T he town of Špindlerův Mlýn is rightly considered the leading year-round tourism destination on the south (Czech) side of Krkonoše (Giant Mountains), which marks the border between the Czech Republic and Poland. It is also the country's number-one ski area. The climate in a protected location at the head of the valley of the Upper Elbe and the beautiful scenery combined to turn a remote town with an economy based on logging, stock farming and depleted medieval copper and silver mines into an international resort with 43 hotels, 134 holiday chalets and 23 mountain refuges for a total of 10,000 visitors.
A lot has happened in Špindlerův Mlýn since our last report on the region (ISR 3/2007, p. 50-51). The key to the further development of the resort was the decision to rent out the ski area as of the 2012/2013 winter season to the biggest and most potent destination management company in the region, namely the Slovak Tatry Mountain Resorts company (a member of the J&T Group), which acquired the right to operate Špindlerův Mlýn through a subsidiary by the name of Melida Špindlerův Mlýn for a twenty year period.
One of the conditions of the contract was that Tatry Mountain Resorts would invest some 800 million Czech Crowns (30 million euros) during the period of the lease.
More than half of this amount has been invested already (480 million Czech Crowns or 17.8 million euros). Up to the 2014/2015 winter season, most of the money was spent on refurbishing and upgrading the snowmaking installations, while the 2015/2016 winter season started with the opening of a modern six-seater chairlift with direct drive from Svatý Petr to Pláň featuring heated seats, blue canopies and the KidStop child safety system. This is the fourth generation of ropeways on the mountain since a single-seater chairlift was installed in 1947. It replaces a detachable quad chairlift built in 1992 (see ISR 2/1993, p. 40-41). Given the successful out-come of an environmental impact assessment, the quad chairlift will be overhauled and rebuilt in another sector as a link between the Horní Mísečky car park and Medvědín, replacing a 950 m long surface lift.
New structures were also required for the bottom station of the new chairlift. Unlike the old quad chairlift, which had no carrier parking, the new station has automatic parking for all 78 high-grade six-seater chairs in a carrier parking facility placed perpendicular to the line of the lift. It also has a loading conveyor system at 90 degrees to the lift line for maximum operating efficiency. With the new bottom station located further down the slope than that of the old quad chairlift, a combination of a double hold-down tower with two times twelve rope sheaves and a supporting tower with ten sheaves per rope was required to achieve adequate clearance over the trail immediately above the station. The bottom station accommodates the direct drive, the hydraulic tensioning system and the power supply for the heated seats. The top station is a fixed return station. Both stations have a high enclosure for greater ease of maintenance. As an advertising platform for the big RWE energy supply company, the chairlift has been given the name RWE Line Svatý Petr.
Work on the new chairlift began at the end of July 2015 and was finished in time for the winter season, with the opening ceremony held on 12 December. Helicopters airlifted the towers into place, with the return flights used to transport the old towers to the valley in readiness for the general overhaul of the old quad. The new ropeway is designed for a line speed of 6.0 m/s and a transport capacity of 3,000 pph. As it is classed as a replacement installation, however, it may only be operated at the old rating of 2,400 pph at a line speed of 4.9 m/s. An increase in rated capacity is dependent on successful completion of an environmental impact assessment.
The six-pack chairlift is in year-round operation and is suitable for use by non-skiers in winter. In addition to blue and red trails with snowmaking and groomed pistes, the mountain has another winter attraction at the top station, one that is more typical of glacier ski areas, namely an ice pavilion. A big air-conditioned tent houses an exhibition of ice sculptures commemorating the seventh centenary of the birth of Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor. The exhibition is open to the public free of charge throughout the winter season.
210 million Czech Crowns (7.8 million euros) were invested in the resort in the run up to the 2015/2016 winter season without any subsidies. In addition to the six-seater chairlift, the money was spent on improvements to the snowmaking system and modifications to the trails.
Špindlerův Mlýn now has five chairlifts and twelve surface lifts with a total transport capacity of 20,000 pph. Apart from the Mísečky - Medvědín chairlift, there are plans for the period up to 2020 for a ropeway linking the sectors of the ski area on both banks of the River Elbe with a hub located above Labská Dam at a cost of one billion Czech Crowns (37 million euros).
For the 2015/2016 winter season, SkiResort Černá hora - Pec invested a total of 250 million Czech Crowns (9.3 million euros) in own and borrowed capital. That is the highest amount invested in a one-year period in the history of skiing in the Giant Mountains. It was used to build two chairlifts and 1.5 km of new pistes, install snowmaking on 2.5 km of trails and establish a shuttle between two ski areas in the resort with four Hägglunds BV 206 tracked personnel carriers carrying 20 passengers each.
One of the chairlifts – built to the left of the existing Janské Lázně - Černá hora 8-seater gondola lift – is a modern six-seater chairlift by the name of Hofmanky Express with direct drive, blue canopies and heated seats. That marks the successful completion of a project for the construction of a new ropeway and trail that has lasted a total of eight years. On the basis of the results of an environmental impact assessment, the line of the ropeway had to be modified in the area of the bottom station because it is the habitat of a protected plant, namely the Sudeten lousewort. Similarly, the top station had to be located 150 m further down the mountain than originally planned because of a forest of ancient spruce.
This chairlift has been built with parking for all 47 chairs in the stations without a dedicated carrier parking facility. The rated capacity of 2,400 pph is achieved at a line speed of 6.0 m/s, which is a first for the Czech Republic. Here, too, the bottom station has a high enclosure and houses the direct drive, the hydraulic tensioning system and power supply for the heated seats. The top station is a fixed return station with a low enclosure.
The new chairlift is the second access installation for the Černá hora ski area. The lift has parking for 250 cars and serves a new 1.5 km long piste with snowmaking.
Pec pod Sněžkou
The second ropeway opened at SkiResort Černá hora - Pec in time for the 2015/2016 winter season is a quad chairlift built as a replacement for a surface lift in Pec pod Sněžkou. This is a pre-owned installation, namely the Panoramabahn from Obertauern, which was replaced by a six-pack in 2014. The quad chairlift has been overhauled and provided with new tower shafts, a new a.c. drive and new controls. The compact open lower terminal houses the drive and the hydraulic tensioning system. A semi-enclosed carrier parking facility has been built next to the top station.
The quad chairlift makes the ski area – with its numerous shorter trails – much more attractive, especially for families with children.
Mega Plus s.r.o., the country's biggest operator, runs five ski areas in the eastern part of the Giant Mountains – Černá hora, Pec pod Sněžkou, Černý Důl, Velká Úpa and Svoboda nad Úpou – with one gondola lift, seven chairlifts, 28 surface lifts and three conveyor lifts.
The company has plans to build more chairlifts in the near future, namely U lomu in Černý Důl and Javor in Pec.
SkiTour shuttle from Černá hora to Pec pod Sněžkou
On the mountain plateau, between the top station of the Černá hora gondola lift and the ski area in Pec, SkiResort offers a first for the Czech Republic under the name of SkiTour: a shuttle service using four Hägglunds BV 206 tracked personnel carriers adapted to carry 20 passengers each. This amenity enables visitors to explore the resort's two biggest areas without having to go back down to the valley on the ski bus. The local facilities also include a ski bus network which enables visitors to complete a full circuit of the ski areas.
Herlíkovice - Bubákov four-seater gondola lift
10 km down the valley from Špindlerův Mlýn is a relaxed family ski area called Herlíkovice - Bubákov, which has two chairlifts and five surface lifts with a total capacity of 7,500 pph. In the past, access to the ski area, which is situated across the river from the main road and car park, was problematical, involving either a tiring climb up some stairs or a long ride on a ski bus.
To solve the problem the operator installed a unique ropeway: a fixed-grip four passenger gondola lift with a line speed of 0.5 m/s. For a line length of just 172 m and 27 m of vertical, that is doubtless an acceptable solution. The line crosses a main road, the River Elbe and a high-voltage transmission line. The installation was built using gondolas with detachable grips and towers taken from the Girak quad gondola formerly linking Štart and Skalnaté Pleso in Vysoké Tatry (High Tatras) and stations from a Graffer double chairlift, which were engineered for Maril-leva in 2006 but never installed. The Girak cam-action grips are operated as fixed grips and only opened for periodical relocation of the carriers on the rope.
The little gondola proved a successful solution in its first operating season. In addition, the sight of the ropeway crossing the main road is good advertising for the ski area.