When taken together, skiing and Prague seem like an odd notion. While the slopes of Petřín may tempt a couple of illicit nighttime sledging rendezvous during the winter months, it is hard to imagine the city’s uncompromising terrain being very ski-friendly.
Three years ago, however, Kateřina Neumannová, the retired Czech cross-country skier, Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion, asked, why not? You may have heard about Neumannová’s little pet project at Velká Chuchle (aka the horsing racing track in Prague 5). Since 2011, the area turns into SkiPark United for a few glorious months each winter, becoming a haven for cross-country ski enthusiasts and eager beginners alike. And here’s a nice selling point: Using the course is free of charge.
If you don’t have your own skis, no worries, you can rent all the gear you’ll need on-site, and if you don’t know how to ski, you’ll be able to enroll in a class. This year’s opening was delayed due to lack of snow, but finally launched on January 29. Last year’s track measured 750 meters and drew an estimated 31,500 visitors from around the Czech Republic through Easter.
Neumannová had long wanted to open a ski center in Prague and spent years hunting for a location. Velká Chuchle proved the perfect venue as it is not only big enough, but it has an underground piping system in place needed to help generate artificial snow, which is reportedly more resilient than the real thing.
“My biggest joy is when I see people coming to the SkiPark, and they are happy because they have an opportunity to ski near the city center,” says Neumannová, who will not be involved in regular ski lessons but can be booked for special company team-building events, according to organizers.
SkiPark United offers lessons for beginners as well as for those who want to improve upon their snow moves. Free lessons for schoolchildren will be on offer this year, and English-speaking instructors will be available upon request. A new initiative this season will allow seniors 65 years and older to rent ski equipment free of charge. Meanwhile, more advanced skiers will be able to participate in races organized regularly by SkiPark United for a small entry fee. Basic knowledge of Czech is essential.
“Generally, most Czech people love to ski, but not everyone has the time or is able to go out to the mountains or other areas for skiing, particularly not during the week, when we see a lot of people turning out to train in the evening,” says Jo Weaver, managing director of JWA Prague, which has helped to promote the ski park from its inception. “Foreigners, too, love the idea of being able to ski just a few minutes’ drive away from the city center, plus the chance to have some really expert training for a very low cost is attractive to everyone.”
Transport connections to Velká Chuchle from Smíchov Nádraží run regularly. SkiPark United also offers 600 parking spaces for those coming by car. More information (in Czech only) can be found at www.skiparkchuchle.cz. The park is open daily from 8am to 9pm.
Olympic Park Letná
Not to be outdone, the Czech Olympic Committee is also planning a sports-themed winter park at Letná that will coincide with the Sochi Games, running February 7-23.
“After the success of the Czech Olympic House in London 2012, we were thinking of offering fans a similar experience during upcoming Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics,” says Alexandr Kliment, spokesman for the Czech Olympic Committee. “As traveling to Russia is expensive, we are aware not many fans would be able to get to Russia. Therefore, we have decided to bring the Olympic spirit to Prague.”
The Letná Olympic park will be set up near the metronome and will offer a number of sports activities, including an ice rink, a cross-country ski track with a laser shooting range for biathlon, curling and two hockey fields. Visitors will also be able to watch the Olympic Games live on dozens of big screens that will be erected around the popular Prague 7 park. This year’s Czech team is expected to include about 100 athletes.
“We consider the Olympic Games to be a unique opportunity to attract people to sports and to healthy lifestyles,” says Kliment, adding that one of the main goals of the Czech Olympic Committee is to get kids away from their computers and TV sets and excited about sports. To that end, the morning program at Olympic Park Letná will be dedicated to children and their teachers.
Visitors will be able to rent equipment on-site. The park will also offer a fan zone, facilities for families with children and musical performances starting at 8pm. More information (in Czech only) can be found at www.olympijskypark.cz. The park will be opened daily from 10am to 10pm.
Where will you hone your swooshing skills this year?