Snowboard Slovenia: Where Small is Beautiful
Words by Dave Horlock
Pictures by Sam Baldwin, Rob Evans and Andy Martin
"I'm sorry it is a bit smelly" are not the first words you expect from your in-resort contact/rep/guide, but in this case it made sense. Ljubljana airport is situated only 20-30 minutes outside of the capital city and is surrounded by flat farming land. The 'smell', which our softly spoken guide Mojica, was referring to, was the fertiliser being used on said land, and she was right; it did have a bit of a pong to it!
Arrival then was a slightly odd experience all round as we were the only ones lugging any type of winter sports equipment from baggage collection. So when one of the locals said, "I hope you find some snow" we were slightly worried! However across the flat plain,we could see white topped looming mountains, so we were fairly confident there was snow to be found.
Snowboarding Slovenia: Off the Radar
We really didn't know what to expect in Slovenia; it was off my normal snowboarding radar and getting reliable reports from the web was tricky. I should also come clean at this point and explain that this write-up is a tale of two halves. You see for one of the four of us arriving that Monday this would be his last trip of freedom (yes it was his stag-do). However wipe away tales (or memories) of Prague, Bratislava or anywhere else 'Eastern' you may be thinking of, for Ljubljana is nothing like that. On arrival and checking into the Alibi youth hostel, the overwhelming feeling was that we'd arrived somewhere "nice", rather than a city plagued by binge drinking Brits.
We were based near the centre of this small capital city, much of which is pedestrianised and there seemed to be a relaxed vibe all round. I had to remind myself it was not a Sunday afternoon but a Monday. The feeling was akin to a British city when the Sunday trading laws were still in place; a smattering of people meandering around. From the balcony of our room we looked over the green Ljubljanica river, open air bars and restaurants along the banks; despite being early March it was warm enough to sit outside and enjoy a pint of the fabulous local beer; Lasko. The occasional tree added to the cosmopolitan picture and the whole place was pretty much entirely litter free. Not usually one to notice architecture, this city did seem to have skipped on the usual square office blocks, but peculiarly many of the city's most attractive buildings were awash with graffiti, personally I liked this; it added the idiosyncrasy of the place.
Small is Beautiful
It is fair to say that all the ski resorts in Slovenia are small, but small doesn't necessarily mean bad. Lift-wise Slovenia has a mixture of everything, buttons, t-bars, old chairs, new chairs, gondolas and cable cars. Obviously being based away from the slopes has the downside of extra travelling each day. However, day one of riding was to be at Kravavec, the same slopes we had seen from the airport a day earlier, just half an hour from Ljubjlana.
While Slovenia (like much of Europe) had a pretty bad season during the 2006/07 winter, all the runs and lifts were open here. There were a few trees to go through (only a few due to the poor snow mind) plenty of small natural features off the side, a couple of kickers, an attempt at a terrain park and a variety of different gradient slopes. Our guide Christian* did say there was a chance of some powder at the top lift. There was. About 20ft of it. At the end of a small black run. Composed almost exclusively of icy rocks and vegetation. Needless to say we did not try that run again but it does illustrate the great enthusiasm for freeride that Christian has! This enthusiasm continued through the week and also seemed to be endemic of many other Slovenians we met on our travels.
Lasko Pivo; The Local Beer
Day two had been slated as a trip to Vogel but the weather put paid to that. A forecast of high wind and poor visibility meant we headed back to Krvavecs (one of the advantages of having an in-resort guide, was that they checked the snow conditions first thing in the morning, so could take us where was best). On this occasion 'best' did not equate with good mind, at Krvavecs we encountered rain and poor visibility. We made the most of it anyway jibbing around on what was open, stopping mid afternoon, thoroughly soaked, for some early Lasko beer at one of the rustic mountain huts.
We left Kravecs with the plan (again) to head to Vogel the following day. The idea being that all this rain (which continued overnight in Ljubljana) would result in powder in the mountains. I must confess we were not too sure how good the conditions would be. That might help explain why we ended up hitting Ljubljana's nightlife with a vengeance. After an excellent (and huge) Mexican meal we headed to the Cutty Sark and then tried our luck getting into one of the city's biggest clubs; Global.
The reason I say 'try our luck' is because: the smart look of the doorman; the way an outside lift whisked you up several floors to the club and the fact that we were all dressed like, well snowboarders, meant I for one was expecting a short conversation involving 'your not coming in'. So I was somewhat surprised, a minute or so later, to be only five euros lighter and staring out across the city at the floodlit castle, quite a view! More drinks were consumed and we had a great night, eventually rolling in at around 5am, still not convinced that the conditions would be that good in Vogel (if we ever made it there, that is!)
Powder at Vogel
The morning was (as you might imagine) a bit of a struggle but with a touch over three hours sleep we set off towards Vogel. The drive was a fair distance but we all caught up on our 'beauty' sleep in the minibus (or rastabus as we had renamed it; due to Christian's love of reggae). On arrival it was raining. So another day of learning just how 'waterproof' our gear really was! Except as the cable car ascended the rain turned to snow and it was with big smiles that we stepped off to discover a powder laden vista.
Visibilty was not great in this white-out but we knew we were in for some fun! With hangovers almost gone, our enthusiasm was only beaten by our two guides (Mojica was also along this day). Christian enthusiastically took us off-piste 'this an area I've been riding, it good!' he enthusiastically told us. Well yes it was, although our powder legs weren't working yet and he hadn't mentioned the hike out at the end! Anyway we hit various runs just off the piste, playing it a bit careful as the snow clearly wasn't that stable (with a couple of very small slides Mojica wisely directed us towards the 'home' blue in the afternoon). We were all really buzzing from that day. Only trouble with that being that, as we were so amped, we headed out into Ljubljana as soon as we got back. On the plus side we made bed about an hour early, at 4am!
Roll on Rogla
The next day we went to travelled to yet another resort; Rogla. I do not recall exactly why we went there, I think Vogel was closed due to high winds. Anyhow there was supposed to be a decent freeride area at the back of Rogla but this was closed when we were there. This left us with a million and one t-bars, one chair and many many flat runs. It's the only resort that I've been to where the lift office is at the top of the resort and all the runs are laid out beneath you! It probably would be an OK resort to learn at but for us, on that day, it was pretty boring. So we made our own fun practicing as many flat land tricks as we could.
Around lunchtime it dawned on us that we were in for another big night. The rest of our mates were arriving that afternoon, one of the beauties of the set up in Ljubljana is that those who only wanted to do a long weekend or (shock, horror!) were not interested in snowboarding could join us for a shorter stay. Suffice to say we showed them the sites and sounds of Ljubljana when we met them that evening.
Going to Golte
With a now familiar feeling of sleep deprivation our extended group headed towards the ski area of Golte for our penultimate day riding. There was a slalom race there and the conditions were a heavy dose of slush. The resort was also pretty small, not a case of you could do it in a day, more like you could do it in an hour (if that)! There were two chairs and a t-bar. To be fair, normally there would be more but not unpredictably it had suffered with poor snow.
So while not the most amazing of resorts, it was good fun. Slush is a poor man's powder after all and once the slalom finished there were maybe half a dozen people on the hill besides us. You could see there would be good freeride potential during good snow cover, and this is one thing I cannot stress enough. We were really having a blinding time in a year which had seen pretty bad snowfall all round for Europe. While the resorts were small the variety and the overall friendliness of the country was making this one of the best trips I had been on in nine years of snowboarding.
The Final Fling
And so to the last day. Our final fling would be a much anticipated return to Vogel, the four of us who had ridden there earlier in the week were enthusing to the newcomers about what fun we had had. So we get there and are somewhat disappointed. The powder from three days ago had largely vanished; all pretty much hardpack now. Christian and Mojica tell us that some of the lifts, which were not open on our earlier visit, now are so we should try those. Off we head in that direction and discover a small piece of heaven; untouched undulating off-piste was now on show under blue skies.
This went down as one of my best days snowboarding ever; as good as I have had in Courchevel or Chamonix. Everywhere you looked there were locals getting down and doing their thing too, there was a boardercross going on, a group of guys filming and two girls going off a kicker with the kind of drop you normally only see on DVDs. We rode powder until the end of the day, bouncing around over the off piste bumps, drops and slashing lips.
On the return day we chilled out, sat outside at a cafe sipping some Lasko. The weather was beautiful; warmed by the sunshine a gentle breeze floated along the river; we sat there watching the world go by, just smiling with contentment. It was the perfect ending to a perfect week.
I hope Ljubljana remains exactly as it is and (while this may seem somewhat hypocritical) does not become ruined by hordes of British stag parties. And I do have a good feeling that it will carry on as it is, an unassuming part of Europe, a secret haven for those in the know. Indeed it seems to have been attracting Brits to fall in love with it for years; as we lugged our board bags onto the airport bus, back in Stansted, an elderly chap in his sixties asked us where we had been?
"Oh Slovenia, it was great".
"Really? I used to love to skiing there years ago, glad you enjoyed it".
You could tell by the look on his face that it was a place he treasured in his heart. As now does this writer. In fact as I type it is just under a week until I, and several of the guys who were on the trip I have written about, are back in Ljubljana. The snow is falling and I can't wait to visit this small, but perfectly formed country, again.
Dave Horlock has been snowboarding for ten years. In 2003 he set up the independent clothing brand www.board4life.co.uk which helps feed his habit when he's not away in the mountains.
Thanks go out to our excellent hosts in Ljubljana (Christian and Mojica), who as well as getting up at 'god knows o'clock' to check the forecast coped with a group of alternatively drunk or hungover lads, guided us around their resorts and introduced us to their friends and directed us to some great places for food. For more information view www.label.si which also lists their summer activities.
To Mags at www.BoardNLodge.com for making all the arrangements.