After a bit more than two months of making, which was slowed down due to high rainfall in summer, the first artificial ski slope in the region was officially opened on August 25th, 2018. Our announcements on the infoKOP portal and social media have had over half a million views, which tells about the skiers’ joy and desire to try out summer skiing. It is our rough estimate that there were about 500 fans of winter sports that morning in Kopaonik. Admittedly, it was very odd at first, and somewhat funny to see the cars full of winter gear and people wearing skis and ski boots in summer time. Having skis and T-shirts on together for the first time in life, brought euphoric atmosphere during the wait on the opening of the trail. That amount of joy among skiers gave the impression that it was all about a traditional Ski opening.
General Manager of JP "Skijališta Srbije", Dejan Ćika, officially opened the new summer investment by cutting the ribbon. The trail was first tried out by the employees of Skijalište and the children from Raška Ski Club. The 900-meter trail was made on the already existing trail marked as 3a, alongside of Krst ski lift. The trail is narrower in the upper part, and it widens at its end. With trail construction, the whole summer complex is completed. Apart from the artificial slope, it consists of adventure park, rail bobsled, tubing, zip line, outdoors gym, and cycle and kart tracks.
The base for the summer trail was designed by an Italian company, Neveplast. The company specializes in design of synthetic boards, which simulate real snow skiing experience. More precisely, Kopaonik got N30 synthetic boards installed, whose main characteristics are optimal lateral grip and low friction coefficient, which altogether create the conditions similar to compact snow.
Our first experience tells that the skiing is most similar to something between the skiing on hard artificial snow and ice. The first contact is odd – there is a feeling of like being on slushy snow whereas the skis behave as if on extremely hard surface. The real feel is achieved only at faster skiing, because the surface is slow and it is hard to make a turn. Contrary to extremely hard and ice surfaces, where the friction coefficient changes along the way, the artificial slope gives same constant feel, and the surface provides same grip on its entire length.
The slope is not meant to be dismantled at the end of the summer season, the installation is permanent. The advantage is that you can ski at Krst on only a few centimeters of snow. The downside is that it takes 50 centimeters of snow for a snowcat to go over the summer slope without the risk of damaging it.
In comparison to winter conditions, skiing on synthetic surface creates significant amount of heat. To reduce the friction and heat, which can cause melting of the surface, the slope is coated with special “wax”. Over time, the synthetic material can be depleted under the edges of the skis, which additionally reduces the friction. As the surface was being leveled, grass was planted which is meant to reduce heat generation during skiing. In addition, well-known ski wax producers offer temperature-resistant coatings for skis and ski-boards used on artificial surfaces. They provide better lubrication of the sliding surface and heat protection for ski base.
From the above mentioned, we can draw a conclusion that people can use the same ski gear on the artificial track as in winter time, still with some precautionary measures. It is necessary to have skis of a later production date, not repaired from previous damages. It is also important to mention that the extruded skis and ski-boards should not be used, also wax, unless it is specifically made for synthetic surface.
Taking all into account, plus the hot weather on the opening day, it is clear why some of the sliding surfaces got damaged. Having contacted ski services and followed discussions on social media we came to a conclusion that about 5-7% of the gear partially melted, whereas a negligible number had the edges damaged. More precisely, 7 skiers reported damages providing photos to infoKOP. In most cases the gear was old and worn out. We skied on 5 pairs of quality race skis, turning swiftly and we didn’t have any damaged (see the video). Having read the discussions and experiences on synthetic surfaces on foreign online forums, we noticed that similar damages happen everywhere if the mentioned rules are not followed.
Skijališta Srbije reacted promptly and reimbursed for the reported damages. They announced that those with a ski ticket will get the free rent of ski gear during the promotions. In addition, they posted the rules for safe skiing. The idea is to avoid the risks of damaging own ski gear all until the skiers are educated about the new summer trail.
Talking about the ski ticket price, there is the same bureaucratic problem which has existed for years. Skijališta Srbije, as a public company, sends the proposal for prices for their services to the Government of the Republic of Serbia. Several ministers then give their opinion and at the end, at a sitting the Government adopts the price list. For that reason, the only possible solution is applied – the prices are the same as in winter time until the proposal is adopted.
It is necessary to point out the importance of wearing clothes that protects the body from bruising. The chances to get a bruise or burn due to friction are high. No matter how tempting it may be to ski in a T-shirt, use your helmet, thin gloves and long sleeves.
All in all, Kopaonik got another summer attraction which enriches the content off the winter season. Our experiences are positive, especially because we got the winter ski atmosphere in summer time. It is clear that there is no sustainable mountain tourism without full exploitation of the summer tourist season. The right examples to follow are the mountain resorts in Austria and France, which don’t make the difference in number of tourists in summer and winter seasons. Until only a few years ago, Kopaonik was a deserted mountain in summer time. Nowadays, after large government investments, most of the hotel owners make profit throughout the year. If we take a look at a big picture, the State should support tourism, economic development of sub-Kopaonik region through the JP "Skijališta Srbije" and make profit from the developing tourism. The following year will show if there is success in it.