Monday, April 4, 2011

Poland Is Melting Away

Mountain scenery in Strbske Pleso, Slovakia
Fail. Noon, Saturday. Despite a 6am wakeup the weekend is quickly turning into a disaster. I could have gone home but wanted to tour ski areas in eastern Europe. The only problem is that the areas are quickly melting away. The first area, Szklarska Poreba, Poland, did have an open lift but only took hikers.

The second area, Karpacz, was supposed to be open but their lift was broken. I'm about to waste my weekend. The parking attend tells me that the hike to the area takes six hours without the lift. I would be tempted to try it anyway, but language problems make it impossible to find out if there'd be skiing after the hike. And my friends, Tero and Heikki have a ship to catch and can not stay long enough to take the hike.

Afterski in Strbske Pleso at the Discobar Plesivec

Time for decisions. Go back to Czech Republic and ski something near Horni Domky, if they would still happen to be open? Go back to Prague and spend the weekend reading e-mail or bar hopping? We flip through the pages of the Lonely Planet and search for alternate sites. Finally, it turns out that there's a ski area in the High Tatras in Slovakia that is still open this weekend.

Climbing up in Zakopane
The only downside is that its far. By this time we've already spent almost four hours on the road, and to get to Slovakia I'd be looking at seven additional hours of driving. Here is the route that I took. This is 1300 kilometers, or 17 hours of driving. I part with my friends, they head for the boat and I take off towards Zakopane, Poland.

When I arrive in Zakopane it is already evening. We were never able to determine from the Polish website if Zakopane is still open, but it for sure is not open at this hour.
Single chair
Not to worry, there's always the option of climbing up on my own. I park my car at the ski area parking lot, hoping that the gates do not close while I'm up there. Or that the personnel try to stop me. (Kids: don't try this at home. Entering a closed ski area is dangerous and should only be attempted by the experts who have left their brains at home.)

I climb up 250 meters to the top of the lift and the end of the snow. This takes an hour and half with all the photography on the way. A quick rest at the top and I need to head down before the light is completely gone. Note to self: this is not the first ski trip where bringing a headlamp would have been smart.

Sunset as I was climbing up in Zakopane, Poland
What I skied down is a ski run near the center of Zakopane, in the Nosal area. There are bigger areas in Zakopane, but the one run from the top of Nosal is actually very nice. It is steep enough to be interesting. And of course, it is equipped with a single chair lift. Scary, inconvenient with a backpack, and no way to make new friends in the lift. But an interesting piece of history.

Karpacz, Poland was melting away
My ski run lasted a minute and 56 seconds, or about 350 times shorter than the time needed for the drive and climb. Its hard to find a worse ratio! But I did like the climb.

From Zakopane I drove to Strbske Pleso, in the High Tatras of Slovakia. Their last day of the season would be tomorrow Sunday. But first I'd need to test their afterski. The recommended place in the nights is Discobar Plesivec, next to the central parking structure. This is a loud disco-style bar with a surprisingly large crowd, given that it was the end of the season.

Unlike the hills in the border between Czech Republic and Poland,
Upper runs in Strbske Pleso
both Zakopane and the High Tatras have real mountains and nice scenery.

Strbske Pleso's ski runs are relatively limited, however. It has a 450 meter altitude difference, and the red run from the top station to the bottom is interesting, even if it has a few flat sections. If I had come earlier in the season, the off piste routes to the skier's left of the main chair lift would undoubtedly been interesting.

The essential parameters for Strbske Pleso are as follows. Goulash index 1.55€. This price is from my hotel restaurant, I had no time to check the ski area restaurants. Time to ski down from the top to the bottom: 2 minutes 35 seconds. Strbske Pleso appears to be one of those ski areas that can be skied down without having to make any turns. Accommodation was 46€, for one person in the nice Hotel Toliar  in center of the village. If had searched online I would probably have found cheaper alternatives. Three hour lift ticket was 14.50€.

Discobar Plesivec, Strbske Pleso
Overall, I succeeded in skiing in three new countries on my business trip to Prague. On the first weekend in Hormi Domky in Czech Republic and now in Poland and Slovakia. This brings the number of countries and states that I have skied to 32. On this season 17 so far. Where next?

My route through Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia

Photo credits (c) by Jari Arkko and Google Maps.


  1. Amazing, just amazing! Congrats on the achievement despite the difficulties. Great video despite low light. I really propose trying to get excited on geocaching, that would be one possible substitute activity when the snow is totally gone :-)

  2. Oh one more thing, is there a website for skiing stats? Maybe you should set up one?

  3. Yes, the video seems to work pretty well in different conditions, even if I don't have a lot of personal expertise about it yet. For one thing, I'm not quite sure how the focus really works. I normally set the aperture to some value where focus is not so critical. In this case I had to adjust ISO to the highest possible value to get something reasonable for the aperture.

    I'm not aware of a skiing statistics page. Does anyone else know of one? Its been on my mind to build one if there's nothing else. Phresheez does track your ski runs with a GPS, however. I'm sure they count other things as well.