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