North Macedonia. I have to confess I did not much about it beforehand, almost anything. We had attempted to arrange a ski trip there once but did not find enough information or people to talk to. So let it be known to everyone: North Macedonia is a major ski destination, with massive mountains with well-organized large ski resorts and specialty services like cat skiing. Much recommended.
I was in there in early season, however. Late December. And there had been quite a bit of snow fall earlier, however followed by a warm spell. This wasn't good, and there was even a question if there was anything that would be open. I called contacts and attempted to find out if it would be ok to drive up to some of the hills (such as the perhaps most well known and large resort, Popova Sapka) and hike up, roads ok, or would anyone stop me?
It turned out it wouldn't be a problem to hike up. But it also turned out that Mavrovo, one of the other major resorts was actually open.
Except when I landed, my reservation at the car rental agency was nowhere to be found. Turns out that I had mistakenly gotten the reservation made for next month, not this one. And *all* the rental agencies were selling nothing, on the days between Xmas and New Years a lot of people were renting cars. Nothing.
Until Sixt and their skiing-friendly agent came to my rescue. They had one car, four-wheel drive SUV, and at a reasonable price. I was saved. Thank you!
The capitol, Skopje is already next to high mountains, the one right in the city limits Vodno, a 1066-meter peak. Very noticeable as I was driving through the city in the evening and the Millennium Cross, a 66-meter lit cross shone from the top.
I drove an hour to reach my hotel in the valley under Popova Sapka. The valley hosts Tetovo, a large city. Not a great town, in the end, particularly because the air quality in the valley was terrible at a the time, though where I stayed at the "Vila Zana" was further away, south of Tetovo. Recommend staying in the mountains if you can. But this was a central-ish location for possible excursions to many different ski places in the country, booked before I knew what was open. But, as it turned out, Popova Sapka was not open, so when the morning came I headed towards Mavrovo.
Mavrovo ski area is, unsurprisingly, in the Mavrovo National Park, the largest one in North Macedonia. Mountains in the park reach the 2700 level, the highest being 2764 meter at the Korab peak. The ski area itself resides at the south end of the Mavrovo Lake, an artificial lake create by a large dam, which also buried an old church under the water.
But back to skiing. The ski area map is here (from the resort website). The base is at 1255 meters, and the top at 1878 meters. Nice 600+ meters of vertical then! The bottommost part of the slopes is basically mostly narrow valley runs, though the last part just before the lifts is a nice, steep run (slope #1 in the map). It happened to be totally iced over when I was there. It was difficult to ski, had to stay on the sides to find some grip. And I helped someone less experienced to get down... slowly, by side stepping.
But the main interesting skiing is at the top. The chair lift takes you from the base to the center station of the upper mountain, where there are restaurants and other services in a modern building. And then several slopes and other lifts around. Skiing down to the base is also interesting, because the best snow is on the steep mountain sides under the top slopes. For instance, under slope 9 the slopes 5, 6, and 7 are in a nice area, and so is everything under slope 9 even where there's no official slope. A bit further down it gets too forested to ski, but in the higher parts you can easily ski outside the official slopes. There's also a great large Mavrovo sign that you can hike few hundred meters to. Skiing from the sign towards slope 8 is also quite nice, with small trees.
At the time I was there, lifts C11 and C12 were the highest ones operating, and the area to the skier's left from slope 15 in this area was quite nice with fresh snow, steeps and flats and some trees.
Down at the base there is surprisingly small number of services. The cafeteria right next to the lift, Campari, is quite nice. But for a proper meal the restaurant at Hotel Bistro is the way to go, was quite happy with this. It is not easy to find, though, have to find the steps behind the ticket office to climb up to it. Much recommended.
Lift tickets were about 1000 dinars, or about 20€. Very cheap, clearly. Not sure if I had a day ticket or a shorter one though, none of my days was full due to other program and travel. High-end accommodation can be found for 100€ or a bit more per night, unless you're looking for super luxury.
On the way up:
The easy slopes at the top:
Bottom slope, steep and icy, and a bit brown:
Slopes as seen from the other side of the lake:
Views on the mountain:
Socialism-era concrete art:
Dinner at Hotel Bistro's restaurant:
Photos Mavrovo area:
Photos from the flight trip to get to North Macedonia. Frankfurt airport: