Sunday, March 25, 2007

More Western-Styled Ski Slopes In The Works

BUKOVEL, Ukraine -- Western Ukraine’s Carpathian Mountains continue to attract more and more winter tourists, but most are still from the former Soviet Union.

Picturesque Bukovel ski resort

Some existing ski resorts are operating at well below full capacity, but investors are still lining up for land to develop new modern facilities, while existing resort owners add new lifts and runs.

Take for example Chornohora Ltd., a project between a married couple from Kyiv and a Cyprus company, which plans to invest almost $60 million into an Alpine skiing resort located on 200 hectares of forest in western Ivano-Frankivsk Region.

Local authorities gave Chornohora a permit on Feb. 20. Yuriy Romaniuk, deputy chairman of the Ivano-Frankivsk Regional Council, said the proposed ski resort would be the second big investment of its kind in the poverty-stricken region since 2001, when the Bukovel ski resort was launched.

“Chornohora wants to rent this area for 50 years. The regional council allocated the land without any tender, but it still has to be approved by the Cabinet of Ministers,” said Romaniuk.

Plans envision that the ski complex built by Chornohora Ltd. will be located near the legendary Ukrainian mountain village of Verkhovyna. The company hopes the facility will be functional within four years.

Chornohora has already purchased a 65-hectare plot near the planned site of the ski slopes, where a hotel to accommodate 2,000 people is to be built.

“On the flank of a hill there will be ski lifts and routes put in,” Romaniuk added.

Overall, there are around 10 ski resorts operating in western Ukraine’s Carpathian Mountains, according to Bronislav Ometsynsky, tourism and recreation expert at the National Council of Culture and Morals under President Viktor Yushchenko.

“Total ski-lift capacity accommodates 25,000 to 30,000 people daily. For comparison, one average-size ski resort in Austria or Italy can serve the same amount of people,” Ometsynsky said.

Moreover, Western Ukraine’s slopes are not even fully utilized. Industry experts say the impoverished region could better capitalize on winter tourism if the local authorities would invest in infrastructure, allowing more tourists to visit the region in a timely and comfortable manner.

“Today these resorts are operating at 60 percent capacity,” he said, due to the poor quality of infrastructure and slopes. As a result, the region attracts large crowds, mostly Ukrainians, on weekends alone.

However, Ometsynsky said, within the last five years, winter tourism in Ukraine has grown by 12-16 percent. While exact estimates of how much earnings skiers bring to the region are hard to come by, Ometsynsky said higher prices charged by neighboring ski resorts in Poland, Slovakia and Romania are bringing many Ukrainian skiers back home.

And the future prospects of attracting yet more skiers from abroad have raised interest from Ukrainian investors eager to capitalize on new opportunities.

“A lot of private investors get together to form companies and start developing a hill, installing new lifts,” Ometsynsky said.

Rough estimates indicate that hundreds of millions of dollars have poured into development of new slopes and facilities within recent years. According to Ometsynsky, the lion’s share of investment comes from Ukrainian businessmen.

Despite the flurry of investment action, the biggest ski resort town in Ukraine is still Slavske, a large ski resort built in Soviet days in Lviv Region.

Its ski lifts can handle almost 12,000 people per day at several slopes.

The second largest is the newly built Bukovel resort in Ivano-Frankivsk Region, which can accommodate almost 3,000 skiers per day.

The third largest is Drahobrat in Transcarpathia Region.

A shortage of snow this year squeezed the pockets of many backward ski resorts in Ukraine as they still have not invested in snow machines.

The newly built Bukovel site, the only major slopes equipped with snow machines, was less affected.

Despite the largely snow-less winter season of 2006/2007, Bukovel expects to finish the year with almost 600,000 visitors, compared to only 350,000 last winter.

Bukovel spokesperson Nelya Marchenko said that this year 25 percent of their visitors are from abroad. And the lack of snow wasn’t a problem.

“This year’s snow-less winter delayed the normal beginning of the season in November. It started only in the middle of December,” said Marchenko.

The problem was partly solved by snow-making machines that cover all ski runs in Bukovel, she added. Bukovel imported about 500 snow cannons, each of which is estimated to cost some $25,000. Overall, Bukovel’s owners have invested almost $150 million into their ski resort, which now boast 50 kilometers of ski runs, 14 chairlifts, cottages and restaurants.

Romaniuk said the winter recreation business is the second largest source of income for locals in the Carpathian Mountains. Most residents have relatives working abroad for foreign currency.

“The local budget [of Ivano-Frankivsk Region] certainly gets a large share of income from the ski season. However, it is difficult to imagine the real amounts of income,” he said. “We can surely say that every tourist spends no less than $50-60 a day,” said Romaniuk.

However, according to Ometsynsky, the local government could be doing more to support the source of its revenues.

“State and local authorities have to provide more privileges for tourism investors, since it is good to revive the depressed area of the Ukrainian Carpathians,” said Ometsynsky.

“The process is slow due to failure of the local authorities to provide such basic things as infrastructure, roads and railway connections to the ski spots,” he added.

Source: Kyiv Post

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