With snow cover already firmly in place across Central and Eastern Europe, thoughts are turning to where this year's best ski spots can be found. While the upscale resorts of the Alps may be available to investors enjoying a tax holiday in Switzerland, and Southeast Europe has well-established value for money resorts from Slovenia to Bulgaria, those of us left behind can enjoy affordable thrills across Central Europe, as a November 16 report from the European Consumer Centres Network (ECCN) shows (Note: Hungary is not included).
"Conditions are very good as the Czech Republic is surrounded by mountain ranges and highlands and these get large amounts of snow each winter," says ECCN.
With more than 200 resorts of all sizes, the Czech Republic actually has one of the highest densities of ski resorts as well as some of the best scenery on cross-country trails. "Skiing is a huge business as not only many Czechs, but also Polish, Austrians, Germans, Dutch, Slovaks and other Europeans use the resorts' services.
Ski resort operators all over the Czech mountain areas continuously work on keeping their services and equipment updated, and take good care of their ski slopes," says ECCN. Czech resorts are particularly good value for a week with a six-day adult ski pass available for €45 at Ski areal Trojak.
Cheapest ski pass (1 day, adult): €6.93 (Vyprachtice)
Most expensive: €30 (Spindleruv Mlyn)
Estonia is unusual in that cross-country skiiing is markedly more popular than downhill skiing, with even Prime Minister Andrus Ansip a regular competitor in 50-kilometre ski marathons such as the one at Tartu.
Otepaa is the winter capital of Estonia, which along with Vorumaa are the main destinations for enthusiasts looking for snowboarding and downhill skiing. "There are plenty of child friendly slopes and facilities, and skiing in Estonia is very safe, as there are no avalanches," says ECCN. Well, it's hard to have an avalanche on a flat surface.
Ski pass (1 day, adult): €19 (Nomme)
Latvia may not be a land of geographical extremes, but it does have the distinction of possessing both the region's cheapest and most expensive slopes. "While it may seem quite unusual, alpine skiing is one of the Latvians' favourite winter-time activities. Ski runs are located in almost every municipality," says ECCN.
Indeed, so devoted are Latvians to downhill they are even "growing" their own hills. The popular Zagarkalns resport has grown its hills by 25 metres in the last two years, while the most bizarre creation of all is the 'Lembergs Trilby' slope, a 52-metre high hill in Ventspils in the shape of the town mayor's hat.
Cheapest day pass: €4.31 (Ramkalni)
Most expensive: €50 (Zviedru Cepure)
Lithuania has seven ski locations, the oldest of which is at Ignalina, more famous for its Soviet nuclear power station. However, Lithuania does have the distinction of hosting the region's only indoor ski centre: Druskininkai Snow Arena works all year round with three slopes and a snowboarding park arranged in an area covering eight hectares.
Cross-country fans in town for business who are need of a fix can use the 3-km municipal track in Vilnius for free.
One-day adult day pass: €14 (Lietuvos ziemos sporto centras)
Indoor weekend pass: €25 (Snow Arena)
"Though Poland is not the most popular skiing nation, it still provides skiing opportunities that may be highly affordable and satisfactory as well," says ECCN. "Only here you will be able to find a wide range of slopes, walking routes and accommodation at exceptionally low prices."
Bialka Tatrzanska and Zieleniec are recommended for beginners and families, while the experts can tackle Nosal in Zakopane or Stozek near Wisla. The best of the cross-country resorts is in Jakuszyce (100 km of professional routes) while Polana Jakuszycka is "a unique cross-country skiing centre, offering 156 days of permanent snow."
As all Central Europe-watchers will know, there's also Krynica Zdroj, perhaps the only resort that seems emptier in the winter than out of season - at least to anyone who has ever tried to book a room during the annual 'Polish Davos' forum.
Cheapest ski pass (1 day, adult): €19.41 (Gora Kamiensk)
Most expensive: €32 (Wierchomla)
"In recent years the snow in Slovakia has been a match for anywhere in the world," according to the ECCN, which gives a glowing report to the country.
Tourists can choose between the Low Carpathians (Male Karpaty), Low Tatras (Nizke Tatry), High Tatras (Vysoke Tatry) in the North and Low Beskydy (Nizke Beskydy) in the east. "There are excellent rental services who offer up-to date equipment and also facilities for children, such as kindergartens, ski instructors and fun ski centres. The High Tatras offers endless number of skiing slopes even for the most demanding skiers," the ECCN says.
The Jasna ski resort is a top resort for unconventional free-ride snowboarding and free-skiing and has five free-ride zones.
Cheapest ski pass (1 day, adult): €13.00 (Makovica)
Most expensive: €35 (Jasna Nizke Tatry)
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