Monday, 19 November 2018

Do It: Cross-country skiing time

By Kristina Alda |
PRAGUE DAILY MONITOR |
29 January 2009

Do It

Šumava (ČTK): Šumava is the Czech Republic's tradtional cross-country skiing area. (ČTK)Šumava is the Czech Republic's tradtional cross-country skiing area. (ČTK)

The Czech Republic is a nation of skiers. This might seem surprising given the country's geography of rolling hills and pastoral meadows. There are some excellent skiing opportunities, however, in Krkonoše (the Giant Mountains), the Czech Republic's tallest mountains in the north, near the Polish border. Then there are the smaller Jizerské hory and Jeseníky. Dozens of small ski centres dot the northern part of the country.

But Krkonoše is the proper thing, with mountain chalets, wind-swept mountain tops, stunted spruce trees and even the occasional avalanche. To downhill ski in this area, though, you must be prepared to handle crowded slopes, long line-ups at the lifts and what Czechs call "mountain prices". Or you can explore the beauty of Krkonoše a little differently – try cross-country skiing.

The mountains are interlaced with a network of ski trails for skiers of all levels. Perhaps one of the most scenic is a route that takes you from Špindlerův Mlýn, the area's biggest ski centre, to Pec pod Sněžkou. You can stay overnight at Luční bouda, one of the oldest ski huts. The trail leads over the crest of the mountains – you can even make a detour to the country's tallest peak, Sněžka – and can be easily skied in two days. Or one if you're a pro. But that would take the fun out of it.

Be prepared for a gruelling climb on the first day (and be sure to take along ski wax). The trail is skiable all the way up, though, and, this being the Czech Republic, there are several pubs along the way, where you can warm up with tea, grog or hot soup.

Conditions can get very windy once you get above the tree line and in a blizzard or fog the visibility can be almost null. Rows of poles mark the trails and even in good weather, you will do well not to stray too far from the marked path.

The afore-mentioned Luční bouda is, at 1,410 metres above sea level, the highest moutain hut in the region. The name dates back to 1623, but the structure was rebuilt many times since then. Until the late 19th century, it was used by local cattle farmers. By 1914, it was extended and converted into a dormitory for travellers with 120 rooms. Even today, following numerous reconstructions and privatisation in 1993, the hut provides very spartan lodgings. Most of it is dorm-style, although there are some private rooms as well. It's a sprawling, dark building with a big dining room (the food, unfortunately, is nothing to get too excited about) and long corridors that evoke the set of The Shining.

The second leg of the journey is all downhill – unless you decide to first take a detour and visit the top of Sněžka, which is a bit of a climb. If you set out in the morning, you should be in Pec pod Sněžkou by early afternoon. Rest your weary legs and warm up in a local cukrárna or one of the many pubs. Be warned, though, it will get crowded.

Other trails in the region between the towns of Harrachov and Žacléř are all connected with the Krkonoše magistrála, a groomed ski trail. If you're looking for something challenging, try Horní Mísečky, which has wide trails at an elevation of 1,234 metres above sea-level, where you can practice racing-style skiing on wide well-maintained trails that have plenty of snow even as spring approaches. You are likely to run into some of the best Czech cross-country skiers here.

There are plenty of other cross-country skiing options in other parts of the country, however. Šumava is traditional spot for this sport, and has kilometres upon kilometres of well-maintained trails. Try Kvilda, Zadov, Železná Ruda or Modrava – all excellent bases from which to head out onto the trails.

Then there are the picturesque Krušné hory, a once ecologically-damaged area that is now experiencing something of a rebirth and which tends to be one of the least crowded ski centres in the country. It features the highest-positioned town in central Europe – Boží dar, located 1,028 metres above sea level. This is where some of the pros, like Lukáš Bauer, train.

Then, of course, there are Jizerské hory, another region with kilometres of groomed trails, and another favourite training ground for professional skiers. Unlike Krušné hory, it can get somewhat crowded at the peak of the season. Or try Orlické hory, Beskydy, Vysočina or Jeseníky. The latter has a spa town, where you can relax at the end of a hard day of skiing with a massage or a hot bath.

Kristina Alda
is the Monitor's managing editor. She likes writing
about buildings and public space.
You can reach her at kristina@praguemonitor.com
Kristina Alda is the Monitor's managing editor. She likes writing about buildings and public space.
You can reach her at kristina@praguemonitor.com. You can read more of her stories here.