Warm weather leaves Balkan ski centres empty

By Dado Ruvic Fatos Bytyci

BJELASNICA, Bosnia/BREZOVICA, Kosovo (Reuters) - Bajazit Alomerovic saw in the New Year in 2022 skiing down the Bjelasnica slopes into the fireworks, an adrenaline boost that made him return this year to the mountain above the Bosnian capital Sarajevo.

But due to very warm weather across Europe there is no snow and Alomerovic, who is from Sarajevo, can only hope the weather changes while he is still on holiday at the Bjelasnica resort.

"There is no snow but weather is nice all the same, we have spring instead of winter," smiled Alomerovic, who talked to Reuters in the ski resort that was home to the 1984 Winter Olympics. "We have been waiting for snow every day but now we'll have to leave."

Although the ski season should be full swing at this time of year, ski centres in Bosnia, Kosovo and North Macedonia remain mostly empty.

Some are offering panoramic rides to admire the views, but most chairlifts hang lifeless above the grassy and muddy slopes, with just few patches of snow.

Some Albanian tourists who visited the Brezovica ski centre in Kosovo on Thursday complained that chairlifts were not working and they could not take photos from the mountain top, which does have some snow cover.

"I don't remember any year like this for the last 30 years," said Igor Nikolcevic, who owns a pizza bar in Brezovica but who was taking the dog for a walk given the lack of customers.

"This is the first time in my life that I've seen plus 5 or 10 (Celsius, 41 or 50 Fahrenheit) in January."

The ski season in most centres in the region was due to open in early December, but has been delayed. Officials and hoteliers hope that colder weather will come and help them save the season.

"It is very difficult to predict what will happen as January is the key month for business in the region," said Aldin Smajkan from the ZOI Olympic Center Sarajevo, operating the Bjelasnica and Igman ski centres.

At Mavrovo, North Macedonia's largest ski centre, nearly 70%-80% of hotel reservations have been cancelled due to lack of snow, according to Ognen Cigovski, the general manager of the Bistra ski resort.

Hoteliers are offering hiking and bicycle tours to visitors.

"We can still hope there will be some snowfalls so that we try save the season," Cigovski told Reuters.

"You know, people come to Mavrovo to ski, not for hiking or bicycle riding."

(Additional reporting by Ognien Teofilovski in Mavrovo; Writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Frances Kerry)