Winter Sports: Cold play in the Czech Republic

Krkonoše (Photo: Kačka a Ondra CC)
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Active and passive ways to indulge winter's many options

The slippery sidewalks and deep freeze of Prague's icy cold winters are enough to send any sensible person indoors to enjoy a steaming hot cup of svařák by the fire - or perhaps to purchase flight tickets to warmer climates where they can defrost.

However, even during the dead of winter, those brave enough to remain in the Czech Republic, and especially the sporty types, have an array of options to make the most of their time.

Krkonoše destinations

One of the most popular winter destinations in the Czech Republic is the stunning Krkonoše mountain range, located in the north of the country, on Poland's southwestern border. At 1,602 meters, its highest peak, Sněžka, is also the highest point in the Czech Republic.

Both the Czech and Polish sides of the border have large national UNESCO-protected parks, as well as a wealth of offerings for those aching to strap on their skis or snowboards and race downhill.

Those who like to mix a little history into their holiday retreats should check out some of the bouda, or mountain huts, once used by shepherds as wooden refuges in the summer, located in the higher parts or the ridge of the Krkonoše. In more recent times, many were converted into places of accommodation and guest lodging.

Some of these historical mountain huts include Luční bouda, Martinova bouda, and Vosecká bouda. Krkonosskeboudy.cz is a great resource for those looking for more information.

If it's specifically the thrill of skiing you are after, the Krkonoše Mountains are said to boast some of the best slopes the Czech Republic has to offer.

Companions on the chairlift (Photo: MichaEli CC)Companions on the chairlift (Photo: MichaEli CC)

Špindlerův Mlýn - the name translates to Špindler's Mill - is one of the most well-known and most frequented resorts in the country. The reason for its unparalleled popularity may have something to do with its 20 runs, the highest offering of any resort in the Czech Republic , or it may have something to do with the fact Franz Kafka lived there when writing one of his most famous works, The Castle.

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If downhill is not your style, however, fear not: Špindlerův Mlýn also has numerous marked trails for hiking and cross-country skiing, too. More information can be found on the town's website, Spindleruv-mlyn.cz.

About an hour northwest of Špindlerův Mlýn is another attractive winter holiday destination - a town along the Mumlava River, called Harrachov, located 700 meters above sea level. There a variety of winter sports await active vacationers - the truly daring should be sure to check out Čerťák, one of the six ski-flying hills in the world. For the uninitiated, this extreme version of jumping emphasizes one's ability to glide through the air.

If winter sports are to you not much more than an easy way to hurt yourself, Harrachov also offers a tourable glassworks with a microbrewery and glass museum, a ski museum and even beer-themed spa treatments.

More information can be found at Harrachov.cz.

Cottage comfort

When planning accommodation for vacations and trips, often one of the first words that come to mind is, inevitably, hotel. But if headed for the ski slopes or quaint towns surrounding the Czech capital, why not opt for a cozy cottage?

For trip taking, holiday cottages are becoming an increasingly popular option among vacationers worldwide for their relaxing and hassle-free features. This lodging experience doubles in wow factor in particularly picturesque destinations covered in a fresh layer of downy snow and with the scent of logs burning in the fireplace.

An extensive variety of cottages are available in several locations throughout the country, with many selections to accommodate different budgets and needs. Topas Pension (above, Penzion-topas.cz) is one such option, located in the mountains in Pec pod Sněžkou, near the border of Poland about two and a half hours east of Prague.

Its position, at an altitude of 900 meters, directly on the slopes, allows easy access for hikers, bikers, snowshoers and skiers alike, and the complex was recently completely renovated. The guest house is a bar and a restaurant right on the piste, and guests enjoy a 20 percent discount on ski rental, equipment and lessons.

To search a variety of offerings in the Czech Republic, vacationers can try Agency InterBohemia (Czech-holiday-houses.com), which since 1990 has specialized in renting holiday houses. The website has an extensive database through which vacation-seekers can search for the ideal holiday stay experience.

Czechs vs their old occupiers, Russia (Photo by S.Yume CC)Czechs vs their old occupiers, Russia (Photo by S.Yume CC)

How about hockey?

Perhaps one of the best ways to enjoy wintertime in the Czech Republic is with a beer and a good old-fashioned brawl - on the ice, that is.

It's no secret that hockey is one of the country's most popular pastimes, and for good reason: The national team is consistently ranked among the six best in the world. Czechs took the gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics, and the squad won three straight championships from 1999 to 2001.

There are several Czech ice hockey teams to check out this winter. HC Slavia (Hc-slavia.cz) is among the most popular teams, with home games in the 17,360-capacity O2 Arena. The extremely popular HC Sparta (Hcsparta.cz) plays in the smaller-capacity Tipsport Arena in Prague 7. Sports fans may also be interested in seeing Rytíři Kladno (Hc-kladno.cz) in action at their 8,600-capacity Zimní stadium.

Jaromír Jágr, arguably the best Czech player of his generation, started out at HC Kladno. He now owns the team!

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