SLO­VAK AT­TACK!

Does this moun­tain­ous cen­tral Euro­pean coun­try have what it takes to at­tract grav­ity riders on a bud­get?

Mountain Biking UK - - SLOVAKIA - WORDS: LUKE MAR­SHALL PICS: Andy Lloyd

The steep­ness of the line, the soft­ness of the dirt and the slip­per­i­ness of the rocks af­ter last night’s rain all mean that I’m head­ing into the nar­row rock chute more off-bal­ance than I’d like. Af­ter a short buck-wild ride, I roll out the bot­tom, tak­ing a deep breath, only to hear the last thing any un­clench­ing rider wants – “Can you do that again?”

The rid­ing in Slo­vakia has cer­tainly caught my at­ten­tion. I’m here with snap­per Andy Lloyd – the man is­su­ing this un­wel­come re­quest – to check out this cen­tral Euro­pean na­tion’s po­ten­tial as a bik­ing hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion. Lured by prom­ises of big moun­tains, beau­ti­ful scenery and cheap food and lodg­ings, we’re in­ter­ested to see whether it has good enough rid­ing to tempt ad­ven­tur­ous or bud­get-minded riders away from the es­tab­lished MTB hotspots of the Portes du Soleil and French/Ital­ian Riviera.

Steeply does it

Things started promis­ingly when we ar­rived at Po­prad-Ta­try, a small air­port sand­wiched be­tween the soar­ing High Ta­tras and Low Ta­tras moun­tain ranges. We met our hosts, Justin and Adri­anna from Jasna Ad­ven­tures, who took us to their chalet, The Dragon’s Lair. Si­t­u­ated just down the val­ley from Slo­vakia’s pre­mier ski re­sort, Jasná, this was an ideal base from which to fol­low the itin­er­ary set out for us.

On our first day, we were shut­tled to Mal­inô Brdo bike park, just 1km out­side the town of Ru omberok. With lift ac­cess and a ver­ti­cal drop of 654m (a lit­tle shy of three times the height of BikePark Wales), we were look­ing for­ward to see­ing how these lesser-known trails stacked up.

The six-strong, full-time trail crew cer­tainly en­joy mak­ing steep tracks! We opted for what we thought would be a gen­tle start on the blue flow trail, Modr Za­mat, to warm up, but soon re­alised that it was our brakes, more than our leg mus­cles, that were get­ting hot. While it was tons of fun smash­ing the steep run-ins into mas­sive sweep­ing berms, you’d be hard pushed to find a Morzine blue trail push­ing this gra­di­ent, and this was just a taste of what was to come.

Mal­inô Brdo plays host to a round of the Slo­vakian Down­hill Cup and the black DH tracks, Enzed and DH Pro, are in­cred­i­ble play­grounds if you get your kicks from steep, tech­ni­cal nat­u­ral ter­rain. With huge roots, rock drops and chutes thrown in for good mea­sure, this place cer­tainly tests your nerve and skill. Af­ter play­ing around and push­ing our luck on the down­hill tracks – in­clud­ing re­luc­tantly re-rid­ing the Enzed rock chute for Andy’s cam­era – it was time for a tra­di­tional lunch of Bryn­d­zové halu ky, Slo­vakia’s na­tional dish of sheep’s cheese melted over potato dumplings and ba­con fat. De­li­cious!

See­ing red

Af­ter lunch, we de­cide to take things a lit­tle eas­ier and in­ves­ti­gate the en­duro trail. This is once again la­belled blue, and this time the gra­di­ent suits the grade, but the fea­tures are bat­ting above av­er­age. Judged by its true dif­fi­culty level, it must be one of the most fun red trails I’ve had the for­tune

I’m pulling on the an­chors and wish­ing more was hap­pen­ing.

to ride, with amaz­ing flow and well-placed fea­tures to pop off or skim over. This pur­pose-built track has nailed the feel­ing of a nat­u­ral trail, and there are plenty of grins all round as we whoop our way down it.

While there aren’t a tremen­dous num­ber of trails in the bike park, it is grow­ing, and we’re im­pressed by the chal­lenge pro­vided. It’s a great lo­ca­tion for a week­end away and, with lift passes cost­ing just 21 per day (with re­duc­tions for adding con­sec­u­tive days), def­i­nitely a place worth in­ves­ti­gat­ing. Just be pre­pared to get wild!

Scratch­ing the sur­face

For the next two days, we’ll be leav­ing the lifts be­hind and see­ing what trails are wait­ing within ped­alling range. First, we head down the val­ley and along the Váh River, at a leisurely pace that’s wel­come af­ter yes­ter­day’s rowdy shenani­gans. Fol­low­ing our guide An­dre, a for­mer na­tional-stan­dard ski racer, we’re given a whistlestop tour that takes in the lo­cal tourist at­trac­tions, the Stani ovská jasky a caves and Kad’a ther­mal spring. On our way, we stum­ble across a group of Pol­ish riders, who are putting their Santa Cruzes, YTs and GeoMetrons to good use. Down here at the bot­tom of the moun­tains, the vibe is def­i­nitely more re­laxed than at the bike park. The rid­ing in­volves a lot of dou­ble­track and me­an­der­ing along­side the river, but by fol­low­ing the wa­ter, you can ac­cess other val­leys and dis­cover more trails.

On our fi­nal day, we fol­low Justin up the val­ley, to the ski re­sort of Jasná. This is a big climb­ing day, as we make our way up to 1,450m. We’re re­warded with stun­ning scenery, lunch on the moun­tain and a long, fun ride back down. Plus, a chance to see the po­ten­tial of this area. Un­for­tu­nately for moun­tain bik­ers, Slo­vakia’s strict ac­cess laws mean that, while climb­ing up on forestry and log­ging tracks is no prob­lem, walk­ing paths are off-lim­its. For­tu­nately for us, Jasná is an­other re­sort that’s hosted down­hill races in the past. Now aban­doned and left to the weather, the DH track is a lit­tle in dis­re­pair, but the mix of rain ruts, old wooden drops and loose, eroded soil just add to the fun and chal­lenge. They also help keep our speed in check on an­other steep trail, which flows di­rectly un­der the lift line. Safely back at the bot­tom, we fol­low the river back to The Dragon’s Lair, ex­hausted and smil­ing, ready to en­joy a beer at the chalet’s bar.

These last two days have given us a taste for what’s out here in Slo­vakia, and we’ve barely scratched the sur­face. Cur­rently there’s only a hand­ful of non-bike park sin­gle­track trails you’re al­lowed to ride, but if the gov­ern­ment could be per­suaded to mod­ify the ac­cess laws, this re­gion could of­fer some­thing bril­liant – big-moun­tain rid­ing, all un­der the tree line (think Canada), with the ben­e­fit of lower prices and a less busy bik­ing scene. All you’d need is a map and sense of ad­ven­ture. We’d re­turn in an in­stant! Even with the cur­rent re­stric­tions, there’s a host of other bike parks to dis­cover, plus tons of gen­tler scenic routes. Oh, and did we men­tion it’s only 1.80 for a (500ml) beer – that’s about £1.80 a pint!

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