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Skiing in Kozuf (Macedonia)

Discovering the Macedonian ski resort of Kozuf

Sitting on the edge of Europe, in the heart of the Balkans, Macedonia is one of the states formed after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, from which it gained independence in 1991… While generally little known, this small country deserves closer inspection… especially if you love wide-open expanses of practically untouched snow. Yes, these actually do exist, and right on the doorstep of Europe.

Try to imagine for an instant a mountain range peaking at 2,208m, nestled between Greece and Macedonia; a mountain range that was completely closed to the public from 1945 to 1992, by military order … The result is a vast tract of nature, completely forgotten by Man, and even by God too, who didn't know quite what to do with it.
The genesis of a dream
But, a certain Angel Nakov, a Macedonian businessman with love for hiking, snowboarding and mountains in general, had other plans for the area.
The first time he set foot in Kozuf was in 1986, with his friend and intrepid adventurer, Nicolas Vanier, who had been exploring the mountains right under the soldiers' noses, laying traps and camping in the forest. Self-sufficiency in remote natural surrounding is an old tradition in many countries in Eastern Europe. In 1945, Kozuf was cleared of its inhabitants; 101 villages were flattened, and the population driven down into the plains. All that remained were soldiers, the forest and the local fauna. So much so that many Macedonians did not even know that there were mountains in that part of the world. Which is not surprising since they weren't even shown on maps!
In 1992, the law changed. The soldiers left, and Kozuf was reopened. Angel set up a duty-free shop at the border, began buying up land, built a farm and a road, and began exploring the mountain range on scooter and on foot. And in 2001 he decided to build a ski resort in Kozuf.
We actually drove along his new road, from Gevgelia, on the Greek border, to the resort. The scenery is uncommonly wild and unspoilt, and the trees, which have never been exploited for wood, are gigantic. There is absolutely nothing for kilometres, and you are more likely to see wolves than another human being! Amazing!
A yet-to be-explored area
2009: the beginning of the adventure
Five years later, against all odds, and in an unstable political climate, the ski resort was finally ready: the first buildings, the first inhabitants, and the first Doppelmayr cable car. The resort opened for its first trial season in 2009. A cable-car and 2 button lifts take skiers up to an altitude of between 1,500 and 2,200 metres, setting them down in the heart of an immense forest. The road has been enlarged and is now 9 metres wide, making the resort more easily accessible. In terms of accommodation, the site boasts several chalets and 2 hotels in their final phase of completion. "Everything is on a human scale", confides Angel, who is more passinate than ever about his project. "If we were to compare this with a foreign ski resort, Kozuf could be likened to Lecht in Austria. I love this place, and I want each visitor, each skier and snowboarder, to experience the same thing I felt when I first visitied this site".
Crazy, idealistic or visionary? Angel could certainly be described as a bit of all three. The adventure of Kozuf--a ski resort built entirely from scratch--is an exception in Europe, where the focus is now more on improving existing structures than on new construction. In this small impoverished nation, recovering from war, one man has managed to a live out his dreams. We wish him all the best (according to latest reports, the season is coming along well!)
The most up-to-date equipment
In a nutshell
Macedonia is a small country situated to the north of Greece, to the west of Bulgaria and to the east of Albania.
25,333 km²; half the size of Switzerland
2 million inhabitants, composed of ethnic Macedonians (60%), Albanians (20%), and various other nationalities (Bulgarian, Greek, Croate, Bosnia, and Roma)

Kozuf is 33 km from Gevgelia (a Macedonian town on the Greco-Macedonian border, with an international railway station), 150 km from Skopje (the Macedonian capital), and 120 km from the airport in Thessaloniki.
Skiing at an altitude of 2,200 m just a stone's throw away from Greece? Yes, because the 80km² Kozuf mountain range forms a natural barrier between the Mediterreanean climate afforded by the Aegean Sea (just 35 km away as the crow flies) and the continental climate. Which accounts for the high degree of precipitation locally, and an average annual snowfall of 1.50 m. The 2,000-hectare resort is situated at an altitude of between 1,500 and 2,200 m. The highest point is Zelenbreg Peak (2,208 m), which is just 100 m from the Greek border.
Snow guaranteed
Additional information
www.skikozuf.com.mk
Macedonia Tourist Information Office: www.exploringmacedonia.com
Ski pass for 35 km of slopes + 2 new slopes for the winter 2010 season: €13.00.

Getting there
Several flights to Skopje via Zurich, with airfares ranging from 200 to 500 Euros.
Macedonian airlines website: www.mat.com.mk or Austrian Airlines via Vienna.

Formalities, money, transport
Passeport required. ATMs widely available in Skopje; Euros can easily be changed in the capital. Good bus service throughout the entire country.

Weather
www.meteoblue.com
www.meteo.gov.mk

Guides, books and maps
Petit Futé Guide: "Macedonia"
Map of the Shar Mountains, published by the Tetovo mountain club.
Books (French): "L’espoir est une chose ridicule" and "De l’esprit chez les abrutis" by Alexandar Hemon, published by 10/18; or "Balkan transit" by François Maspero, published by Points

On the border with Greece
Tip
Why not take advantage of your trip to Kozuf to visit nearby Greece?
View MediaHols holiday rentals in Greece:
http://www.mediavacances.com/FR/location-vacances_grece_idr1-5/locations.php
Photos: N. Cuche E. Beallet
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