STORY - January 10th 2004A ski track almost one kilometer long, on which one may ski even at night, few beds available for over night stay and a lot of commotion over the week-end - this was Arieseni in the past two days.
By CRISTIAN PETRU - in Arieseni
High season: one could ski on the Vartop ski-track since November
When exiting Arieseni, in the Alba County, one was several kilometers away from the ski-track at Vartop, and yet cars were parked on the sides of the road, and people carried their skis on their backs. The closer you got to the ski-track the greater the number of people climbing with skies to the track one could see. Almost every car originated from a different county: Hunedoara, Timis, Arad, Cluj, Bihor, Salaj, or from the capital city, Bucharest, and were lined up along those from the local county, Alba.
A good number of busses with Hungarian plate-numbers were lined-up to on the sides of the road. Arieseni is only 120 kilometers east of the Hungarian border.
"The same scene is to be seen here every week-end," says Ioan Terfea, one of the traffic policemen who unsuccessfully attempted to keep some semblance of order.
At the foot of the ski-track some locals were renting their sledges or skis, for 100,000 lei and 200,000 lei per day, respectively.
"We come here only during the week-ends, [to give the equipment on rental], because there are few people coming here during week-days. I am ready to rent even for less than the going rate, only to make some money," said one of the locals, Mrs. Lup. She does not have time to answer my questions though, as she is surrounded by tourists eager to rent skis.
A few meters away, another local, Nicolae Petruse, is also renting skiing equipment, but he has help from a youngster, so he is willing to talk a little bit more: "We make discounts for groups of tourists and for those renting just for an hour." He too says that such business is rife only during the week-ends.
At the foot of the ski-track there is pandemonium: hundreds of people are watching, while others are queuing for a glass of warm wine. Other tens of tourists queue to take a ride up the slope with the ski-lift. The rate is going at 50,000 lei for adults and 30,000 lei for kids under 14.
"It is the first time this year I come to ski here, but not my first time here. There is not much else one can do here. The ski-track is in the shade, so the snow stays longer on its slopes; last year I was able to ski as late as April here. I donât like it though that one has to walk at least 15 kilometers to the accommodation one has in the village. Nothing is very close here.
Today I went down the ski-track some ten times, because the crowd was so big," says Florin Merce, from Arad. Hurrying to get to the top of the ski-track, Ana Maria from Oradea is not impressed that the snow is all real. She is content to be able to ski: "I like it very much here. I was here in the years before and I will come again," says she.
The ski-track is owned by the City Hall in Arieseni. Only the plots of land on which the poles sustaining the ski-lift were licensed to the company running it: Todeaturism from Timisoara.
Unfortunately, there are not many beds to accommodate the tourists in the region: only some 300. The Arieseni Mayor, Marin Jurj, wants to build other four ski-tracks and for the added problem of accommodating more tourists he found a solution too: to license 50 hectares of land to people willing to build hotels and villas in the vicinity of the ski-tracks.
"An architecture company in Alba-Iulia conducts now the feasibility study, and then all investors wiling to come here will be able to do so," said Jurj.
"This is the tenth season since the ski-track started operating and today is the busiest day: there are almost 400 to 500 skiers on the slopes, plus other on sledges. The problems [for exploiting the ski-track] are the lack of infrastructure and accommodation beds. The ski-lift can transport 780 tourists per hour, but there are only some 300 beds to accommodate them. The advantage presented by this ski-track is that it stays at the border of several counties, and so many tourists come here in the morning to leave at night," said Vladimir Todea, the manager of the company operating the ski-lift facilities.
The snow lies 90 centimeters deep on the ski-tracks in Arieseni
The ski-track is 980-meter long and 90-meter wide, with a difference of 220 meters between its top-end and its bottom-end, which puts it in a "color red" class.
The depth of the snow blanket and the quality of night-time lighting put the track into the five or six stars category.
Also, the record of ski accidents is a good one, in the sense that no major ones occurred.
The team of mountain rescuers of Alba County and the Mountain Rangers are under contract with the company managing the ski-track, to insure the safety of tourists.
"Unfortunately, during week days, there are more employees than tourists on the ski-track," adds Todea. The night-time lighting of the ski-track works only on Fridays and Saturdays, between 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Beginners may take the Vartop ski-track, while those descending on sledges are relegated to a smaller track, used mainly by kids.
At the foot of the slopes one could find something to nibble on or warm-up on like a glass of boiling wine, or tea, or vodka. The prices are going at 10,000 lei for a cup of tea, at 15,000 lei for a cup of warm wine, while a doughnut filled with gem, or cheese, or potatoes and garlic goes for 15,000 lei. No chance for taking a seat in the small venues, though, at the week-end.
Translation: ANCA PADURARU