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Dscn0595aNew Years is always difficult. Do we pay a fortune to go out to the places we always go to or do we convince a friend to hold a house party again? Neither took my fancy this year, so my friends and me decided that we should take a trip somewhere new and exciting that we could fly to. Unfortunately flying isn’t cheap, and despite what EasyJet tells you, you cannot get anywhere for the money we were looking at, especially around the New Year period. I also figured if we were to be away during winter, why not do a bit of snowboarding? Before I knew it I had bust out the spread sheet and was ringing up the cost of driving to Slovakia, getting accommodation, hiring boards and sorting a lift pass. Three days snowboarding for just 350 pounds. Find that in the Alps.

Dscn0607bFifteen hours into our drive I discovered why people usually fly to their destination. I’d navigated over 700 miles of Europe so far, missed a ferry and drank more energy drinks than ever recommended. We were all shattered and driving on fumes.  Despite all that, we loved it. There is nothing quite like the sense of freedom that comes with taking your own form of transport abroad, no longer are you restricted by schedules of buses and planes, there is no booking and finding your seat and making polite conversation about the life of the person sitting next to you. It’s your own little world, complete with sound system and rolling backdrop of Europe.

Twenty six hours after leaving Devon, we rolled up into our street in Liptov Mikulas, Slovakia. The street didn’t promise good things, it was a building site with not a builder in sight. I made some calls and arranged for our agent to come and meet us with the keys. I did feel pretty bad when she turned up 15 minutes later with two small children in tow all because we couldn’t find the place we were supposed to pick the key up from (must try harder next time). Our apartment was a one bed six sleeper, although more like a four really, but in the theme of on a shoestring, it was just 200 pounds for the four nights, 50 per person in a ski town seemed a steal considering I’ve paid as much in Bangkok for a room which came with its own wildlife.

Slovakia and Liptov Mikulas in particular is a strange mix of communist architecture and infrastructure and the blossoming tourism trade. It has a traditional feel to the town, the bars and restaurants are hidden away down alleyways and side streets. If you don’t commit to trying doors and alleyways you could walk around the town in the evening and assume it is all closed. As a local pointed out to us, “if you hear music down an alleyway, it is definitely worth having a look”. We spent the evening watching the locals go absolutely nuts (at one point there were several people swinging from the lighting rig) in the local American Bar, so its more than a quaint ski town. If you like your travel a little more explorative then Slovakia is likely to be for you; though it does of course come with its difficulties, the locals generally have a lower level of English than we are used to and to put it bluntly, service is not overly friendly initially. We did get a few smiles out of them by trying out our limited Slovakian, however it’s much the same as many countries you may visit, you get out what you put in.

After introducing ourselves to the nightlife of Liptov we hit the slopes early the next morning. The bus runs hourly in the high season but there are a few issues with this, firstly the first bus is at 8:30 which is exactly the time of the first lift up on the mountain. Secondly it will be full, so aim to get on at the main bus station where you may well have to trip other bus users over in order to climb over them. The bus will cost you a measly 1.10 Euros and take around half an hour. Your best bet would be to drive up there, but get there early and be prepared for some dancing on ice impressions whilst parking. Lift passes are the most expensive element of the trip and are comparable to the Alps, at around 96 Euros for three days.

Imag0367eThe slopes are brilliant, well maintained, well thought out and just enough for a short break. Experts may be a bit disappointed at the range but I am assured the tree riding when the powder is right is second to none. My only tree riding occurred by accident and was more of a painful experience than an exciting one… There are plenty of lifts servicing the slopes but the lower ones did tend to get a little busy so it’s advisable to stay on the upper lifts once up there, however this may drop off when not in top season (24th Dec to 8th Jan). We spent three days going forwards, backwards, sideways and face first down the runs and didn’t get bored once. It is a fairly steep resort so not ideal for absolute beginners, but most should enjoy it.  Another thing I really liked about this resort was the feeling on the slopes, there is not so much of the showmanship and aggressive skiing seen in the Alps, people tended to be a little lower in ability and everyone appeared to be just enjoying the slopes. To so much of an extent that I took out one skier so that she ended up upside down on the slope next to me but thought it hilarious!

The views over the Tatras Mountains is second to none and not once did I stop to consider if we’d be having a better time in a crowded French resort, perhaps helped by the Pivo (beer) stops every so often, well why not when it’s just 1.30 Euros a pint! Running with the inexpensive theme, food and drink was great on the slopes, incredibly cheap and half the fun was found in trying to order. My friend spent 10 minutes trying to order a Coke, resorting at one point to motioning at the cashier’s jumper which had ‘Coca Cola’ printed on it. The last thing I saw was him asking a local for their drink and presenting this instead!

New Year’s Eve was spent snowboarding in suits which brought on a lot of interested looks from the locals and an evening in the ‘Happy End Bar’ up on the slopes; yes it is actually called that! Cue a few hours of horrendous dancing and a display by what can only be described as dancers dressed as peacocks and it was about time to catch some sleep before heading back on the road the following day.

Imag0377Slovakia was truly brilliant and the drive there and back, although hard, did make it much more of an adventure than can be found by being carted off on board a jet. This is not the Alps, and if you arrive expecting just that you may well be disappointed. If you hope to do a little learning, a lot of exploring and have a blast on the slopes for a price unmatched for winter sports then this is your place. I’ll see you on the slopes next year!

(c)Dudley Hooper (lift passes and info) (board hire and English guide) (accom)

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