Without the high-profile visitors of yesteryear Bohinj’s Ski Hotel Vogel is rarely mentioned, other than to group it with other failing or derelict tourist accommodation, in the same breath as its iconic counterparts the Zlatorog and Bellevue.
I doubt President Tito and his peers from the Non-Aligned Movement and various otherwise ostracised Communist regimes would have been too impressed by the Ski Hotel’s rather prosaic, decidedly touristy offering even if by definition their tastes were supposed to be simple and predicated on those of the labouring classes they purported to represent. It is though common to this day for political leaders to celebrate their positions in life in a manner not necessarily redolent with inherent social ideology. The lakeside Zlatorog, with its alpine hunting lodge design and atmosphere was perhaps understandably seen as a more appropriate venue to entertain the likes of Kim Il-sung and Egypt’s President Nasser.
The Ski Hotel is though perhaps just as famous to Bohinj’s residents as the Bellevue and Zlatorog. There are few design traits shared by the three properties although the use of presumably local stone and wood predominate, albeit executed in contrasting ways. What though the Ski Hotel lacks in subtlety it more than compensates with a stunning vista over Lake Bohinj and towards Triglav, affording guests and those using it as a starting and finish point to their hikes along the nearby but not exactly adjacent ridge that includes Mount Vogel, situated over a thousand feet higher than its hotel namesake, as one of its several attendant peaks.
Unless one takes the frankly tortuous hike to the Ski Hotel from the Bellevue through dense forest, albeit on a marked path whose delineation has seen better days, undertaking any day treks or hut to hut hikes must begin from the Rjava Skala top station of Vogel’s cableway in close proximity to the hotel. I have previously described the hotel’s design as ‘almost Brutalist’ which suggests that its creator was in some way seeking to satisfy the stark, pragmatic architectural template of post war Yugoslavia with a cursory nod to traditional alpine tourism structures without actually achieving either, or eventually settling on a somewhat skewed compromise. There is no denying this is a ugly building with little regard for its starkly contrasting surroundings but it nevertheless retains a certain cachet, if only as a monument to man’s indifference to his surroundings that eventually overcome such artificial incursions, much in the same way as the Patscherkofel communication tower in Austria’s Tirol has become synonymous with the landscape.
When therefore someone mentions Vogel it is not its peak or cableway that instantly come to mind. Many are dismayed that the mountain railway does not take its customers to Vogel’s very summit but situated at 1535 metres it is certainly preferable to starting on foot from its bottom station car park. Without the cableway the Ski Hotel would not be able to receive guests, which obviously limits the amount of people it can accommodate and the time when which you can check in. If a booking has been made but the weather necessitates that the cableway temporarily suspend operations, this obviously presents issues of the hotel’s viability. The only other option to access the Ski Hotel is via the precipitous Zagarjev Graben ski run that is now rarely open in the wintertime due to a general lack of snow, but which also doubles up as an uncomfortably steep hiking route back to Ukanc, on at times deep and unstable gravelly scree. Successfully, and safely venturing down this black ski run is rewarding in itself if achieved in the summertime, but using it as a way, luggage, and all, to access the Ski Hotel is surely nigh on impossible even with a Snowcat-type vehicle.
It is intriguing as to what Vogel’s Ski Hotel will resemble once new owner Damian Merlak has turned his attention away from the Hotel Zlatorog, one of the four purchased from Zmago Pacnik. With the Bohinj(former Kompas), and Triglav Apartments also among the quartet of properties, it is likely that Merlak has left the most difficult project until last. Will a more fitting design for its situation seek to in effect ‘deuglify’ the Ski Hotel, whose mawkish appeal is in many ways grounded in the architectural chutzpah that put it there in the first place. It remains to this day a popular point of reminiscence with those from other areas of the former Yugoslavia, who were presumably already inured by such stark and inappropriately sited edifices.
For the Ski Hotel to pay its way its new owner will not only have to look at incorporating the modern with a respectful representation of its past, but also settle on a business model that will justify the significant outlay needed to bring the accommodation up to code. If as is presumed that all the materials cannot be transported by cableway and presumably not via Zagarjev Graben, the use of helicopters will become an expensive inevitability. Design, the quality of finish and target market must all be carefully considered, as well as whether the hotel should be open all year, which I believe it should. If correctly marketed the Ski Hotel’s peak season could be during the summertime rather than amid increasingly unpredictable and ‘green’ winters. Dropping the ‘Ski’ from its name might though be necessary if an all year round operation is preferred.
The long-term temporary loss to Bohinj of so many underperforming and derelict hotels has been keenly felt, especially as more environmentally and financially detrimental day-tourism has taken hold in its stead. The eventual rejuvenation of the Bellevue, Zlatorog, and Ski Hotel, amongst others, will hopefully rebalance the type of visitors and their length of stays with greater sustainability and renewed prosperity for the Bohinj region, although a mantra of less but better tourism must not be lost in the hubbub of excitement generated by Bohinj’s foremost hotels of yesteryear once more finding their feet.