The Race - The Place
Below you will find some interesting details of the race and the venues we visit and have previously visited
The Place - Ordino-Arcalis, Andorra
Andorra is a tiny Principality lying between the borders of France and Spain, high in the Pyrenees mountains. Skiing is very important to the country, and this race, now in its 20th year, is an important event in the Children's Calendar. Great Britain has sent a team on each occasion.
In spite of its tiny size, there are three main languages spoken in Andorra:
Outward travel will be either to Barcelona or Toulouse - both of these are about a three hour coach journey away from the resort of Ordino-Arcalis. The athletes stay in various hotels in the area, often alongside other National Teams.
The Place - Ricky v Orlickich Horach, Czech Republic
Ricky (pronounced 'Richky') is a tiny village in the North-West corner of the Czech Republic. It is about three hours from Prague, right on the border with Poland. Racers do not normally stay in the village itself, but are put up in various hotels and youth hostels in the surrounding area. We never know where we will be staying until we arrive in Prague! We are met at the airport by a bus (which may be shared with other National Teams) and driven to our surprise accommodation!
The resort itself is small, with just three main runs, served by two chairlifts and a T bar lift. It is quite low but the race run has snow cannons. The race run is usually closed to the public for a few days prior to the event to ensure good conditions for racing.
Within the country, it is a very high profile event, with national TV coverage, and visits by prominent public figures. Whenever he is free, Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus attends the event.
The hospitality shown to all the Teams and their accompanying managers and trainers is quite superb, and we are very grateful to the Ski Federation of the Czech Republic and particularly to the Ski Club of Ricky nad Orlicke for their invitation to attend the event each season.
In the last few years, we have been able to persuade our driver to allow us into Prague so that we can have a look at the city before we fly home. However, it does also means persuading the athletes to get up early - those who have done it in previous years reckoned it was well worth the effort!
The Place - Stari Vrh, Slovenia
Many of you will have heard of Slovenia, because in spite of its small size (both in terms of area and population - only about 2 million people), it is a world force in terms of sport. Per head of population, Slovenia won more medals than the USA at the most recent Olympic Games in Sydney. It lies at the western end of the former Yugoslavia, and shares borders with Italy, Austria and Croatia. It was the first nation to declare its independence very shortly after the start of the recent conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, and has concentrated since then on building up its industry, its agriculture and its sporting achievements.
The two most important sports are firstly skiing, and secondly football . In the world of alpine ski racing, they have produced some of the greatest athletes who currently compete at World Cup level. To name just a few: Spela Pretnar, Jure Kosir, Andre Miklavc and Matjaz Vrhovnik. When you consider that the population of Slovenia is only about the same as that of Wales, it makes you wonder!
Our flights will take us to the capital city - Ljubljana. From here it is only a short drive to Skofja Loka where the team will be staying. This is a beautiful unspoilt mediaeval city, with an old castle on the top of the hill, narrow cobbled streets, and a lovely river with some very old bridges. The visiting teams stay either in a hotel or in the local school, which is closed to pupils for the duration of the event. We are very grateful to the Ski Federation of Slovenia for inviting us to this event, and for their wonderful hospitality.
The races are held either in Stari Vrh or in Soriska Planina (both about an hours transfer from Skofja Loka) depending on snow conditions. Notice the unusual hay racks!
The Slovenians are a very musical race, and the Opening ceremony and prize giving ceremonies are accompanied by local folk music and colourful dancing. There is often a disco for all the athletes one evening during the event.
Topolino - The Place
The first thing to say is that Topolino is not a place. It is simply the name of an annual race that is held in the Trento region of Italy. The team will fly to Verona, and travel to the race resort by bus.
The precise venue is different each year – in recent years it has been held in Folgaria and last year the event was held in Pinzolo.
The Place - Abetone, Italy
As you travel further South through Italy, almost to Florence, at the end of March, it is hard to believe that you will find a ski area that has snow! Abetone has never yet failed to deliver good conditions for racing, however!
Set in the Tuscan hills, it is a beautiful ski area with plenty of lifts, and good race pistes. The town itself is small with a single main street lined with shops selling all varieties of olive oil and all shapes of pasta (as well as assorted Pinocchios of just about every size imaginable!).
The Team is always very well entertained her, and there are Opening and Closing Parades through the village as well as a party and firework display. We are thoroughly spoiled at the Sportalm Hotel where we are treated to home-made pasta at every meal.
The Team Managers travel to Collodi (Pinocchio's village) where the flame is lit. It is then carried to Abetone by teams of athletes, and then a top Italian skier (Deborah Compagnoni one year, even Tomba the Bomba!) lights the 'Olympic' tower in the town square where it stays alight through the duration of the competition.
The Team that went out in 2001 got quite a shock. At the last moment (less than 24 hours before they left) the race venue was changed because of difficult snow conditions. This was not a small change - the races were shifted some 250 miles further north to the Dolomite region, to a place called Pecol di Zoldo. They were excellent races, with the usual friendly atmosphere that the Ski Club of Abetone always generates.
The Place - Popova Sapka, Tetova, Macedonia
Entry to Macedonia, which lies at the eastern end of the former Yugoslavia, is via its capital city, Skopje.
Tetova is situated to the North-West of Skopje, at the base of the Sharr Mountains, and lies on either side of the River Shkumbi. It is an old town, and a very important regional centre.
The ski area of Popova Sapka is the most well-known winter recreation centre in Macedonia - it is situated in the mountains above Tetova, some 18km away by road, or you can travel via a 7km passenger cable railway.
The ski area is large, with 12 passenger cable railways and ski-lifts (in all 11,500m of vertical uplift machinery), and has 20km of marked pistes.
The altitude at the top of the ski area is 2510m, and skiing extends down to 1070m.
The Place - Uludag-Bursa, Turkey
Many of you will be used to thinking of Turkey as a place to go for a summer holiday, and may be surprised to discover that it is a mountainous country, with plenty of scope for very good skiing!
Our flights will take us to Istanbul, and we will then face a five or six hour transfer by bus to the race resort. It is a fascinating trip, starting with a glimpse of the minarets of Istanbul and then crossing the toll bridge over the Bosphorus (which takes us out of Europe and into Asia). Later on during the journey, we have to cross the Sea of Marmara on a car ferry. This is where we really start to realise that we are in a very different country from the ones we are used to skiing in. We are invited to sample the delights of Turkish apple tea for the first time!
After leaving the coastal area round the Sea of Marmara (and getting a chance to see some of the devastation caused by the earthquakes of 1999), we very soon begin the long steep climb up to our final destination.
Uludag is set high in the mountains above the very eastern city of Bursa, and is a lovely resort. It has an extensive ski area with varied terrain served by a good network of chairlifts and T-bars. There are plenty of mountain restaurants and cafes, many of them quite unusual. One is an old mountain-top fortress that has been converted to its current use as a cafe - it is round, with hugely thick walls, a central fireplace, and with rugs and cushions and low tables to gather round.
Because all the National Teams stay in the same hotel at the foot of the pistes, organisation within the resort is very easy. After the races, we hope that it will again be possible to spend 24 hours in Istanbul, where we may get a chance to visit the Blue Mosque, the wonderful underground water 'palace' known as the Basilica Cistern, and try our hand at bargaining in the Covered Bazaar!