Skiing is believing! Somehow I’d never had a chance to try the ski areas in the High Tatras. Or the Low Tatras for that matter (both are part of the Carpathian Mountains) which offer all kinds of skiing permutations in Slovakia and Poland. Strangely, perhaps, the best resort I visited – Jasna-Chopok – is in the Low Tatras. Don’t be put off by the ‘Low ‘! It was unquestionably the best and biggest of the three resorts I skied in the region, even though the other two are in the so called High Tatras.
And make no mistake, Jasna is pretty big. Its lowest base area is 942metres, and the slopes reach 2024 metres, so the vertical drop is a very respectable 1082 metres (not much less than 3,500 feet). With skiing on both sides of the mountain there are 30 runs and 26 lifts, including many modern chairs and two modern gondolas – one of which is a state-of-the-art double cable construction, so less likely to close because of high winds.
The runs are good, long and plenty steep enough! The snow was pretty good too, though not outstanding. But then snow in the Alps was far less consistent at the time. Jasna has plenty of freeride terrain, and snowboarders love it, saying there are very few “flat bits” or cat tracks to worry about.
And prices can be almost absurdly cheap. One snowboarder I spoke to said he never had a beer in Val d’Isère because it was so expensive, but here he’s drinking pints every night! Seems to me good skiing, decent snow and low prices are quite a combination!
The point of entry to the region is Poprad, reached in a couple of hours from Luton with W!ZZ Air. From Poprad it’s only eight miles to the High Tatras ski area of Tatranska Lomnica, not quite as big as Jasna, but “long thin and high – just like I’d like to be” jokes my American ski companion Bernie Weichsel, who runs ski shows in Denver and Boston each year, and is a former chairman of the American Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. And in the other direction, it’s only 12 miles to the almost unpronounceable Strbske Pleso – another High Tatras area with plenty of altitude and runs, though again not as big as Jasna, which is some 40 miles from Poprad, but well worth the extra mileage.
As far as Poland is concerned, Zakopane is an extraordinary collection of dozens of smallish ski areas – almost all with night skiing. We skied seven mini areas in two days, but could easily have skied even more. And again prices were sometimes ridiculously cheap. The food in both countries was good, with an emphasis on meat and sheep’s cheese (but fish is always available too). Restaurants often have highly animated folk groups – typically two or three violins, a double base and maybe a dulcimer, and diners may well get up and dance! Which all makes for a rip-roaring, if not riotous evening!
The highlight of our trip was three days half board at the superb Kempinski Hotel in Strbske Pleso. Our stay there was organised by Mountain Paradise a British tour operator specialising in the Tatras.