One of the first things I learned about Slovenia is that they have skiing. A Slovenian economic development rep once told me that the Alps spill into the northwest corner of this tiny country. Usually where there are mountains, people will try to ride them. If there is snow, of course.
There’s usually plenty of snow in Slovenia’s corner of the Alps. Their end of Europe’s famed mountain range is called the Julian Alps; I have no idea why and am feeling too lazy to look it up. I’m guessing Julius Caesar had something to do with it. Europeans like to name pieces of the Alps, I believe to give them a feel of local ownership. There are also the Dolomites in Northern Italy. And the Bernese Alps, the Ligurian Alps, the Dauphine Alps, the Pennine Alps…and a half dozen more.
If we only get to call ours “The Rockies”, Europeans should only get to call these mountains “The Alps”. Just sayin’.
Anyway. A major goal for our 2015/2016 time in Europe was to ski in The Alps. We’ve been lugging our ski pants around since October. So—by God—we were going to ski. There was only one problem: the snow.
No matter where you stand on the topic of global warming, the fact remains that winters have been getting shorter. They start later and end earlier. It seems snow no longer starts falling gradually in late fall and tapers off into spring. Instead it waits until January and suddenly dumps in one torrential blizzard. Then it turns to spring and early summer again. I think some of our American friends can relate.
Slovenia has a couple of dozen ski resorts, and we picked Vogel for our weekend of skiing. We picked it because the name was easy to pronounce and the website had pretty pictures (you suggest a better way of picking a ski resort and I’ll consider it). Like most of Slovenia’s ski resorts, it’s small: you won’t find any massive 100+ trail alpine adventure complexes like we have back in the states here in Slovenia. Vogel is an understated, rugged and natural (actually part of a Slovenian national park), 20-or-so trails, 10-lift sort of place. And up to a few days before we were booked to go, only 2 of those lifts were spinning.
We decided we’d go regardless. Even if there was no decent skiing, we argued, the views and mountain air would be worth it. We were even weighing a late-February French Alps (don’t know the exact name, sorry) ski makeup weekend. But Mother Nature, in preparation for our Friday afternoon arrival, provided about a foot of fresh snow starting Thursday afternoon.
Vogel, you should understand, is a bit out of the way. It’s another 45 minutes (a long way in Slovenia) past famous Lake Bled. The resort itself, including the ski lodge and a cluster of rustic hotel and chalet options, is perched at the top of the mountain. We had to park our rental car at the base of the mountain and leave it for the weekend while we rode a cable car, with our luggage, to the “village”. It was simply splendid.
It turns out the skiing was fantastic, as was the weather. Only about half of the resort’s trails were open—it would require another foot of snow, I guess, to open the whole mountain. The trails we stayed on, the greens and blues by American standards, were situated around a bowl of sorts that made up the core of the resort. The crowds, families for the most part, were light enough to never cause a wait at lifts and to never cause a problem finding a table at the lodge or restaurants. The result was a lot of skiing in two days.
But at the risk of sounding cheap, the best part was the cost. We stayed in an on-the-mountain chalet with a kitchenette that was about $80 a night. To say it was ski-in/ski-out doesn’t describe it fairly: the top of a lift deposited us directly in front of our chalet. It was also directly over the main restaurant for the resort. A restaurant where great dinners cost about $20 for both of us, including beer and wine and desert. Our ski rentals, from skis and boots to goggle and helmets, were $15 a day each. Lift tickets were just over $20 a day. This was my sort of ski resort.
For any of our American friends planning to ski in Europe, here’s a couple of quick notes on differences in terminology and designations. A trail in Europe is often called a piste (rhymes with “beast”). Many resorts augment natural snow with machine-made snow (but not Vogel, at least not “officially”) and groom and shape moguls much like American resorts.
It’s our green-blue-black system that is significantly different in Europe. Green still marks easiest trails, that’s easy to remember. Blue is one step up, so far so good. But then there’s red: about the equivalent of a single black diamond in American skiing. A black trail is a step up, say a double black diamond. But they also have double black diamonds in Europe, designating something even more challenging: think of them as triple black diamonds.
And then there’s the orange, aka a “trail of death”. These are basically just cliffs you ski off of and land a hundred or so meters below with only a 10% chance of survival. And finally, there are yellow trails, glades as defined by American skiers.
If you are heading up into Slovenia’s northern and northwestern ski areas, stop by Lake Bled for some picture-taking. This is one of the most photogenic spots in Slovenia, and if you’ve ever seen pictures from Slovenia, they’re likely from here. On our way to Vogel it was misty and overcast. On our way back from Vogel it was sunny and clear. The contrast of the two sets of photos, we think, is pretty cool.