- Associated Press - Thursday, March 8, 2012

BIALKA TATRZANSKA, Poland — Just a few years ago, winter was a dead season for the Kotelnica Mountain, quiet under a quilt of snow.

Today, Kotelnica vibrates with the activity of countless ski buffs who flock to the new resort, one of Poland’s most trendy.

The amazing transformation happened in a decade and reflects the inventiveness and spirit of enterprise seen in Poland since a market economy arrived with democracy in 1990.

This 17th-century village at the foot of the Tatra mountains in southern Poland was making a modest living on farming and sheep breeding, with some additional funds coming from relatives who had gone — in a long-standing tradition — to the United States for work.

Then, in 2000, some 50 farmers put their heads together and started a joint venture to develop a ski resort, similar to the ones some of them had seen in Austria or Switzerland when Poles were finally allowed to freely travel abroad in the 1990s.

Kotelnica Mountain in the village of Bialka Tatrzanska in southern Poland. (Associated Press)
Kotelnica Mountain in the village of Bialka Tatrzanska in southern Poland. (Associated ... more >

“They thought that we should also do something like that, with equal success,” said Wladyslaw Piszczek, who is both mayor of the village and president of the ski resort venture.

Each member contributed a sum of money, while they also took out a $650,000 bank loan and bought an Italian ski lift from another community in Poland that never had it installed.

Ten years on, Bialka Tatrzanska, about a 90-minute drive from the Renaissance city of Krakow, is among Poland’s leading centers for skiers of all ages and levels, a favorite family winter sports venue though less demanding and more modest than many Western European resorts.

A recent ranking of Poland’s ski centers by the Onet.pl Internet portal deemed it the country’s second-most-popular ski resort based on the quality of the slopes and other amenities. In first place was Krynica Gorska, which has been around longer and boasts more challenging slopes.

Bialka Tatrzanska has a school employing some 80 instructors who stay busy in their black-and-orange jackets from morning until well after dark. It has six large and nine small ski lifts that take about 15,000 skiers per hour to the top of the Kotelnica and Bania mountain slopes. The longest route is nine-tenths of a mile.

A thermal spa — built with a loan of some $26 million — opened this season and a second hotel is under construction. All of them have created hundreds of jobs.

At the foot of the Kotelnica peak, the village of less than 2,000 residents now thrives on visitors who mostly lodge in private houses, eat at the inns and shop in newly built supermarkets. Some 10,000 tourists can be accommodated at a time.

“Now all of Bialka and the entire county live off [the ski resort],” Mr. Piszczek said.

Bialka’s reputation has spread across Poland’s borders, with Russian, Ukrainian, German and even English heard on the slopes, although not much foreign publicity has been done.

Vasyl Grib and his friends drove 600 miles from Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine.

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