From the moment I stepped outside of the crowd at Belgrade airport, the beauty and cold sapped my breath. Behind me, people hoisted skis, suitcases, and toboggans. I imagined they were like me: an adventurous ski fan on a budget, looking for the new snow park.
Kopaonik is the spot on the globe for winter sports if your billfold is on ice.
Serbian ski resorts are far from the over-priced and over-hyped French Alpine resorts. Everything about skiing in Serbia blends for a distinctive adventure. Face it; you’ve never heard of Kopaonik. Situated in the middle of landlocked Serbia, it is small and will never compete directly against the Chamonix of the world. The resort, which covers about 80km and reaches into Kosovo is about adventure — not about looking good on the slopes or hook-ups in the lodges.
Once a mining town, the ski resort was popular in the late 1970s before tourists were driven away in the 1980’s conflicts. Kopaonik got back to its roots in budget skiing around 2009 and is driving now with more than just the typical Belgrade and Russian weekend skier.
Riding in a Комби from the airport we passed secluded single-shot snow-covered villages. The landscapes’ emptiness made it feel like something out of a Cold War spy movie instead of a skiing trip. The radio crackled news about 36 cities across Serbia declaring an emergency with heavy snowfall imminent and temperatures sliding down to the sub-zero region.
The ski park is matched only by the resorts of Austria, but it’s quieter. A skier doesn’t have to line up for skin runs, and there is plenty of fresh powder runs. The peak of the slope begins mellow and gets more difficult towards the end. With two steep nose-dives and a monster at the end, my skiing was over and time to explore. Three lifts run between the town and mountain and again, no lines.
Kopaonik is fun and impressively relaxed — and mature. Anyone looking for a seedy stag-friendly resort such as Borovets will be relieved. Kopaonik is not home to strip bars.
Kopaonik, and resorts like it, are the draw which is attracting globally sophisticated businessmen and their families. With a progressive citizenship-by-investment program, many of the people I saw in the lodges and on the slopes will be moving to the mountains by Christmas 2017.