The Tatra mountains in Slovakia had been touted as a fantastic vacation spot for a household snowboarding vacation. However as we stumbled out of the sleeper prepare from Prague at Poprad station at 6am, we have been extra anxious than excited. From the station we might see the jagged peaks of the Excessive Tatras rising like black and white knives with a luminous pre-dawn glow towards a pale blue evening sky. Throughout Europe the information had been dominated by the dearth of snow, that local weather change was bringing concerning the finish of the snowboarding trade as we all know it.
Because the mountain railway from Poprad climbed up by means of the foothills and wound its approach by means of forests of spruce and larch, stopping at a number of mountain villages earlier than arriving on the major resort of Tatranská Lomnica, we have been slowly reassured. The snow was not deep, however deep sufficient, and above us we might see the sweep of pistes beneath the peaks and the lights of the snow tractors crawling about their duties.
The Tatras aren’t the Alps. There aren’t miles and miles of runs and lifts, and the costs of the raise passes mirror that (€285 for an grownup, €200 for a kid for per week). Nevertheless being a part of the Carpathian mountain vary that continues from Slovakia down into Romania, it’s additional east, extra continental and thus, to date at the very least, the dependable recipient of extra snow than the Alps.
The Slovakian strategy to snowboarding can also be a key distinction. As we rode the chairlifts and cable vehicles up the slopes, we noticed on the tracks beside the pistes dozens of ski-tourers climbing the mountain on skins, and additional down, across the lake, comparable numbers of cross-country skiers following waymarked trails that stretch for miles throughout the foothills of the mountain vary. And the resort will not be a ski resort as such, however a spot for winter holidays. In a time when the commercial equipment of downhill snowboarding is beginning to seem like a stranded asset, this might effectively be a superb factor.
The kids beloved their ski classes with Ema and Katka of Premiere Ski School each morning (round €20pp an hour for particular person classes). However this extra expansive definition of what a winter vacation entails made for a richer expertise and decreased the emphasis on the standard of the snow alone.
One afternoon we tobogganed on the well-known Hrebienok run – a 2.6km monitor by means of the forest with a funicular railway to take you again to the highest once more. And we walked on trails by means of the pristine forest to the frozen waterfalls and the Rainerova Hut the place glühwein and sizzling chocolate are served beneath pine bushes.
My spouse doesn’t ski. She was much less involved concerning the snow than what she could be doing whereas I skied with the children. An avid fell runner, the subsequent day she adopted the trail from Rainerova up into the mountains to the upper hut of Téryho at 2,015 metres. And so a love affair with the Tatras started. She purchased spikes for her trainers – a type of rubberised mesh with metal pins that straps on to the only – and pored over the map to determine the waymarked routes that line the valleys of one in every of Europe’s most lovely nationwide parks. In winter, the porters carrying large packs of provides as much as the mountain huts maintain the paths clear and well-trodden. So Louise had the enjoyment of working by means of forests knee deep in snow and even up above the treeline.
One other key distinction with the Alps is that the Tatras national park is completely owned by the state, a legacy of the communist period, and the Austro-Hungarian empire earlier than that. There isn’t any habitation within the mountains outdoors the three major cities and villages decrease down, and no agriculture. It’s a wild zone. A dozen chilly and icy valleys and as many peaks going as much as the best, Gerlach, at 2,654 metres, are dwelling to a wealthy array of marmots, eagles, bears and lynx.
In the future I left Louise and the children, and launched into a small mountaineering journey with a information: the north ridge of Lomnický Stít, the Tatras’ second highest peak. The day was blessed with sunshine and from the summit we might see the entire vary, crystalline in its winter coat. In the summertime, as soon as the mountain passes are open to the Polish facet of the mountains, it’s doable to hike (or run) for weeks, staying in mountain huts with beds and meals, with out touching a street.
Within the afternoons, we returned to Hotel Hillsone in every of two all-inclusive complexes on the outskirts of Tatranská Lomnica, though a spread of chalets and Airbnbs can be found within the centre of city. The advantage of Hills for us, with two kids fairly explicit about what they eat, was the buffet meal twice a day. They may select what they appreciated with out tantrums or embarrassing requests to the kitchen for greens on the facet, not touching different gadgets, (no sauce!) and so forth – the type of expertise that may threaten to destroy a household vacation.
And Hills has a pool. And a spa. And an outside sizzling tub. The stuff of desires for a household vacation. A resort with a pool and a spa within the Alps? We might by no means afford it. At Hills a household room with breakfast and dinner included was beneath €1,800 for per week. Our youngsters love swimming. Additionally they love sizzling tubs. At our native leisure centre within the UK they’re scandalised that the whirlpool tub is just for adults, however the Slovakian strategy to kids is far more inclusive. The youngsters might have the run of the spa as effectively. They beloved rolling within the snow, Slovakian-style, then sitting within the sizzling tub and feeling the tingle as your physique adjusts to the distinction. Then all of us lay again, appeared up and tried to call the celebs.
Ben Rawlence’s e book The Treeline: The Last Forest and the Future of Life on Earth (Classic) is out now in paperback.
For sleeper trains from London to Prague and Prague to Poprad, see Rail Europe