Inghams and Crystal are two of Britain’s longest standing and respected tour operators, particularly specialising in the Lakes and Mountains and Ski sectors. It was with this in mind that they became my first ports of call when planning a forthcoming ski trip to Slovenia. On reflection, I wish I hadn’t bothered.
For those living anywhere north of Luton, Slovenia has always been an awkward place to get to in the winter. My last sojourn in the colder months to the Julian Alps involved journeying from Manchester to Ljubljana via Zurich, a not altogether inconvenient passage thanks to the efficiency of Swiss International Air Lines but, did involve a scheduled five hour layover at Zurich’s Kloten airport at a time when seating was in short-supply. I foolishly hoped that since then and with the prominence Slovenia has subsequently gained within the travel industry that the route would be more direct and, less time-consuming. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be any further from the truth.
On perusing firstly what Crystal has to offer the skier wishing to visit Slovenia, I was initially cheered. Presenting a good choice of resorts (Bled, Bohinj and Kranjska Gora) that affords interesting terrain to beginners and tentative intermediate, I was particularly enthused to note the inclusion of the Bohinj Park Eco Hotel, based just a few miles from Lake Bohinj and on the edge of the Triglav National Park in Bohinjska Bistrica. There was though to be no happy endings. Bohinj is the kind of place that attracts first-time skiers, those taking their first apprehensive steps onto a beginners piste. Therefore, the kind of place where a resort representative is gratefully received, not only for reassurance and to point their customers in the right direction but also, to provide first-timers with a varied programme of alternatives, should they find that skiing isn’t for them and more likely still, a ‘Plan B’ in the event of there being an insufficient amount of snowfall to render the slopes viable. Artificial snow-making is banned at Vogel, the ski-area attached to Lake Bohinj, leaving guests very much at the mercy of the capricious alpine weather.
Crystal also fail to provide those staying with them in the summer at Lake Bohinj with a representative, instead basing him or her in Bled(as I presume they do in the winter) which despite being Bohinj’s neighbour, is at least 30 minutes away by bus. I find all this completely unacceptable and whilst I am something of a Bohinj veteran and not in need of the promptings of an at times ignorant travel rep, I feel for those travelling to this idyllic but remote and quiet corner of Slovenia who have never been before and particularly, those holidaying on their own. They could feel like they have been dumped. Sadly, the bad news does not end there. The flights from Manchester to access Slovenia with Crystal Ski are to Salzburg’s Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart airport, four and a half hours from Bohinj. This is totally unacceptable, with your holiday being book-ended by large chunks of time being taken out of it.
The situation at Inghams is vastly different but no less parlous. Whilst only offering Kranjska Gora in their programme, this could be explained by KG having the best winter sports infrastructure of the three resorts used by the two tour-operators in question and, Inghams not considering Bled and Bohinj worthy of inclusion in their roster of winter resorts. Bled is not really a ski resort but does offer a gentle introduction to the art on its Straza slopes, this though couldn’t occupy any winter-sports enthusiast for long, be they new to skiing or otherwise. Bohinj does though fall into a grey area. I have already alluded to the fact that it isn’t the most snow-sure resort although, in recent years it has achieved snow-depths which the Arlberg would gladly settle for. There is no middle-ground when it comes to skiing at Vogel – there will either be risks of avalanches due to the sheer volume of snow or insufficient amounts for the slopes to open. Even if the snow is lacking but the temperatures apposite, artificial snow-making is prohibited. If you are though minded to ski in Kranjska Gora with Inghams and live further north than London, I would make alternative arrangements. Inghams alone can tell you why they think it is acceptable to only provide flights from London Gatwick and Stansted to Slovenia. What do they expect the rest of the country to do? Do they care?
Are though Inghams and Crystal to blame for the lack of routes into Brnik from the north of England? I do not understand why a winter charter service cannot be introduced from Manchester or Liverpool for skiers and, those wishing to visit Ljubljana in the run up to Christmas. From the middle of December to the end of March, the flights would be full. Aerodrom Brnik is in the midst of a new phase, having recently been acquired by the German company Fraport. Their significant investment will only be in vain if they allow the amount of tourist flights into Ljubljana to stagnate or even decrease, should they impose a seemingly punitive increase to the €10 million per annum paid by national flag-carrier Adria to use Brnik, putting at risk new routes scheduled for 2015 to Berlin and Stockholm. It is therefore incumbent upon Fraport to encourage a more diverse range of chartered and scheduled routes into Ljubljana, not only helping to keep Slovenia’s 80,000 tourist workers in a job but also to grow Slovenia as a tourist destination, which can only in the end be a win-win situation for Brnik’s new operators.
Whoever is at fault, be it the tour operators and/or the airport authorities, they must do better.