Whilst the ski season in many of Slovenia’s resorts is expected to extend into the Easter weekend, visitor numbers are already being assessed to ascertain whether the winter has been great, good, or just plain mediocre, a word used by Klavdija Gomboc, head of marketing at RTC Zicnice, to describe Kranjska Gora attracting 160,000 winter-sports enthusiasts for the three and a half months to the end of March.
A level of patronage that most if not all other Slovenian ski resorts would gladly accept, the context of Kranjska Gora occupying a place on the FIS World Cup circuit, its relative proximity to Planica and arguably being the country’s most well-known resort with winter-sports aficionados from overseas, it’s therefore interesting to know what the visitor figures would need to be for a season to be branded a success. Further context needs to be factored in regarding climatic variables not just particular to Slovenia but European alpine areas in general. Aside from Bovec(more to follow) there is no high-altitude skiing in Slovenia, thus placing many of the country’s ski-resorts at risk of never being further than one bad winter season away from disaster. Despite the kudos and notoriety attached to Kranjska Gora it is the only resort of Slovenia’s main players which will not make it to the Easter holiday, with the lack of snow making this weekend the final one of the season, albeit only with morning skiing being possible. Vicissitudinal patterns of weather though are no respecters of reputation and whilst the figure of 160.000 eclipses the numbers of visitors to any of the other Slovenian resorts, it is perhaps easy to see why Kranjska Gora’s season can be labelled no more than adequate.
It surprised me to learn of Vogel(above Bohinj) achieving visitor numbers only slightly more than half of KG’s, apparently just below their seasonal average. On my frequent visits to its mountain-top webcams business has usually appeared to be brisk, with peak times often showing frustratingly long lift-queues. Vogel can be prone to having just two or three significant falls of snow to keep it going over a winter season although, this often is more than adequate to keep it sufficiently topped up. Where though Vogel cannot compete with its competitors is that it lacks an artificial snow-making capability, its proximity to the Triglav National Park stymieing an ability to replenish pistes using synthesised methods. It is though often forgotten that all the artificial snow-making equipment in the world will lie redundant if temperatures aren’t sufficiently low enough for production to commence. Nevertheless, operating company Zicnice Vogel seem relatively content with the level of visitor numbers, especially with approximately 100 cm of usable snow to attract more visitors over the Easter period. Vogel is also in a unique position of being able to operate its lifts almost twelve months a year, with significant usage by hikers and climbers during the warmer months helping to keep the lift-company in the black, albeit modestly. The popular Vogel-Rodica-Crna Prst ridge walk is really only accessible via the cable-car from Ukanc to Rjava Skala and the chairlift onwards, unless one is willing to hike up either of the arduous paths emanating from near the Hotel Bellevue or the Zagarjev Graben slope, again beginning from lift’s bottom-station in Ukanc. Aside from a month off before the ski season commences and similarly between April and mid-May, Vogel’s cableway runs all year. This would appear to be the secret to its relative success, especially when measured against its fellow Slovenian lift-operators.
The figures for Vogel would though be better if the standard and volume of accommodation was drastically improved in the Bohinj region. The constraints levied on the area by the Triglav National Park have been well documented in this blog, as have my many calls to sympathetically rebuild the iconic but now derelict hotels Bellevue and Zlatorog. The Hotel Ski Vogel previously formed the third part of this unholy trinity of criminally neglected tourist accommodation but of late has at least started to again receive guests, many from other former Yugoslav republics reminiscing on times past. It must though be said that before recent marginal improvements were made the HSV was in a shocking state. Still retaining its uncompromising Brutalist exterior, its outward-form nevertheless retains a near cult status for its ability to shock, set against such a majestic backdrop. Much in the same way the communications tower atop the Ktzbueheler horn was initially derided, the HSV has become an unlikely icon despite of and, because of its appearance. The demise of the Hotel Zlatorog at the Ukanc end of Lake Bohinj has left the Hotel Ski to be the only facility capable of housing a significant amount of tourists close to the slopes, with visitor figures for the winter season surely pegged at such levels until the severe problems regarding visitor accommodation is remedied. I don’t expect a sea-change in the near future although, a drop in visitor numbers and overnight stays of 9% and 12% respectively needs to be arrested.
Having grasped victory from the jaws of defeat Maribor’s municipality will be giving themselves a justified pat on the back, their intervention through the city’s mass-transit operator Marprom ensuring Pohorje’s lift-network was fully operational during the 2014/15 season. Recognising that they didn’t want another Bovec on their hands(again, more on this to come) or the potentially fatal loss of the Golden Fox women’s slalom race, the power-brokers at city hall rightly made the decision to be masters of their own destiny, at least for this winter season shortly coming to an end. What will happen next hasn’t been disclosed but with Marprom’s managing of the lift-system ensuring not only black runs but also a balance sheet in the black, it might be a case of the municipality again taking the reins next winter. With 137,000 visitors purchasing lift passes and discounted tickets available for the Easter furlough, the antithesis to the Slovenian incumbent administration’s wish to shrink the state has undoubtedly been vindicated.
So, we finally come to Bovec. Of course, there is no data to crunch for its winter season, nor has there been for several years. A resort left reeling after the abrupt closure of its Mount Kanin cableway, a succession of auctions and Dutch auctions has seen little or no interest in a lift-system forever tainted by a near catastrophic but thankfully non-fatal event, which saw several of its carriages crash to earth for reasons officially unconfirmed but, many unsubstantiated conspiracy theories continue to abound to this day. Whether a freak bout of high winds brought down the carriages, as claimed by the former lift-company, we will never know. Despite the Slovenian meteorological service denying such conditions occurred at the time of the accident, the point surely must be that a lift-system should be able to withstand such eventualities, albeit whilst the gondolas are hopefully stationary, not in operation and therefore without passengers. It was a large slice of fortune that nobody was in either of the felled carriages. Regardless of past events it has though been a shameful period for Slovenian tourism that not only did the event happen in the first place but also, the inertia that followed from the relevant parties had a devastating effect on a resort so reliant, perhaps too much so, on the winter-sports sector. Hotels continued to operate, albeit at vastly reduced occupancy rates, but then oversaw each morning the bussing of guests to the Italian side of Kanin, where Sella Nevea would pick up the lunchtime and apres-ski euros(€) that should’ve stayed on the Slovenian side of the border. It finally seems that the lift-infrastructure is to be taken over by the local authority for a relative pittance, taking advantage of laws regarding unsaleable distressed assets that allow Bovec’s municipality to assume control, albeit once a consensus has been reached with all relevant parties. Again, this could be construed as the Slovenian government, in a roundabout sort of way, receiving a bloody nose for its privatisation heavy, laissez-faire approach.
Will Bovec’s reintroduction to the Slovenia’s winter-sports scene come at the cost of other resorts? The reemergence of a ski-resort regarded as regional big-hitter should be an economic boost to the area, ensuring a steady stream of Austrian and Italian day-trippers heading over nearby frontiers to benefit from high-altitude skiing not found elsewhere in the country. There is though a heavy emphasis on the word “should”. It is as of yet unclear if a completely new lift- system will be installed or whether the original Poma lift is reactivated, albeit after a comprehensive overhaul. A new lift will of course be extremely expensive for anyone to introduce, let alone a town’s municipality but would arouse far less apprehension amongst potential customers than the original, offending gondola being persevered with. Several hotels have also fallen by the wayside in Bovec since the lift’s demise, making it by no means certain that the town will benefit from anything other than cross-border day-trippers. There are also inherent dangers of a large investment from the local Obcina never being recouped, especially should uncharacteristically(but not unheard of) poor levels of snowfall bedevil a usually relatively snow-sure resort. Figures published a year from now will make fascinating reading, not just from Bovec but also throughout Slovenia. With Bovec’s proposed reappearance and Pohorje’s future not yet finalised for 2015/16, the off-season is sure to provide several twists in the tale of an industry never far from being mired in controversy and, financial difficulty.
Further reading on this subject can be viewed at: Slovenia Times: a satisfactory season reported by most ski resorts