“Bad weather today, isn't it?" The receptionist has a grim expression on her face. We look outside. Snowflakes are falling thick and fast – thicker than we've seen all winter and we live in the French Alps. I nod in accordance, but there's a smile on my face.
It's not bad weather at all – at least not for snowboarders. Little did we know tomorrow was going to be the best powder day we would have all season.
Slovakia isn't your regular choice of destination for a snowboarding holiday, but it is fast becoming a popular destination for Brits looking for fresh powder and cheap deals. Sandwiched between Austria, Ukraine and Poland, Slovakia is mostly made up of wilderness, thick forests and mountains.
Jasná Nízke Tatry, the country's biggest ski resort, is nestled in the centre of the Tatras Mountains. It's just two and a half hour's flight from the UK and only a 30 minute drive from Poprad Airport.
Slovakia gets serious powder in the winter, thanks to its cold continental climate and it is really cheap for us Brits. Pints are around €1.20 and B&Bs can cost as little as €25 per night.
ENDLESS TREE RUNS
First thing the next morning, we are greeted by Alice, an enthusiastic British snowboard guide from Propaganda Snow School. She has a big grin on her face and flashes of magenta in her hair. Alice has been living in Slovakia for two months and already knows Jasna inside out.
A season ski pass here is only €400 (compared to €900 in the French Alps). Alice's boyfriend has bought one and hops on a plane every month for a weekend from London.
"Slovakia gets serious powder in the winter and pints are around €1.20"
“You ready to head up?" she says. We climb aboard the first chairlift and then a swanky new cable car before finding ourselves at the top of Chopok peak, 2024m above sea level.
The main town of Jasna sits on the north side of the Chopok mountain, alongside the more beginner friendly slopes that lead to the restaurants and bars, as well as some of the gnarliest, steepest terrain, ideal for powder hunters.
The south side has more mellow powder fields for those who are stepping into the backcountry for the first time.
“You don't want to miss the last lift and get stuck over there though," Alice warns. “Otherwise it's a 60 euro cab journey back to Jasna."
Alice spends the morning filling us in on the best tree runs and secret powder spots. The locals tend to shy away from off-piste, so you can still get fresh tracks at 2pm on a powder day.
“When there's been a really big dump, head over to the Panorama run," says Alice. “It's virtually empty and it's an amazing place to get fresh tracks again and again."
One of the best reasons to visit Jasna is the amount of inbound freeride terrain that's easily accessible from the lifts. It is the only ski resort with official freeride zones in Central Europe. There is acres to explore without needing to hike for hours into the backcountry.
Jasna even has its own Freeride Centre where you can hire freeride equipment (including avalanche safety kit) and book a tour with a mountain guide, which we would definitely recommend if you're heading into the backcountry for the first time.
The resort has a great freeride guide which you can check out here.
We spent hours lapping a particularly soft tree-lined gully and traversing across a rock garden only to be rewarded with an entire powder field, just to ourselves.
The freeride terrain is so steep and varied, Jasna hosted one of the Freeride World Qualifying series events here in February, as well as a Women's FIS World Cup ski event in March.
As we stood in the snow, overlooking the mountainous forest ahead of us, we couldn't believe we were finding powder like this in Slovakia.
"The locals tend to shy away from off-piste, so you can still get fresh tracks at 2pm on a powder day"
There is so much potential for expansion here – and Jasna is just the start. The chairlifts are fast and modern with heated seats and bubble covers, a sharp contrast to the old rickety chairs we are often used to in the French Alps.
With mountains splitting off in all directions, you can see the bowls where pistes will be carved into the landscape and chairlifts constructed. It's a project waiting to happen – and I'm sure in years to come, it will. Jasna is a place that's on the brink of something very big indeed.
“You've got to try a bombardino" says Alice leading us to a cafe at the bottom of the mountain. Bombardino is a popular drink in Jasna, consisting of egg nog topped up with extra rum. It's served with a mountain of whipped cream on top and is sweet, custardy and deliciously warm.
As we sat chatting to our host Patrick the next evening, he was talking us through the local wildlife. “Last year, a bear wandered onto the slopes," he says casually. “Onto the slopes?!" we said. “Yes," he said. “It was in the newspaper." If that's not a reason to visit Slovakia, I don't know what is.
SLOVAKS LOVE WELLNESS
There isn't a huge après-ski scene on the slopes in Jasna, but one thing the Slovaks do love is wellness. Every hotel in the area was advertising their wellness facilities. One hotel we stayed in had four saunas, two steam rooms and two hot tubs.
After a long day on the hill, there's nothing better than hanging up your sodden snowboarding clothes and sitting in a bubbling jacuzzi watching the snow fall around you and the dark trees swaying in the wind.
If you fancy getting out of town, head down to Tatralandia, an aquapark just a fifteen minute drive from Jasna in Liptovský Mikuláš.
It is every child's (and, let's be honest, adult's) dream – with dozens of swimming pools and slides, including a steaming hot 40°C outdoor pool.
"There are few things better than hanging up your sodden snowboarding clothes and sitting in a bubbling jacuzzi in the snow"
It is an unnerving green colour as a result of the natural thermal springs that bubble up in the Liptov area. These waters are said to have the power to dispel stress and tension from the body.
As we soaked our muscles, we watched the Slovaks drifting around the poolside wearing Crocs and t-shirts with phrases like 'Good People Do Good Things Sometimes' written in diamantes.
Slovaks also have a very laissez-faire attitude to nudity we discovered as we wandered into yet another giant wellness area – called Celtic Sauna World – with no less than 21 saunas and steam rooms, including a rooftop hot tub overlooking the snowy surrounds. I told you they like wellness...
MEAT, POTATOES AND MORE MEAT
Food is kind of a big deal in Slovakia, but if you asked your average European what Slovak cuisine consists of, they would probably look at you like you'd just asked them to sing the Czech national anthem.
It's mainly made up of meat, potatoes and cheese – but cooked in various, surprisingly delicious ways, all with faintly Yiddish sounding names that my Jewish grandma would use.
We tucked into a meal of bryndzové halušk, potato dumplings with bacon, vegetables and sheep's cheese, alongside a huge platter of smoked cheese, pickled vegetables and trout, washed down with local beer.
"Endless powder lines, no lift queues, cheap beer and more saunas than anyone could possibly need, Slovakia needs to be on every powder hunter’s radar"
While lunch in a French or Swiss ski resort would cost you well over €20 for a soggy sandwich and a plate of chips, Slovakian mountain meals are incredibly cheap. We paid for soup, chips, spaghetti bolognase plus two large beers and it cost a mere 10 euros.
For vegetarians, there is a lot of cheese – my personal favourite was 'syr' and chips, which is basically a slab of cheese the size of small piece of toast, covered in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. When you slice into it, it oozes out in the style of mozzarella. It cost less than €5.
Tatra Tea is another local speciality, a spirit which ranges from 44 per cent to nearly 80 per cent alcohol. The shots in Jasna are double the size of those in the UK and half the price - a lethal combination. With pints of beer at just €1.20, you are guaranteed to be in for a good night without breaking a €20 note.
Slovaks, Poles and Czechs have been skiing in Jasna for nearly 100 years – and yet we barely heard a single British voice around us all week.
As we reluctantly drove away from Jasna, we watched the mountains disappear through dark winding forest roads and couldn't help but think, why has no one discovered this place yet?
With endless powder lines, no lift queues, cheap beer, delicious food and more saunas than anyone could possibly need, it definitely needs to be on every European powder hunter's radar.
When so many Alpine ski resorts are becoming prohibitively expensive, Jasna is a great place to visit year after year - without feeling like you need to remortgage your house to afford a week-long break. Trust us, it's a hidden, cheap, powder gem waiting to be discovered.
Wizz Air offers 4 flights a week from London Luton to Poprad, with fares starting at £50 (one way, including all taxes, non-optional charges and one small cabin bag).
For more information about Wizz Air’s routes or to book, visit wizzair.com or call 0907 292 0102.