Learning how to ski again in Slovakia’s High Tatras mountains (and easing those nagging aches and pains in the lap of luxury) after 18 years away from the slopes
- MailOnline Travel writer Chris Kitching hit the slopes in the High Tatras, which offer good value and quick transfers
- Skiers and snowboarders can eat and drink between or after runs without putting a dent in their wallets
- The five-star Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras offers the most luxurious accommodation in the region
By: Chris Kitching
Dolly the cloned sheep was just a few months old, Manchester United were well on their way to a fourth Premier League title and Bill Clinton was settling into his second term as US president. The year was 1997 and – before this nerve-wracking moment – it was the last time I had downhill skis strapped to my feet. That chasm of time – 18 years, to be precise – isn’t lost on me as I stand at the top of a blue (beginner) run at Slovakia’s High Tatras mountain range. While seasoned skiers wouldn’t waste their time starting this far down the mountain, I’m wondering if I should have hired an instructor (and if I will get to the bottom in one piece) to give me a refresher.
Set along Slovakia’s northern border with Poland, resorts in the High Tatras mountain range offer a bargain break for skiers
Skiers and snowboarders can take in stunning views of the valley below while making their way down the mountain
Mountain Paradise takes skiers to the Tatranska Lomnica and Strbske Pleso ski resorts, which offer more than 11 miles of ski runs
In addition to offering good value for money, the High Tatras boasts quick transfer times for skiers who are eager to hit the slopes
The moment of truth: MailOnline writer Chris Kitching set off on this easy run when he went skiing for the first time in 18 years
Before I arrived on this four-day ski break with Mountain Paradise, a wise friend said my return to the slopes would be like riding a bike. Another said I would fare OK after growing up playing ice hockey in Canada (‘just keep your head up’). It turns out they were both right.My apprehension at the top of the blue run ended the moment a child, no older than 12, zipped past me like a pro after setting off at a much higher elevation. I pushed off with my right foot and began sliding down the mountain, doing my best to shimmy from side to side and not look like an absolute beginner, while keeping my speed in check (and my head up).
Time is precious for eager skiers and snowboarders, who can endure transfer times as long as three hours elsewhere in Europe
The slopes here are challenging for beginners and casual skiers, but the best part is it’s a breeze getting to and up the mountains
With affordable prices, skiers and snowboarders can eat and drink between or after runs without putting a dent in their wallets
APRES-SKI ON THE CHEAPOne of the lures of skiing in the High Tatras, in addition to quick transfer times, is the low prices compared with other European resorts. Skiers and snowboarders can eat and drink between or after runs without putting a dent in their wallets. According to ski tour operator Mountain Paradise, Slovakia has been relatively slow to privatize, meaning it’s likely to remain a bargain for travellers far longer than neighbouring Czech Republic.
Food, admissions, transport and taxis are all cheap.
- Main course in a restaurant: €3-€5
- Large sandwich: €1
- Goulash: €3
- Pint of beer: €1
- Shot of plum brandy: €1
- Cocktail: €3
- Soft drink: €1
- Ice cream: €0.50
I made it to the bottom in one piece (if there were judges they would have given me a well-deserved score of three or less), and with my confidence built up after a few more turns on the lowest blue run I was ready to graduate to a higher run with a few twists and a jaw-dropping view of the valley below. The stunning panorama was best enjoyed from Chata pod Soliskom, a cosy mountain cottage that serves traditional cuisine (I went all out on sweet dumplings with cream and forest fruit), beer and a delicious house tea at ridiculously affordable prices. It turns out the High Tatras mountain range, near Slovakia’s northern border with Poland, was an ideal place to learn how to ski again (and not just because of my sweet tooth). The slopes here are challenging for beginners and casual skiers, but the best part is it’s a breeze getting to and up the mountains. In addition to offering good value for money, especially in comparison to pricey and crowded but far more challenging ski resorts in the Alps, the High Tatras boasts quick transfer times. It was just a 15-minute drive from the airport in the city of Poprad to the five-star Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras, nestled on a glacial mountain lake. Time is precious for eager skiers and snowboarders, who can endure transfer times as long as three hours elsewhere in Europe.
From the Kempinski, the nearest chairlift at Strbske Pleso, which offers about five miles of easy to medium runs, was just five minutes up the road by car. The car ride to Tatranska Lomnica, which offers more challenging pistes, was just over 20 minutes. After making my final run on a gloriously sunny Sunday morning, I was disappointed with myself for waiting almost two decades to go skiing again (growing up on Canada’s flat Prairies had something to do with that).
But now, with another ski season upon us, I’m itching to do it again before scientists clone humans, Manchester United wins its record 17th Premier League title, and a Clinton potentially gets another term in the White House.
WHERE TO STAY
Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras boasts an impressive exterior and looks like it was plucked from a toy Christmas village
Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras offers the most luxurious accommodation in the region, with incredible views of the mountains
With stunning views of the mountains and a picturesque alpine lake, Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras offers the most luxurious accommodation in the region. Even though it is the only five-star hotel for miles around, it doesn’t slack. It boasts an impressive exterior, especially when it is lit up at night, and looks like it was plucked from a toy Christmas village. Inside, the hotel is stately with 104 rooms and suites, warm and friendly service, and plenty of opportunities for guests to unwind after a day on the slopes. My double room boasted a small balcony with mountain and lake views that one could never get used to, a spacious walk-in shower with a relaxing rainfall shower head, heated floors in the bathroom, and a large bed with a mattress that was a little too stiff for my liking.
The five-star hotel’s Zion Spa, which looks out onto the alpine lake, was recently named Slovakia’s best hotel spa
Guests at the family-friendly hotel have unlimited access to its Zion Spa, including its pool (which was usually overrun with children until the evening, when it is open only to adults) and whirlpool. The spa was recently named Slovakia’s best hotel spa at the first annual World Spa Awards, and is exactly where you want to be as your muscles begin to ache after a day in the mountains. Children are not allowed in the sauna or relaxation room, where guests can sprawl out on comfy chairs and admire the mountains in the distance. For dining, the cavernous (but charming) Grand Restaurant is and isn’t what you would expect in a high-end hotel. It offers delicious food and efficient service in the glow of a roaring fireplace, but is not pretentious at all.
For dining, the cavernous (but charming) Grand Restaurant offers delicious food and top-notch service, but is not pretentious at all Menu options range from the traditional (pierogies filled with bryndza – cheese made from sheep’s milk) to the contemporary (duck breast barberie sous vide served with deliciously creamy potatoes and elderberry). The restaurant serves a breakfast buffet in the morning, although well-heeled guests can opt for the €500 breakfast for two, complete with wagyu kobe beef, foie gras, omelettes with white truffle shavings, and Beluga caviar. As it is a family-friendly hotel, on one occasion all four tables around me were occupied by couples with one or two well-behaved children who moved back and forth from their dinner plates to a colouring station in the corner. It turns out that’s what they’re doing when they’re not zooming past me on the mountain.