Travel journalist Jan Henderson visits the Slovenian ski resort of Kranjska Gora.
My first real awareness of skiing probably started with Ski Sunday in the late Seventies, with the excitable and incomparable David Vine waxing lyrical about fearsome downhill skiing in the Alps – and he frequently seemed to be broadcasting from such improbable and exotic-sounding places as Crans Montana and Kranjska Gora. Well, it’s taken nearly 40 years, but I finally got to ski in Kranjska Gora earlier this year… and it was worth the wait!
It’s a tribute to the pretty little Slovenian ski resort that they are still hosting regular FIS World Cup downhill events there – with the massive growth in the sport and the corporatisation of the whole international ski racing scene it would have been no surprise to find out that Kranjska Gora had long since been edged out of the limelight in favour of bigger, brasher, steeper venues.
Needless to say, I’m no downhiller – but I am pleased the resort has kept its World Cup status against the odds, and without compromising what makes it such a delight to ski and visit. For Kranjska Gora, nestled in Slovenia’s Julian Alps and close to the borders of both Austria and Italy, is primarlly a resort for beginners, early intermediates and families.
That said, the resort’s modest 20-odd kilometres of scenic tree-lined slopes are beautifully kept and offer a lot of variety. Steer clear, obviously, if you want to pound the miles and ski different slopes and pistes every day for a week – but if you are a competent skier on holiday with a mixed group or a young family there is still plenty here to savour and enjoy.
The steeper slopes are at the Podkoren side of the mountain, and with a couple of black runs – one of which is the World Cup slalom and giant slalom run – and some decent reds and blues, there’s enough to keep most intermediates happy. The ski school is excellent, so it could be a good opportunity to book some lessons and get some expert and friendly help on brushing up your technique.
And for kids and beginners of all ages, the resort is perfect – with the help of the helpful, English-speaking ski instructors, there are plenty of nursery slopes to get the basics and then a variety of friendly blue runs reaching up into the trees and served by drag or chair lifts to build up confidence and technique. It’s a far cry from the often impersonal and daunting learn-to-ski experience at some of the giant French ski resorts – and if the kids are relaxed and happy that’s got to be good news for mum and dad!
Although the resort is low at 838 metres and the top station at about 1600 metres, the snow conditions are usually good – certainly when I visited last March the pistes were all in perfect condition, and well groomed too. With 75% of the resort covered by snow-making equipment, they also have the ability to make up for any lack of natural snow.
There’s no getting away from the fact that a ski holiday – especially a family one – can quickly become a very expensive business, but in Kranjska Gora it is about as cheap as you are likely to get. In 2017 the Post Office Travel’s annual Money Family Ski Report compared the cost of six days’ equipment hire, lift passes and lessons, as well as the average price for lunch on the mountain, for a family of four at a variety of resorts across the Alps. The Slovenian resort topped the value-for-money chart and was one of six resorts surveyed where local prices had dropped year on year, reducing the impact for skiers and snowboarders of the fall in the value of sterling following the Brexit referendum.
Crystal are currently quoting typical in-resort costs of a cup of coffee €1.50, small beer €2, glass of Coke €2.50, burger and fries €6 and pizza €7 – that’s amazing value when you consider you could well be paying €8 for a coffee and €10 for a plate of fries in a big French, Swiss or Austrian resort and those savings can really make a difference for a young family on a week’s holiday. Small wonder that Kranjska Gora is popular with the Italians and Austrians, who are happy to pop over the border for some good value skiing!
The hotels and restaurants in resort are also welcoming and very good value. Our party stayed at the comfortable Hotel Kompas, a little under 10 minutes’ walk from the foot of the pistes – family-friendly with a good buffet selection for breakfast and dinner, it also has an indoor pool with separate kids pool, wellness area with sauna, hot tub or Turkish steam bath (extra charge) and a kids play room. For the adults there’s a well-stocked bar that maintains the Kranjska Gora value-for-money theme – we enjoyed generous cocktails served up by the friendly barman for less than €5 each!
There’s little in the way of on-the-mountain restaurants, but a good variety of establishments offering pizzas, burgers, barbecued meats and local specialities strung along the foot of the pistes – so something to suit most tastes, and, again, remarkably good value.
If you tire of skiing, a visit to the area’s other main claim to fame is a must – just up the valley and round the corner from Kranjska Gora is the stunning Planica Nordic Centre, which houses one of the biggest ski jumps in the world. Planica is actually eight ski jumping hills, ranging from small training jumps to the huge jump that regularly hosts World Cup events and saw the first-ever 200m jump, by Finn Toni Nieminen in 1994.
The whole area has been totally upgraded and also hosts a 566 metre long zip wire next to the flying hill. It was closed when we visited, to my relief, but we went up the chairlift to the top of the main ski jump and peered over to look at the dizzying drop – massive respect to the fearless souls who plunge down it…
Safely at the foot of the jump is the impressive Nordic Centre, which hosts an amazing indoor cross-country ski facility, wind tunnel where you can experience the feeling of flying, and a fascinating museum that chronicles Slovenia’s long and proud history in the ski jumping tradition. Well worth a visit.
David Vine was excited to be in Kranjska Gora all those years ago, and so was I – a resort full of enjoyable surprises, unexpectedly good skiing and great family value. If you are looking for a family ski holiday or one with a mixed ability group that won’t break the bank I recommend you put Kranjska Gora on your shortlist.
Jan Henderson travelled to Kranjska Gora with Crystal Ski Holidays (www.crystalski.co.uk; 020 8610 3123) who offer a week’s full board at the four star Hotel Kompas in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia from £619 per person (based on two sharing) including flights from London Gatwick to Salzburg and transfers (price given is for departure on 12 January 2019). Direct flights available from all major UK airports.