Those on the group flights will be met on arrival at Vienna Airport, where the rest of the group (those not on the group flights) will met us in order to join the 4hr transfer by private minibus to our pension in the small mountain village of Zuberec. Situated on the western edge of the High Tatra, Zuberec was originally an agricultural settlement. Today the village lies at the centre of three downhill skiing areas and has developed to offer a range of facilities for tourists in the winter and summer months, as well as a number of small guesthouses, pensions and hotels.
Most accommodation in this area is built in chalet style, with wooden furniture, offering simple but clean and comfortable quarters. Breakfast is served in your accommodation each morning and you'll be able to choose from a selection of mountain restaurants and village cafes for your lunches and dinners.
After breakfast you head into the Rohace Mountains for a day's skiing or snowboarding. Downhill skiing has long been the most popular form of skiing; in fact it was first taken up as a leisure activity by the British in Victorian times. However in recent years snowboarding has become the fastest growing winter sport. Both of these activities require different equipment so your first stop will be to get kitted out with the correct boots and then either skis or a board.
As well as experienced ski technicians, your leader will be on hand to make sure everything fits properly and to show you how it all works. Then it's off to the slopes. The village offers tracks (pistes) for all categories of skiers or snowboarders. Shorter slopes of 400m and 860m are for beginners. On the other hand a longer slope of 1490m is for more competent skiers. The main ski area is situated in the Pod Salatinmi Valley, 1090m above sea level. Here you'll find a self-service restaurant and artificial snow-making machines to ensure good skiing. If you're a beginner, you can join a three hour lesson, aimed at your level of ability/experience (additional charge), while proficient skiers are free to ski! For the remainder of the day you're free to practice your new skills or explore the area before returning to your pension.
Keeping our skis overnight we return back to the slopes. Beginners will be amazed at how quickly they can develop their balance and technique, whilst for more experienced skiers and boarders there's the chance to try more demanding pistes. Whatever you choose to do today will be a great day to be out and about on the slopes and whizzing over the snow. After lunch, you make the short transfer to Oravice, known mainly for its rich thermal waters.
The healing waters of the thermal pools have healing and restorative effects which helps people with mobility, respiratory, circulatory and nervous system problems. This water also has good cosmetic effects. It is excellent for the recovery of tired muscles after skiing.
After a good breakfast to set you up for the day, you'll leave the pension to meet up with the dog team handlers and their dogs - the dogs come from the Lower Tatra to meet you, and you'll get to know them in the fields around the village. Upon arrival the handlers will show you how to handle the sled and brief you before setting off. The dogs always get really excited as soon as they see the sleds coming out and it's often a struggle to hold them back, such is their enthusiasm. Each sled carries two people - a driver (or musher) and a passenger - pulled by a team of 2-6 huskies. It takes a while to get everything ready but eventually you'll set off in crocodile file, with the dogs tugging hard at their harnesses before they break into a smooth rhythm. All you can hear are the runners of the sled fizzing over the frozen snow and the odd bark or yelp from the dogs. Don't forget the magic words which the dogs listen to for their direction: 'Ho' and 'Dzi'. While you're waiting your turn, there'll be hot drinks and your leader and dog handlers will make a warming fire (if possible). There's also likely to be the offer to try some of the traditional home-made Slovakian spirit called Slivovica, which will definitely warm you up! It depends on the group, how long the activity lasts, so it should be an enjoyable activity for all!
This morning you're free to relax in the pension, explore the village or take an optional visit to a local school to interact with Slovak school children during their lessons before joining up with your leader for lunch with a local family. The main dish will be a specially prepared Halusky. This is a traditional mountain dish of hot potato dumplings served with melted cheese and sprinkled with bacon. Over lunch you'll discover more about Slovakian life and see how families live today. After lunch you'll take to the slopes around the village again for a sledding excursion. This is great fun for both adults and children as you whiz downhill on small plastic sleds!
In the evening you visit the museum of Orava village accompanied by traditional music and romantic lanterns, which is one of the biggest attractions of the region. A magical atmosphere is created as you walk along the snowy paths of a wooden village, without electricity, where your only light is a pair of illuminated lanterns. At the end of the evening you can dance to the traditional music.
The morning on day five is suggested for those wishing to visit a local Slovak school, however the date is flexible depending on the group's wishes. The visit is only available on February and March departures as the school is closed over Christmas.
Today you head back to the Rohace Forest for a day's snowshoeing. Your leader will give a quick lesson on how to put on your snowshoes and how to use them with a pair of poles to move around. It really isn't difficult at all and, although you might feel a little ungainly at first, you'll soon discover that you can climb even a fairly steep slope with ease. With snowshoes you can go almost anywhere - which means you can get to places that skiers cannot. You may set off along a prepared forest trail but if a glorious view or interesting diversion presents itself you have the freedom to get off the beaten track -literally! The group's ability will dictate how far you go but it may be possible to climb to one of the highest peaks in the Western Tatra, Brestova, at a height of 1902 metres. As you're likely to be away from the main skiing areas it's a good idea to take a vacuum flask and provisions for a picnic.
After lunch you'll meet up with your leader and make the short drive to the neighbouring mountain village of Oravice (11km), to visit one of the area's open-air, thermal pools (optional, at additional cost). Such pools are found in many parts of Slovakia and are popular for their restorative properties. As well as offering general health benefits, the waters of Oravice are reputed to have beneficial cosmetic properties - but they also make a great place to relax weary ski-legs.
Today is free for you to choose from the many activities on offer in and around the village. You may wish to head back to the slopes for more downhill skiing or snowboarding (in which case you'll need to purchase a lift pass). You may decide to try cross-country skiing, along one of the specially prepared circuits on the edge of the village. Alternatively why not strap on some snowshoes and walk amongst the snow covered forests, or even have a go at sledging. Your leader will be on hand for advice, should you decide to explore further afield and to help arrange a celebration meal on everyone's last night together in Slovakia.
This morning, you transfer by bus (2½ - 3 hours) to Vienna. Clients on the group flights will fly home today.