Despite their soaring name, the Eagle Mountains in the Czech Republic are more like beautiful rolling hills. At least that’s how I felt until I stepped on the longest suspension bridge in the world, taking in the deep view and being hit by a strong gust of wind.
“Don’t worry, we won’t close them until the wind speed here reaches 140 km/h,” said Martin Palán, general manager of Dolní Morava, the mountain resort that spent two years building the record-breaking bridge.
I was glad to have escaped the Czech version of a hurricane. But as I progressed down that narrow suspension bridge, the discomfort and wobble quickly dissipated, so I stopped keeping my hand on the guardrail. The bridge is so stable that next winter skiers will be allowed to walk across it in their ski boots, Palán said.
Inaugurated in May, Sky Bridge 721 – it spans 721 meters – is a stunning feat of Czech engineering. I remembered the rickety openings of some much shorter footbridges, even when designed by star architects. It took London nearly two years to repair Norman Foster’s rickety Millennium Bridge, while Venice and Bilbao rebuilt Santiago Calatrava’s footbridges to keep pedestrians from slipping.
This sky bridge, which is 95 meters above the ground at its highest point, is on a 2km loop trail that is flat enough for younger children to enjoy. It’s also an indicator of whether a low-lying ski resort can reinvent itself as a year-round mountain tourism destination at a time when climate change is forcing us to rethink our vacations.
In fact, according to Palán, Dolní Morava, which built its first ski lifts in the 1970s, attracts more visitors in summer than in winter, which seemed unthinkable when it first started, for the resort’s current owner, Jiří Rulíšek, a Czech developer, to work . A decade ago, “we really didn’t have any visitors in the summer, just a few hikers but not even mountain bikers,” Palán recalls.
At the main lift, every second chair is now reserved for heavily padded bikers, who then zoom down the trails cut through the pine trees. The trails are “really impressive, worth riding 300km because I haven’t found anything that good in Poland,” said Radek Kajor, a visiting biker with his 15-year-old son from the Polish city of Bielsko-Biała was.
In winter, the downhill slopes are maintained with the help of countless snow-making machines fed by a new water reservoir. The highest slope of Dolní Morava starts at an altitude of about 1200 meters above sea level. “In the Czech Republic, we had to think about climate change early on because we don’t have the Alps,” said Palán. “I think it doesn’t make sense now for a resort to only focus on winter.”
But even if Dolní Morava’s huge investment pays off with thousands of visitors and full parking lots in the height of summer, I still toured the many attractions of the place and wondered what such infrastructure means for climate change.
Aside from its footbridge, Dolní Morava already had its Sky Walk, a viewpoint built in 2015 in the form of a giant steel coil from which visitors can rush down a spiraling tube slide. When I visited, one of them was a heavily tattooed man with a thick gold necklace and a t-shirt that said “Porn”. He was accompanied by the film crew for Warsaw shorePoland’s version of the American TV reality show Jersey Shore. “This place is surprising, full of adrenaline and emotion, that’s all we like,” a producer told me.
My adrenaline certainly rose on the 3km roller coaster that took me down to the base of the resort, where adventure playgrounds ensure a high-octane family outing. Younger children can slide down the trunk of a giant mammoth sculpture, dam small streams or float on a small lake, while teenagers can jump from an 8-meter platform onto an inflatable mattress.
“I really don’t need any of these attractions to enjoy nature, but my kids love them,” said Honsa Dobíšek, a Czech visiting his home country from Ireland.
For all the fun, there are poignant reminders of a more tragic past along the trails. Near the footbridge, families wander past a military bunker that was part of a failed attempt to fortify the border and prevent Hitler’s 1938 annexation of the Sudetenland. After World War II, Dolní Morava lost much of its population as the German speakers were pushed out.
I ended the afternoon with a coffee with the daughter of the resort owner, Eva Rulišková. Bulldozers were digging up the earth nearby. Her family business adds another hotel, four apartment buildings and a spa. Rulišková, 25, is now a director and hopes to one day emulate her father’s action-packed resort elsewhere. However, she acknowledged that his mountain tourism model might not be suitable for every country. “In my opinion, the Czechs prefer to be surrounded by people than others,” she said.
Raphael Minder is the FT’s Central Europe correspondent
Raphael Minder was a guest of CzechTourism (visitczechrepublic.com). More information about visiting Dolní Morava can be found at dolnimorava.cz
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