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Hitting the Small Slopes

You may not expect much alpine action in one of Europe's flattest piece of real estate, and when you do strap on the skis here, the trip down is so quick that you spend as much time in line for the T-bar as on the exhilarating run.

But for people who can't afford to fly to Davos every weekend, there is lots of fun to be had on Latvia's slopes. Given the topography, enterprising landowners have set up lifts on anything resembling an incline. And there are advantages to skiing in Latvia. Firstly, there are a number of runs within an hour's drive of Riga, so day trips are a piece of cake. Secondly, ski hire and lift tickets only cost a few lats, an absolute bargain compared to ritzy Western resorts. And thirdly, the short, easy hills are ideal for beginners or those whose paralleling skills are a bit rusty.

Probably the closest to the capital is Riekstukalns, a hill in a lovely forest setting near Baldone, south of Riga. Kaķīškalns, Kordes trase and Siguldas trase are all located near Sigulda, where you can also have a go on the only artificial bobsleigh track in the former USSR. Another popular resort a bit further out is Žagarkalns near Cēsis, which also has a 2 km long cross country track. Probably the most developed venue is at Gaiziņkalns, Latvia's highest peak at a mighty 311 meters, where the Lido restaurant chain has set up a ski village. The lift attendants are not however in folk costume.

And just about every hill has a bistro to warm up with fatty food and strong liquor after conquering the mountain.

Skiing in the Baltics:

Otepaa is the winter capital of Estonia and very popular for cross-country skiing.

Another good place to ski is the hills of Vohumm. Located in southern Estonia, you will find plenty of ski centres, tracks and trails.

In Lithuania the place to ski is the winter capital, Ignalina, which is probably more
famous for the nuclear power station nearby.

By Philip Birzulis