealtime experience that is often a characteristic of mountain eateries in the Alps.

Slovakia is becoming an increasingly popular choice with British skiers, thanks to service such as this, as well as passable skiing for all abilities. There's also easy access for visitors: the two-hour flight from the UK to Poprad and between 30 and 60 minutes transfer time make it just as convenient as the Alps.

In Jasná I enjoyed four-star ski-in/ski-out accommodation at the Hotel Družba, which is built in traditional Alpine style on the lower slopes of the blue Biela Put piste. I also tried the more contemporary Hotel Grand beside the resort's new eight-person gondola, which accesses great beginner terrain.

From the summit of Mount Chopok I enjoyed superb views north to the spiky summits of the High Tatras before I left for the 60-minute drive to those same mountains and my snarl-up at the Grand Kempinski.

For a century, winter sports have been an integral part of life in the southern foothills of the High Tatras, with world championship skiing events held here as early as the 1930s. The base area is overlooked by an imposing ski jump from which I watched young men with hearts and spines of steel practising the closest thing there is to non-powered flight.

More challenging skiing can be found at the High Tatras' main resort, Tatranská Lomnica. This is tucked beneath the impressively pointy bulk of 2,634m Lomnicky Peak, Slovakia's second-highest mountain, first climbed in 1793 by an adventurous Englishman called Robert Townson.

You get to Tatranská Lomnica by a curious electric mountain railway which runs from Strbské Pleso – the small resort that is an eclectic mix of ornate fin de siècle hotels, brutalist Communist-era holiday accommodation and minimalist 21st-century development.

I headed for Tatranská Lomnica with Terezka Rothová of Mountain Paradise, a UK-based company which specialises in Slovakian mountain holidays.

At first sight the skiing at Tatranská Lomnica seems to be restricted to little more than wide, cruisy blue runs above the main gondola, but as you get higher a decent sized powder-filled bowl appears; this is definitely not beginner terrain.

On the other hand, Terezka said this is a resort that novices will enjoy: "There are rarely any lift queues, the slopes are wide and gentle and we have good instructors who rarely have more than six students so our guests tend to improve pretty quickly when they ski here. They're also good with their 'manchester-making' machines here." (Slovakia used to purchase its corduroy cloth from east Lancashire, to the extent that the cloth became known as "manchester". Now instead of producing "corduroy", as in the Alps, here piste bashers groom the snow into parallel lines of "manchester".)

By the end of a sunny day exploring Tatranská Lomnica, "groomed" was not how I was feeling. Happily, I returned to the Kempinski in Strbské Pleso (with my skis safely held at a revolving door-friendly angle) knowing that the biggest dilemma I would be presented with would be the choice of deep hot bath, sauna or steam room.

The skiing at Strbské Pleso itself is limited in comparison to Jasná, with just a few kilometres of generally easy pistes which are ideal for learning on. However, more experienced skiers can still enjoy a day here because it allows you to immerse yourself in Slovakia's Alpine culture and heritage. You can join the locals on one of the area's cross-country ski trails, go snowshoeing through woodland or simply enjoy an après-ski massage for as little as €10 when you've had enough of the limited number of pistes. Or you can take the ski lift to the summit of Lomnicky Peak from Tatranská Lomnica – for a view of the entire length of the High Tatras (Europe's smallest mountain range) and panoramas of southern Poland and the Low Tatras. (Unfortunately you won't be skiing from the top of craggy Lomnicky Peak unless you earn your living as a professional freerider.)

Another popular option, particularly with families, is a day out at Aquacity in nearby Poprad. Built on the site of natural hot springs the centre has a variety of swimming pools as well as spa facilities, and is easily accessed by the electric mountain railway which runs down to the city in about half-an-hour. And Poprad's traffic-free centre, with its good selection of bars and restaurants, is worth wandering around after you've soaked in the springs.

If you don't require endless cruisy blue and red runs on which to clock up the miles and want to experience a relatively unknown ski culture without breaking the bank, Slovakia is worth checking out – and even hard core skiers will get plenty out of a week in Jasná. Just take care with those revolving doors.

Travel essentials: Slovakia

Getting there

* Mountain Paradise (0161 408 8988; ) offers a week at the Grand Hotel Kempinski for £995 per person, including flights, transfers and a six-day ski pass for Strbské Pleso. A week at Hotel Druzba in Jasná costs from £375, including flights, transfers and six-day ski pass.

* Poprad is served by Danubewings ( ) from Luton.

More Information

* Strbské Pleso tourist information: 00 421 52 449 2455

Suggested Topics
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss