Jested Mountain

07-02-2007

This edition of Spotlight comes to you from the Czech Republic's famous Jested Mountain: the site of a popular ski hill as well as a space-age hotel.

"Welcome to another edition of Spotlight this time coming to you from the Czech Republic's Jested Mountain found right near the town of Liberec, North Bohemia. It's the site of a famous ski hill and it's also the site of a very famous hotel. This is the area we're going to visit today."

I've come to Jested Mountain in part because this year's ski season has begun so late. While officially it may have started in December, the season until recently was remarkably mild. The first decent snowfall arrived just two weeks ago and you can imagine the result: the first snow made headlines in most newspapers splashed photos of skiers and snowboarders across many of their front pages. Skiers zig-zagging down new runs, relieved the snow had come at last.

Ještěd, photo: Štěpánka BudkováJeštěd, photo: Štěpánka Budková By comparison, my visit to Jested comes on a weekday, when it's not quite as busy. Still, it's respectable enough: there are a fair number of visitors on the hill:

"I'm a skier but I have to say that the conditions are not yet ideal. Last weekend was important but I don't think conditions are quite there yet."

"I'm from Liberec and I can tell you that while things are getting better we could still use a bit more snow. Today my daughter is doing the skiing but I ski as well. My daughter is now six but she's already been learning three years. She loves skiing, she really does."

Jested has a number of advantages and one of them is that the mountain lies just an hour's drive from Prague. It's even better if you are from Liberec, a city of a hundred thousand that begins at the hills' edge. Those who want to leave their cars at home can do so fairly easily and opt instead to come by tram. The stop is roughly one kilometre away.

After that, it's a short walk up.

A couple of children "hot-dog" down a kids' run while snowboarders tackle Jested's main face. All things considered all seem to be having a pretty good time. According to Radka Zahorova, an organiser for Snowhill, the company that operates Jested Mountain, skiers can choose from moderate to intermediate runs, although a well-known "expert" trail unfortunately remains too rocky to be opened yet.

"Here at Jested we have one really difficult run called 'Slalomak' which we are trying to get open but we couldn't open yet. We are working on it and would like to get it open as soon as possible. It's a very popular run with skiers. "

How much do you distinguish between traditional skiers and snowboarders?

"Actually I would say it's about half-and-half. Every day we get more and more snowboarders. This area is for everybody and we are even happy to get people just coming for a visit to enjoy the restaurants."

This year, visitors have also gotten the chance to use the hill's brand new quad chairlifts. Ever wondered how such chairs are tested? You might be surprised by the answer:

"The building of the last quad chairlift finished in December when we were doing testing. We put three hundred kegs on the chairlift and we were working and testing the breaks and everything that is necessary for the running of the lift."

You see, some people wouldn't believe me that you send kegs of beer up the hill, that it's a normal process. But it's true!

"Yes it's true: it's a normal process. Sometimes you can put bags of sand but the beer is interesting for people and it's a bit of marketing and it's easy to get on and off the chairs."

Hotel Ještěd (& TV tower), photo: Štěpánka BudkováHotel Ještěd (& TV tower), photo: Štěpánka Budková Once on the chairs, skiers - not kegs - get a stunning view of Jested blanketed in white. But, that's not the only way up. When you're finished with skiing for the day you can also take a cable car (which requires a separate ticket from Czech Railways) to the very top. 1,012 metres above sea level at the very peak is where you'll find one of this country's most stunning works of architecture: Hotel Jested, a structure that dominates all views from afar when not shrouded in clouds or mist.

Now, you can see it up close: the conical hotel reminds some of a spaceship crowning the hill's peak. A TV tower famously integrated within its elongated structure, rises almost 100 metres up. In the white out of a winter's day it appears even more mysterious.

Inside, the hotel offers the services of a restaurant, a café and a classy metallic bar plus twelve rooms and two apartments for anyone wanting to spend the night. Petr Beitel, is one of the owners of the firm in charge of the hotel.

Hotel Ještěd, photo: Štěpánka BudkováHotel Ještěd, photo: Štěpánka Budková "The history of Jested is a fascinating one of course. The mountain was always a popular destination even in the early 20th century when Liberec was a mostly-German town. Clubs organising hitchhiking and climbs were popular and in those days an historic mountain hotel stood here, which later burnt down. After that, it was unthinkable that the peak would be without a hotel, so a tender was put forward for a design that would also incorporate a communications antenna. The best proposal put forward was this hotel by architect Karel Hubacek."

The whole structure - which has received prestigious awards and is recognised internationally as one of the country's most notable buildings - is built around a reinforced steel and concrete core with a laminate frame covered by aluminium plating. Construction began in the 1960s and the project was completed in 1973. Even today the building is radical in its design. One aspect, appreciated fully only by guests when all the chambers are opened, is the hotel's circular structure, which allows you to wander without ever reaching an "end". Some have compared the somewhat unsettling feeling to a famous shot in Kubrick's The Shining where the camera endlessly follows one of the characters in circles. Similarly on New Year's, guests at Hotel Jested can go from restaurant to bar to café and arrive back where they started. Petr Beitl once again:

The view from Ještěd, photo: Štěpánka BudkováThe view from Ještěd, photo: Štěpánka Budková "Of course at New Year's the hotel is very popular and this is really one of the few times we open up the whole circle. At New Year's rooms are usually reserved by a firm and the views can be spectacular. On a clear night you can see fireworks not only in nearby Liberec but throughout the rest of the country, all around, all at once. You can see some taking place as many as 80 kilometres away."

Impressive indeed, but you won't see anything like that now. When you step out of "the spaceship" that Hotel Jested is in the winter every tree, every metal railing and window is covered in frosted snow. It is also quite windy, so button up. Sure: in the summer Hotel Jested sees no shortage of hikers and mountain bikers but the winter here is special. Skiing or just visiting the hotel, says one traveller I spoke with, it doesn't matter: either way it's a beautiful visit.

07-02-2007