Velika planina(the big pasture) is relatively unknown outside of Slovenia, at least in comparison to the likes of Bohinj and Kranjska Gora. It does though share many traits of other Slovenian ski areas, both in staggeringly beautiful backdrops and crippling financial difficulties, often because of “green winters”.
It could successfully be argued that Slovenia has far too many ski areas, all trying to make a living against the meteorological odds and attempting to set themselves apart from intra-Slovene competition. All of the areas in Slovenia populated with winter-sports infrastructure are wonderful locations for hiking in the warmer months, a truism that can never be taken away from them. In the winter months, however, any area wishing to proving skiers and ‘boarders with viable facilities is only as good as the snow it receives. Put simply, no snow equals lack of income, resulting in a paucity of inward investment to upgrade and/or renovate chairlifts and cableways, leading to downgrading of available facilities and, eventual closure. Mismanagement and sweating of assets only serve to exacerbate problems encountered through a lack of snow.
A similar scenario is playing out at Velika planina as has already gone before in the likes of Pohorje and Bovec. That most unholiest of triumvirates to afflict ski resorts, namely dilapidated ski infrastructure, mismanagement and a lack of snow has pushed an area located in the municipality of Kamnik to the brink of closure, damningly described by Radio Television Slovenia’s English language pages as a financial”bottomless pit” for those at city-hall tasked with its operation. There is though renewed optimism from the new leadership of the Velika planina company that renovation, rather than a more expensive replacement, of the currently disused chairlift could see an upturn in fortunes. Whilst being too late to be put in place for the current winter season it is nevertheless hoped, subject to the go-ahead being granted by the Kamnik municipality, that a plan currently in its nascent stage will come to fruition in time for the summer hiking season. In the meantime winter-sports enthusiasts must make do with a new childrens ski-lift and guided snow-shoe walks for adults, again, subject to conditions underfoot being appropriate.
It is perhaps refreshing to find a ski resort in Slovenia confronting its problems in a pragmatic manner, seeking alternative, cost-effective solutions, albeit on a small-scale. Therein though does lie the problem. Small-scale projects will only deliver limited returns, even in apposite meteorological conditions, in the end sending skiers to other more challenging and varied terrain. Straza hill above Bled instantly springs to my mind. Should though a municipality or private venture-capitalist invest on a larger-scale without a robust business-plan built to withstand the vagaries of the alpine weather and, especially insulated against an often lack of snow at lower altitudes, the financial risk becomes inherently greater. Reward is always commensurate to risk but so is the distance to fall, should things not go to plan. When an area is described as being a “bottomless pit” for a local authority to plug, service or operate at any level of its potential capacity, it is to be wondered if such a risk, on a large or smaller scale, is a bridge too far. City halls cannot keep taking such financial hits, nor will their electorate allow it, in a similar way shareholders of private-enterprises will object to good money being thrown after bad.
Whether faith in Velika planina is again shown by the Kamnik municipality or a decision is made to call time on its long-term viability as a winter destination, the weeks and months ahead will go a long way to decide. The scenery in this beautiful corner of alpine Slovenia will always sustain the many mountain huts and restaurants in its immediate area during the warmer seasons. It is not in those months where the uncertainty lies but during the increasingly capricious winter period, a time of year that seemingly makes or breaks many resorts. The likes of Vogel above Bohinj can ostensibly offset a poor winter’s takings through their status as a busy all-year-round location but remain the exception in Slovenia, rather than the rule. Notwithstanding the harsh financial realities currently being felt throughout the country, it is perhaps time Slovenia fell on its sword and accepted that many of its smaller, lower-lying resorts are just not financially viable as winter recreational areas and instead, concentrate on the May to September hiking and climbing sectors who can bring in a more reliable, steadier stream of income and, do not overly rely upon a meteorological element which appears to be getting scarcer by the year. Both in skiing and in the business world pride comes before a fall. It is surely better to concentrate on what you have, investing wisely and incrementally than chasing an ultimately ruinous (half)pipe dream where the collateral damage could be considerable and far reaching.
Additional reporting on this item can be found at: RTV Slovenia: Velika planina seeking positives