Jeseníky – A tough but beautiful mountain range

Photo: Luděk Brhel

They may not feature sharp alpine peaks, but the Jeseníky Mountains are beautiful in their own right. The Silesian mountain range offers an enjoyable pastime to both skiers and mountain hikers, who can also view the largest Czech and Slovak mountain peaks from Praděd TV tower, the highest point in the Czech Republic.

Photo: Luděk Brhel

It is a picturesque winter day in Jeseníky located in the country’s north/east. White hoarfrost covers the many pine trees, the hillsides are filled with snow and, every now and then, a snowman peeks out at you from the sides of the pistes.

It is in one of the popular local ski centres, Ovčárna, that we meet Martin Hon, the man in charge of the local information centre.

"Ovčárna here is the highest placed skiing centre in the whole of the Czech Republic. It is also open the longest, usually from November to Easter. However, it is often misty here and you can’t see further than 100 meters. Those who don’t like the weather tend to visit other local centres such as Malé Morávky and Karlov, which features some of the most modern ski lifts and pistes in Moravia around the Kopřivná hut."

Photo: Luděk Brhel
It is true that there tend to be fewer skiers here than on the better-known slopes of the neighbouring Beskydy mountains. One of the reasons is that the Praděd slopes lie in a national park.

Mr. Hon says this also means a ban on using artificial snow.

"We only have natural snow here. Because of the nature protection laws you cannot use artificial snow chemicals, and skiing is only allowed in areas that have more than a meter of natural snow."

This year however, there is enough of the white powder. All the ski lifts are running and a 5km cross-country skiing route, which leads from Ovčárna to the Švýcárna hut, is also maintained.

Leaving your skis at home and simply going for a walk is also an option of course. The iconic TV tower atop of the Praděd mountain is one of the most favoured destinations. No wonder, since its 162 meters add enough height to make it the highest point in the Czech Republic at 1683 meters above sea level.

As we made our way to the mountain peak we ran into a couple making the same voyage.

Praděd,  photo: Luděk Brhel

"I like it now. The weather was not at its best lower down, but now it has cleared up a bit. I and my wife wanted to go for a walk with our dog. So we drove down here and it’s great."

Praděd is in fact one of the toughest places in the Czech Republic. Winters tend to be long here with the snow maintaining its grip for up to five months during the year. January is usually the coldest month of the year, but even the summers tend to be short and chilly. It is one of the reasons why locals call this mountain the “Glacier of Jeseníky”.

Winter Sirvival,  photo: Luděk Brhel
The area also hosts one of the toughest endurance competitions called Winter Survival, where soldiers from Brno’s University of Defence compete annually in three-man teams.

The multitude of disciplines demands versatility, says information centre manager Martin Hon.

There are many disciplines. There is downhill skiing as well as the slalom. Then contestants compete in rock climbing, making a fire and providing first aid.”

Jiří Hejtmánek, a member of the local rescue team, says that while it does have its fair share of extremes, Praděd is only dangerous to tourists if they break the rules.

Photo: Luděk Brhel
“Right now it’s minus seven degrees, but the clouds are tearing up, so sometimes the sun peeks out at us as well. There are about 180 centimetres of snow and the current avalanche risk scale lies at level two. The slopes are relatively stable you could say, at least the ones on the southern side. The north side is a bit unstable due to the change in snow. But all the avalanche slopes in Jeseníky are outside of the tourist routes, so as long as you maintain the rules of movement in our natural park, you do not have to worry about any avalanches.”

For those who are willing to listen to Mr. Hejtmánek’s advice, Praděd does offer a multitude of possibilities, with many family-friendly pistes, riding tracks and views of the Slovak Tatras.

Praděd, whose peak houses a TV tower, reaches 1491 above sea level making it the highest mountain in the Jeseníky. The tip of the TV adds a further 162 meters, making it technically the highest peak in the country with 1653 meters above sea level. The mountain used to house a stone lookout tower and a postal hut, which was built in the 1940s by Czech workers working with Russian and Polish prisoners of war. But after the Second World War the structure fell into disrepair and came crashing down in 1959. The TV antenna, which was built in its place in the 1980s, now serves as both a lookout tower and a hotel.