Saturday, February 24, 2024

Mavrovo skiing: North Macedonia

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.


Photos skiing:

On the way up:


Base lift:

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:

Photos resort:

Love this:

Socialism-era concrete art:

Lift ticket:

Dinner at Hotel Bistro's restaurant:

Photos Mavrovo area:

Photos from the flight trip to get to North Macedonia. Frankfurt airport:

Helsinki airport:

Skopje airport:


Zagreb airport: 

Hotel Vila Zana:

Highways in North Macedonia:

This article has also appeared at TGR. Read the full Planetskier series at, or all blog articles from BlogspotTGR. Photos, videos, and text (c) 2023-2024 by Jari Arkko.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Albania skiing with goats and chicken

Topped off my 2023 by skiing in Albania. A bit early season... but friendly people, great restaurant, beautiful scenery. and lots of other skiers on the slopes with goatees and fresh eggs. Ski Pista Bigell, in Dardhe, near Korcë.

The ski area is bigger than the pictures show, due to lack of snow only the "RC Courchevel" magic carpet lift was running. Lift ticket was 10 euros, not sure how long I could have skied with that. But there was unlimited hike-up-by-yourself options.

It was not easy getting here. I mean it was easy to get here once we knew where we were going. But ... it was not easy to figure out if there were ski areas in Albania, and if so, if they were open. has a nice list of ski resorts for each country. Their list of Albanian ski resorts is odd, though. Bigëll – Dardhë is the only one they have some actual information on. The other possible resorts are just listed but without any information, along with a note "Unfortunately, we do not have any detailed information about this ski resort". I googled all of them for quite some time, but could find nothing. Ski Pista Bigell, however, friendly answered phone, spoke perfect English, and said they were open! They did apologize for having only the training lift open, though, given lack of snow. Well, it was early season (December) so that's to be expected. 

I was so happy that there was a slope, and that it was within a reasonable driving distance. 

As an aside, this and my previous day's skiing in Mavrovo, North Macedonia puts my country count to 64 I think. What I'm missing within Europe is Moldova, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Kosovo, Gibraltar, and ... the Vatican but I could be missing some micronations. Principality of Sealand? And anybody have connections to the Vatican, I heard it goes up pretty high?

Mavrovo was great, by the way. The only place in Macedonia that was open, but a ton of fun and they had plenty of snow. Other areas like Popova Shapka seemed even bigger and interesting but were not open yet. See the other article for more details!


More pictures, starting with the lift:

The ski lodge:

Goats and chicken:

The view of the goats, with the ski lodge and lift behind:

The bottom of the slope:

The restaurant:

A horse on the (road) way down from the resort:

My lift ticket:

Other slopes:

The snow cat, seen its best days:

Border crossing to Albania:

Author on the lift:

This article has also appeared at TGR. Read the full Planetskier series at, or all blog articles from BlogspotTGR. Photos, videos, and text (c) 2023 by Jari Arkko.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Night skiing. Really night, as in no lights.

Lux Nuuksio is an event in the wintery Nuuksio, in a popular national park north of the capital region of Finland. The scenery is lit with candles, fires, lanterns, and ... skier's headlamps. And in my case, skier's Christmas lights and the big, shining Mickey Mouse ears.

Both Jarmo and I had noted this event, and went there. The skier's part took place in Swinghill, a small ski hill popular among the die hard skiers and uphill skinners. 

It was wonderful, people (not me) skiing moguls with just their headlight, the scenery around the mountain was still lit a bit by street lights and the receding sunset, everything looked much prettier in the night.

My outfit? It was ok in the end, though it was the second iteration, and actually a failure of that second iteration. I didn't start out by trying to put on Mickey Mouse ears :-) I started out by trying to build a Chinese-style Ikea lamp paper shade (4.90€) around my helmet. But, as you might guess I did not find a way to insert my helmet into this tensioned wire and paper ball. Or my head for that matter. 

Plan B was to put up two Lumonite headlamps in my helmet, but do it in a way that they would end up being inside blue rubber balloons. I didn't have much trust that this would succeed, but to my surprise it was possible to pull the balloon opening over half of the lamp, still blow it up, still operate the lamp buttons that were now inside the balloon, and not have the hot LEDs burn through the rubber.

However, in the process the bright lights - even if set at the lowest setting - overpowered the blue color, so I ended up with two bright lamps dangling above my helmet. 

It looked pretty stupid, but did fit my character so why not? 

I jumped into my car and grabbed a batter powered Christmas lights to wrap around myself for added measure. And added stupidity.

And it was actually fun! The mouse ears gave just enough light to barely see a bit of the slope, even with the helmet visor on. 

The only downside was that despite advice, I went to do this while slightly feeling my throat. Been feeling that all week... and the outing did not improve the condition :-(

Helmet construction:


The professional dress code:



Read the full Planetskier series at, or all blog articles from BlogspotTGR. Photos, videos, and text (c) 2024 by Jari Arkko and Jarmo Ruuth. Actually, photos mostly by Jarmo (thanks!)