Back to the Slopes, and Then into Recovery Mode
Normally it shouldn’t have taken me three weeks to pen this column, but I had a small problem with my face, back and other assorted parts of my body after a weekend trip to Dragobrat. Drag, as it’s more commonly known, is the skier’s skiing destination in Ukraine and it’s on the same road from Ivano-Frankivsk as Bukovel (Ukraine’s new Courchavel; http://bukovel.com/en/).
But that’s about as similar as these two places get.
First and foremost, Dragobrat (1,500m) is much higher in elevation than Bukovel (1,050m). Second, it’s also far less developed – you won’t anytime soon see planners from the Radisson SAS hotel chain (coming soon to Bukovel) looking to build a hotel next to the quaint yet austere guest houses that dot the hillside at Drag. And it’s not just because of the money or glamour factors, either: Drag is just hard to get to.
To actually get to Dragobrat (which is on the southern side of the Carpathians), you first travel the same hour or so down the highway to the Bukovel turnoff, whereupon you continue for another 30-40 minutes before arriving at the town of Yasynya. From there, Drag’s die-hard crowd must hop into those illustrious GAZ 4x4 vehicles commonly seen taking skiers up to Mt. Trostyan at Slavske (the partier’s ski destination in Ukraine). But unlike at Slavske, this trip isn’t just some 15-minute joy ride but a 40-50 minute slog depending on the traffic. When I went to Drag in mid-January – just shortly after my most recent column appeared – we got fairly lucky and we were up in about 30 minutes, or just about 2 hours from the time we got off the overnight train from Kyiv.
Other differences at Drag can only be experienced to be believed. For one thing, there seems to be snow at Drag year-round. Friends have hit the slopes there from early October to late May to give an indication of the snow pack. But given its geographic position and elevation, Drag is also notorious for high wind conditions and poor visibility. The top of Drag, though, while rarely seen, is commonly skied. While Bukovel might be the picture of luxury and calm, inviting the likes of President Viktor Yushchenko (and who over the New Year cordoned off an entire section of the slopes for himself to ski in quiet bliss), the regular crowd at Drag will take one of the three working lifts up and then hike to the very top of the mountain as it plays host to a raging tempest with wind speeds of 70-90kph. Drag is decidedly not for the faint of heart. And of such conditions is born much courage, or certainly considerable stupidity.
The weekend I went – my first trip of the year in all new gear (pants, jacket, boots and thermals) – there was virtually no one at Drag (Bukovel had something like 15,000 visitors that same weekend) and I went from courageous to incredibly naïve in mere microseconds; and it only takes to split one’s face open. I had to make that arduous trip down the mountain for stitches in Ivano-Frankivsk (they haven’t the facilities at Drag to handle any really serious mishaps) as medical students marveled at the tall Canuck who managed to nearly sever his eyelid snowboarding without doing any damage to the eye itself or suffering a concussion. An hour after a female surgeon stitched me up, I was rumbling back up the hill and only just missed out on sauna and supper with my friends. And I hear they want me to go back in a week or so.
New exhibition at PinchukArtCentre
Things in Kyiv become considerably more interesting when the PinchukArtCentre in the Arena City complex opens with a new exhibit. By all accounts, the latest such reinvigoration which kicked off Jan. 17, is just the thing for winter blues. British artist Sam Taylor-Wood’s much-talked about solo exhibition entitled “3-minute Round” is complemented by Japanese photographer Keita Sugiura’s “Dark Forest” series and 21 RUSSIA, a group exhibition by contemporary Russian artists of the “post-millennial era”, says the centre website (http://pinchukartcentre.org/en/). These exhibitions will continue through March 1, so be sure to make it downtown to wander around. And do hit the SkyBarCafe on the 6th floor for coffee in truly minimalist surroundings – and for one of the better views of the city that doesn’t require a security pass.
One final word…
Despite all the negativity over the deepening recession, it’s never been cheaper or easier to fly out of Kyiv than it is these days thanks to the likes of Wizz Air. In addition to London Stansted, German Rhineland cities Dortmund and Cologne and Krakow-Katowice in Poland, the Hungarian budget airline is now flying to just outside of Oslo. Why Oslo? Great salmon and fresh seafood, plus some of the best experimental music around (of any genre), to name just two reasons.