Prague, 22 January 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Official figures show Slovakia's ski slopes are booming, with foreign tourists flowing in from both east and west.
And it's not only the big, established resorts of the High Tatra mountains that are benefiting, the smaller ski sites are also turning a profit.
Julius Ganoczi is typical of the smaller resort owners. Although his place at Velka Raca, in the Low Tatras near the Czech border, is not famous he has nevertheless hosted a wave of foreign guests.
His skiing operation runs for approximately 100 days a season depending on snow conditions. It experienced a 15 percent increase in the number of foreign visitors in 1996 over the previous year. This year the ski resort operator predicts another seven to 10 percent increase.
According to Ganoczi, most of the foreigners skiing down his slopes are Czechs, but Poles and Hungarians are also turning up.
"Our worst season was in 1992-93 when, following the split, many Czechs stayed away from the slopes here in Slovakia because they did not know what to expect, but now they have realized that life goes on and they come skiing," said Ganoczi, who has 14 years experience in the Slovak tourism industry.
His business is typical of many smaller, more modest resorts in the Low Tatras and the Orava region. Once overshadowed by the High Tatras as the most popular skiing destinations for winter sports enthusiasts, the smaller sites in the Low Tatras are beginning to draw larger crowds. That's because the skiers are seeking alternatives to the more expensive and crowded High Tatras.
According to figures released by the Travel and Tourism Department of the Slovak Economics ministry, Slovakia experienced a 24 percent increase in the number of visitors in 1996 over the year before. Many of these were skiers.
But aside from Czech, Hungarian and Polish tourists, Slovakia's slopes also are drawing crowds from Austria, Germany, Russia and the Ukraine.
Stefan Balok, operator of the resort SKI Jasna AS, also located in the Low Tatras, has high hopes for the future.
Balok's resort can accomodate more than 14,000 skiers per year, and now he is installing a new four-seat alpine ski lift capable of taking 1,200 skiers to the top of Chobok mountain every hour.
Balok said 1996 was an excellent year. SKI Jasna recorded a 30 percent increase in the number of foreigners visiting compared to the previous year. They brought in 135 million Slovak crowns ($4.5 million) worth of business.
To cope with the swelling influx of tourists seeking to descend their slopes, Slovak ski resort operators are investing in new lifts, snow-blowing and snow-making equipment.
SKI Jasna, for example, invested 150 million Slovak crowns ($5 million) in constructing its new lift. The resort also bolstered other services such as ski instruction, equipment rentals and even day care services for parents who prefer leaving their children in the care of professional babysitters while they are on the slopes.