Growing Reputation of the Ukrainian Alps
Growing Reputation of the Ukrainian Alps
Ukraine’s enormous tourism potential has yet to be effectively harnessed, but the sector is showing signs of slow but steady progress towards the kind of facilities that could do justice to the country’s obvious appeal and help the next generation of Ukrainian capitalise on their natural riches. One of the areas of the domestic tourism industry to receive the most attention from both local and international investors has been the Carpathian mountain region which slices through West Ukraine before tailing off in both Romania and Poland. Famed for their beauty and for the hospitality of their tradition communities of mountain peoples, the Ukrainian Carpathians are a relatively untouched preserve of Eastern European natural history and also offer an alternative skiing holiday option that is proving increasingly tempting to winter sports enthusiasts across Eastern Europe.
Over the past ten years the region has witnessed an influx of finance and the development of state-of-the-art ski resort facilities that are light years ahead of the much of the region’s existing Soviet-era infrastructure. The investment seems to be paying off, with a quick survey of this year’s visitors to flagship resort Bukovel revealing satisfied guests from Poland, Germany, Austria and the Baltic States as well as numerous international expats from Kyiv and Ukraine’s other cosmopolitan regional capitals.
With many families looking to economise in the wake of the growing global financial turmoil, late 2008 saw a rash of cancellations for expensive overseas New Year holidays in destinations such as Thailand and Egypt, with many Ukrainians instead choosing to holiday in the Carpathians. The region has thus far been able to ride the economic downturn without suffering an drastic losses, something that will allow the industry to develop in the coming months while elsewhere tourism destinations look destined to cut back and scale down their operations.
Ukraine currently boasts 4 major ski resorts, all of which offer a range of hotels, inns, cottages and leisure facilities including restaurants and night clubs. The days of 1990s post-soviet austerity with vodka and shashlyk being served up from rickety shacks are now largely a thing of the past, and even in the resorts which have received the least in the way of a post-Soviet makeover, service standards and amenities have improved dramatically. The Ukrainian Carpathian resorts of Drahobrat, Slavsko and Tysovets all offer moderate skiing options and functional amenities amid a safe environment, but the only Ukrainian resort which can lay claim to genuinely international-standard services is Bukovel.
Bukovel: Setting the standard
The Bukovel project remains very much a work in progress. Development of the resort site began at the turn of the millennium, when local entrepreneurs attracted international interest and finance to the idea of building a world-class ski resort in the as-yet untapped Ukrainian Carpathians. With little competition for many hundreds of kilometres in any direction, the project has proved a big hit with the Ukrainian public which has been visiting Bukovel and spending their growing disposable incomes in increasing numbers every year since 2003.
The resort is located in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast about 30km to the west of Yaremcha. It is set in an area of great natural beauty which has been complemented by numerous historic churches over the ages. This picturesque backdrop has persuaded many to invest in holiday homes in the region, making it one of the topsy-turvy Ukrainian real estate market’s hottest tickets. Many of Ukraine’s ruling elite have taken to purchasing palaces for themselves in the Carpathians in recent years, with huge private estates being carved out of the relative wilderness. This fashion for Carpathian palaces has likely done much to further push the price of regional real estate up as the moneyed classes rush to keep up with the latest trends and remain in step with the authorities, but nevertheless many investors appear undeterred.
The current global credit crisis and economic downturn will likely mean a reduction in the pace of growth in the Ukrainian Carpathian tourist sector, but it is set to remain one of Eastern Europe’s most attractive up-and-coming destinations for many years to come. Visitors to the resort itself will find levels of customer convenience and service which are at odds with the old post-Soviet experience of service with a scowl. Instead, everything is done for the guest’s convenience, even down to the impressive ski lifts themselves, which operate with such speed that lift lines longer than five minutes are rare.
Bukovel's base elevation is nearly 900m above sea level, and the highest ski lift rises up to 1370m, making Bukovel the second highest ski resort in Ukraine after Drahobrat. All categories of slope are available, including several Black Diamond runs for the ultra-adventurous. The resort also offers floodlit evening skiing, although this is at present restricted to a single intermediate slope between 17.00 and 20.00.
In previous years the absence of heavy snows has hampered the growth of the Ukrainian Carpathians’ reputation as a place for excellent winter sports, but this year’s generous snowfalls have removed this seasonal obstacle. The skiing season at Bukovel generally lasts until as late as mid-April.
Bukovel is growing rapidly, and new equipment and runs are being added each year. The resort has major plans for expansion; supposedly by the 2010 season it plans to have 278km of runs operational serviced by a grand total of 35 lifts, which would make it one of the 20 largest ski resorts in the world.
Ukraine’s highest ski resort
Drahobrat (commonly also spelled "Dragobrat") is Ukraine's highest ski resort, with a base elevation at 1300m. This puts the entire resort in a zone of high snowfall and stable snowpack. Traditionally, Drahobrat is the first ski resort to open its lifts every year and the last to turn them off. At the same time, blizzards and low visibility are more common than at other ski resorts, which can keep you off the slopes for considerable amounts of time. When the clouds clear you will be rewarded with the best views of any Carpathian ski resort. Drahobrat is located in the region with the most dramatic peaks in the Carpathians. Just across the valley is the Chornohora ridge with Ukraine's highest mountain, Hoverla, at 2061m.
Drahobrat is often called the most Alpine resort in the whole of Ukraine. Snow here is guaranteed and lasts from November right through to May. For the last 30 years, there hasn’t been a winter skiing season snow - even in the warmest winters. Drahobrat is actually situated in a natural phenomena. Located in a rare and unusual horse shoe shape, this ensures that snow falls each winter time. No keen skier can miss out on a visit to this amazing resort. The wild and completely unspoilt landscape is the making of this resort and as a result is popular with hikers as well as skiers.
The resort began as a hikers' refuge (turbaza) back in Soviet times and has been steadily expanding, with new lodgings being built from year to year. As Drahobrat is located 18km away from the nearest centre of civilisation, the only place to buy food or rent equipment is directly at the resort itself There is no private sector of locals renting their homes out here, just a collection of hotels and small private inns. However, while things are often a little more basic here than many European visitors would be used to, hot water, electricity and delicious meals are standard everywhere.
Capital of Soviet skiing
Slavsko (sometimes called Slavske) is very conveniently located on the Kyiv-Uzhorod rail road and as such was a mainstay of Soviet-era Carpathian skiing holidays. Until the arrival of Bukovel after 2000, Slavsko was the undisputed king of the region, and it remains a popular choice with an ever-improving range of facilities as local entrepreneurs and international investors slowly latch onto the enormous potential of the region.
Currently one of the popular Carpathian ski resorts, Slavsko is located around Mount Trostyan (900m to 1230m in elevation). It boasts good number of ski lifts plus a wide range of ski runs for all levels of skiers with slopes varying from 700m to a good 2000m in length.
The resort is spread out over 5 mountains. If you want to ski in peace and on uncrowded slopes, then the slopes on Mount Gabrovets will suit you. Mounts Politekh and Pagor are located in the heart of the resort are 450m and 650m respectively. Mount Trosyan is famous for its abundance of good quality runs and caters excellently for everyone from beginners to pros. It is an imposing 2500m in height and it is located at the edge of the resort.
Mount Krokus is similar to Mount Gabrovets since it is less crowded than other areas of Slavsko. The runs here are of a good quality and the Mount is 1050m but ski lifts here only run at the weekends. Many recent visitors have also raved about Slavsko’s great value and good quality restaurants, many of which have been designed in the traditional wooden alpine style.
Little Switzerland of the Carpathians. Known as the ‘Undiscovered Gem’, Tysovets is a resort for serious skiers and some of Ukraine’s best come here to train. The resort’s 36 slopes and ski lifts are kept in excellent condition and the resort hosts the winter biathlon championships. There are tracks for the slalom, giant slalom and freestyle as well. There are also ski jumps of 90m to 120m. There are numerous ski rent facilities and the resort has all the necessary sports equipment. Other facilities include a sports arena, hotels, chalets and a nightclub. Due to its low prices it is already popular with students and in peak season is always packed out.
Nestled deep in the Carpathians, it is surrounded by thick pine forests which are great for winter hikes. The sun sets early on Mount Tysovets, but the night times and sun sets here are always spectacular. The air here is crystal clear and being so high up in the mountains means that you feel like you’re almost touching the stars, which adds to the enchantment of this beautiful resort.