Seek Out Slovenia
Since independence in 1991, this country - the size of Wales and bordered by Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia - has been an EU economic success story, with a growing tourist trade and fantastically-priced winter sports holidays.
Wanting to see why someone would fly to Slovenia rather than Switzerland, we flew into the national airport of Ljubljana on a Saturday morning in mid-January. Within 45 minutes, we were driving into the small town of Kranjska Gora.
Our hotel, the Grand Hotel Prisank, loomed large and pink, a sharp contrast to the authentic cobbled streets and church only a few metres away.
After a quick tour of the resort, just 15 minutes from end to end, a ski-boot fitting session, and a nod toward the local disco, casino and pizzeria (this truly is the point where East meets West), our rep declared us fit to go.
Too late to hit the slopes, we wandered blearily around Kranjska Gora for an hour before eating our first meal in the hotel’s canary yellow, conference centre-style dining room, and collapsing into bed.
By the time day two arrived, we’d shrugged off our initial flight/ski exhaustion and woken up to our resort.
The town seemed surprisingly quiet for high-season January.
Asking my delightful ski instructor Mika why half the restaurants were shut, he explained that Slovenia’s ski seasons are slightly different to those of its neighbours.
Aside from special occasions like New Year and school holidays, the town does remain largely quiet, and restaurants and cafes often close in midweek to avoid catering for only a trickle of visitors.
The locals said Slovenian weather is never foggy during the ski season. But by day three, the fog - followed by the rain - had become the biggest barrier to me and a career in professional winter sports.
Sitting in our hotel watching DVDs, we stared out at a mountain shrouded with white mist, noticing that, even in the fog, the short, gentle slopes were filled with happy beginners.
With intermediate runs peaking at around 1,550m, large amounts of cheap accommodation and low-cost flights into Ljubljana from all over the UK, Kranjska Gora is definitely a resort for families.
Perhaps that was why I was the only member of my ski class who didn’t look fondly on any particular child in a Noddy hat as we whizzed past the kiddywinks each morning.
This emphasis on family groups may also explain why the town doesn’t offer a better range of restaurants and bars.
Kranjska Gora is dominated by the hotel chain Hit Holidays. With six modern hotels (Larix, Corona, Prisank, Alpina, Kompass, Spik) and one apartment complex (Vitranc), the company stamps its mark on the town as firmly as the mountain itself.
Experienced skiers might regard it as a Primark version of the Alps. Grand Hotel Prisank offers a package-holiday blend of theme restaurants, live entertainment and activities for kids.
Its rooms were clean, comfortable and uninspiring, while the Napoli pizzeria and London tea-room lurked behind frosted glass doors on the ground floor. The hotel’s information board promised karaoke, a pool tournament and live music on Saturday night from 1980s band Candle With Hair.
Across town you can lose your expensive euros at either of the two casinos based in the sister hotels Larix and Korona, or in the former’s wellness centre.
As newfound friends in my skiing class explained, skiing in Slovenia is about practicality, not sophistication. One mother booked a family of four into a hotel for the week, for little over £1,000. A dad told me that he could only get a shoebox-sized room in the French Alps for what he paid here. And out on the slopes, clever buggers won’t swish by at 100mph.
For once, you’re all in the same beginners’ boat.
Key facts - Slovenia Skiing
• Best for: Families looking for a cheap skiing holiday.
• Time to go: Avoid Slovenian school holidays as the cramped slopes get very busy.
• Don’t miss: Apres-ski at Hotel Alpina.
• Need to know: These slopes won’t challenge a capable skier.
• Don’t forget: A good book - this is a family-focused resort.