Lockdown in Snow Country: Coronavirus Vs Winter in Slovenia

It’s a cruel irony that Slovenia is experiencing one of the snowiest winters in recent years, yet most people can’t take advantage of it.

The snow timed its arrival perfectly this season, with heavy falls landing from the start of December and continuing all month, ensuring a white BREG Christmas, and an excellent start to the season. Temperatures have remained cold since then, preserving the snowscape in much of the country.

However, even though some ski resorts in Slovenia (and Austria) are now open to locals, the ever-changing Corona travel restrictions mean that crossing borders (both municipal and national) is not always allowed, so it’s harder for people to capitalise on this season’s excellent snowfall.

Luckily for a snow lover like myself – there’s more to winter than snowboarding packed piste in a ski resort. I have long since diversified my snow activities to include cross-country skiing, ski touring, splitboarding and snowshoeing – none of which require a ski lift. Thus, wherever there is snow, I have the right snow-tool to tackle the terrain.

On the flat fields that lie a five-minute walk from my girlfriend’s apartment, I take my narrow, tooth-pick like cross-country skis, and ‘skate’ over the snow-surface. Akin to going for a run, I’ll often pop out for an hour during the day, to glide around the fields. It’s a great work out for the arms, legs and heart, and in the most beautiful of surroundings. I love the simplicity of cross-country skiing; you don’t need any lifts, you don’t even need a slope. Any expanse of flat, snow-land becomes a cross-country ski circuit.

In the dense forests surrounding Breg, I strap on my snowshoes. These enable me to float over the surface of the deep snow rather than plunging into it, and I can power up steep slopes with ease, thanks to their shark-like teeth.

If I want a bit of a ride down but the terrain is not too steep, I apply my skins to my touring skis and head up the snow-covered logging track at Breg. I’m not a good skier but this route provides a nice little hike via a forest-framed route, and then a gentle run back down. A few years ago, I even skiied to the Pikovo hut, and stopped off for a beer and some gulash before returning home. Sadly, the hut is rarely open these days, otherwise I would visit regulary.

Where there’s more steep terrain and deep snow, I don the splitboard and ascend higher. I’ve been lucky to have my girlfriends’ family to guide me into their mountainous backyard: the Karawank and Carnic Alp ranges in Southern Austria. Keen ski-tourers, it’s rare that a winter weekend passes and they are not hiking up and sking down some peak. Here, I’ve experienced some incredible snowscapes from spikey frozen forests, to the smooth domes of the ‘dumpling mountains’.

I’ve come to realise that splitboarding and ski touring are almost entirely different sports. My ski-touring friends are all about the hike up. The run down is almost inconsequential, and routes are not selected for their descent, meaning it can sometimes be a flattish logging road. As a splitboarder, my thoughts are always about the run down; wide open terrain, with a decent gradient and deep untouched powder is what I seek.

Now this is my kind of terrain (for splitboarding).

So as the sole split-border in the group, my ski-touring companions sometimes have to put up with the impracticality of my board (when it comes to flat sections – boards are a real pain) but they kindly humour my unstrapping/strapping-on stops and starts, often pulling and pushing me through the flats to get me to the bottom.

Whether it’s split, ski or snowshoe – I don’t really mind. I just love to be out in the snow and I love having the variety of snow toys to play with, whatever the conditions, terrain, weather or just my mood.

Evropa: Reasons Why I Live in Slovenia A-Ž

E is for Evropa

Coming from the island isolation of Great Britain, life on the European mainland is an international treat.

Add to this Slovenia’s petite landmass, and ‘popping in’ to Italy for a quick pizza, or Austria for an afternoon hike is quite the norm here.

The Austrian border is under an hour from Ljubljana

All of these things give rise to a very ‘European’ feeling in Slovenia. Unlike in the UK, where our island mentality has bred an ‘us and them’ attiude (see: Brexit), here you feel part of Europe.

In the UK, a foreign holiday ultimately means flying (or ferry). In Slovenia, an hour in the car will take you into a neighbouring country. Dropping down to Croatia for some coastline is a regular Slovene habit, and Hungary’s western border is easily within reach for a day trip.

Last weekend was Easter or ‘Velika Noč’ which translates as ‘The Great Night’. Easter is a big family affair here and I spent it visiting my girlfriend’s family in Austria, where it was a great night indeed. A feast of traditional ham, eggs and horseradish, followed by much wine, beer and various shots of hard-to-pronounce spirits.

The following day we hopped the boarder to Italy, hiking into the glorious Julian Alps, followed by a trip to a local pizzeria. A little over an hour’s journey after, and we were back in Ljubljana. Three countries; one day.

Hikes in Italy’s share of the Julian Alps are only an hour away

Slovenia has tried hard to distance itself from the ‘Eastern European’ label. I think in large part to avoid misconceptions of being ‘a former soviet vassal state’ (as Jeremey Hunt – the British Foreign Secretary recently so wrongly stated.)

Slovenia was never part of the USSR. Indeed, by all accounts, Marshall Tito, Yugoslavia’s leader, was quite the thorn in the side of the Russians, who tried to assassinate him on more than one occasion.

It’s a common mistake that I often hear, but Jeremy – someone in your position really should have done your homework better.

West Hungary is doable in a day (although Budapest, pictured, is around 5 hours’ drive)

Geographically too, Slovenia occupies a European sweetspot; a Mediterranean country, with high Alps, yet small enough to make day trips to the neighbours.

With Brexit looming, the advantages of a borderless Europe are ever more apparent to me, and the possibility of losing freedom to travel or work in other EU countries all the more painful.

Until then, I will continue to relish Slovenia’s central European location, where you’re never more than an hour’s car ride from adventure in another nation.

Want more? Read other Reasons Why I Live in Slovenia – A-Ž