Snow wonder in North Bohemia

Australians on ski fields in the Czech Republic are as much a novelty as the notion of a ski resort in North Bohemia.

While the Czech Republic isn't exactly famous for its skiing it's a far cheaper option than other European skiing destinations, including the French, Swiss and Italian Alps.

If it's a toss up between going skiing in Australia or in the land of the long white cloud or going to Europe I'd choose the latter option.

I would never have thought of the Czech Republic as a ski destination until a friend of mine mentioned a "cheap as chips" day trip from Prague to the ski fields in North Bohemia many years ago.

Prague was on my must do list of places to visit during a month in Europe so after a bit of homework on the net, Spindleruv Mlyn was my next ski experience.

The area, nestled in North Bohemia in the Krkonose mountains, attracts up to 700,000 people each year but Australians are obviously not among the regulars who include a Dutch, German and Danish contingent who head for the slopes there.

On hiring my ski gear, the friendly Czech at the ski hire place asked where we were from.

When I responded "Australia", he replied "Are you fking crazy? What are you doing here? Why?"

I began to wonder myself.

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The locals were surprised to hear native English speakers and ordering food or getting help with anything was rather challenging when the response came back in German.

"Nein, sprechen ze Deutsch (I don't speak German)" is about as good as my German gets.

It did add to a great sense of discovery, of being not just another Aussie tourist on the tourist track.

And the apres-ski shares a universal language it seems - delicious hot chocolate and Jagermeister warmed the cockles of the heart after chilly days on the slopes.

The first day of skiing was on Christmas Eve which was fabulous for the likes of myself and my former boyfriend as we nearly had the slopes to ourselves while the locals celebrated Christmas European style.

The slopes of Svaty Petr or Saint Peter were surprisingly good although no doubt no match for other slopes in Europe.

My ex, who had skied in Australia and New Zealand, testified they were better than what's on offer there.

It had been 13 years since I snapped on the skis but there were plenty of red, blue and green slopes I found really enjoyable.

The black slopes looked great and I yearned to rediscover my former daredevil ski days but I didn't want to get too confident and break a leg midway through my European ramble.

Medvedin, further up the hill and only a short and cheap taxi ride away, also offered great skiing but the overuse of snow machines made it unpleasant and as the snow was falling liberally on our Aussie Christmas day on the slopes, seemed unnecessary.

It could well have been any other day, as there was little to make it feel like Christmas on the slopes.

The lifts were noticeably busier with skiers vying for their place on the lifts.

A number of chairlifts made the journey to the top of Medvedin and Svaty Petr swift and enjoyable and many smaller double anchor lifts were easy to navigate around both mountains.

As for the price, what a bargain. For a two day lift pass during high season it will cost you 1350 Czech Koruny, about $A87.

The ski hire costs vary around town but was also very reasonable.

Armed with a puffy jacket, I purchased a pair of not so fashionable ski pants for about $A20 in a local shop.

I may not have been the most trendy or dashing looking sort on the slope but for two days it was a fine investment.

There's plenty of accommodation available at reasonable prices but almost none where you can ski straight on to the slopes.

However it's not too far to ski down the hill and walk to your temporary home.

I stayed at the Hotel Nechankicky where the accommodation was modest but clean and affordable and set next to a beautiful mountain stream.

There were a few language barriers with the staff who didn't seem comfortable speaking English but a friendly Czech was able to clarify for us there was only a weekly bus to Berlin even though it was only a two-hour car trip over the mountains.

This meant backtracking to Prague on the bus, on which we arrived, so we could take a train from Prague to Berlin.

Given the choice between a month in Europe with some budget skiing thrown in versus a trip to the Australian ski fields or New Zealand, I'd head for North Bohemia again but next time for longer and I might just brush up on a bit of German before then.

IF YOU GO:

Buses from Prague to Svarty Peter depart from Cerny Most (on the outskirts of Prague and accessible by Metro) to Spindleruv Mlyn. A three to four hour bus trip finds you 150km north of Prague in North Bohemia.

Accommodation can be found at www.spindleruv-mlyn.com/en/

Three nights at Hotel Nechanicky cost 5280 Czech Koruny ($A345).

Information on the skifields, including lift passes www.skiareal.cz, ski passes are available at the local tourist information centre

AAP

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