- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 February 7, 2003 

Winter World: Resort town hopes to shape itself into cold-weather paradise

Small and fragile snowflakes quietly fall from the sky to weave a huge white blanket over the mountains of Tsaghkadzor and the small town. It seems the snow leaves the naked trees breathless while turning nature into a winter paradise.

Here, about two hours north of Yerevan, lovers of nature and winter gather for sport and rest, arriving by early morning armed with skis and sleighs, hurrying to get to the foot of Teghenis Mountain for soaring by funicular toward the mountaintop.

Seated alone in the open seat of the ski lift, shoes touching the tops of tree branches on the slow climb, visitors start to realize a breathtaking world from a bird's view of the mountain and valleys.

"The nature is fantastic here," says 20-year old Gurpreet Singh, who is from India and a student at the Medical University of Armenia and who visits Tsaghkadzor several times each winter with his school mates. "I like this place very much. It's very enchanting for me."

In Soviet times Tsaghkadzor was the main sport base of the USSR's Olympic team. Throughout the year different teams visited for training. There were approximately 30 school camps in the town as well and thousands of Armenian schoolchildren used to spend their vacations there.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union the camps and the training facilities were left abandoned and robbed. But step by step over the past several years, Tsaghkadzor is re-emerging as a holiday retreat.

"Armenia has a great potential of developing winter sports," says Artur Zakaryan, head of Tourism Department of the Ministry of Trade and Economic Development. "In its turn the nature created all conditions."

Zakaryan says it is possible to develop traditional winter sports which are popular all over the world.

"However, Tsaghkadzor with its infrastructure is not ready yet for becoming a center of winter sports. It still has no necessary documentation, which will allow it to enter the world market. It still functions only for the locals."

While nature has provided the environment, Tsaghkadzor still lacks a good hotel network, high-quality service system, centers of public catering and renting centers, which will provide tourists with skis, sleigh and snowboards.

"For the present moment those systems are on the primitive level," says Zakaryan.

And for the present moment the main project of Tsaghkadzor's town-planning is being prepared. Its aim is to turn the town into a center of tourism and sport.

"Before summer as soon as we prepare the project we must offer to investors those lands which are provided for building resting zones and rest houses," says mayor of Tsaghkadzor Garoon Mirzoyan, "according to the acting legislation a contest will be announced and winners notified of its results"

There are only 1,700 residents in Tsaghkadzor, where the livelihood is mainly service oriented. As a means of earning additional money residents rent rooms of their apartments, their own skis, sleigh and snowmobiles to tourists.

One can pay 500 drams (about 80 cents) and ride to the foot of a mountain by horse. One can rent an ordinary sled with a "wheel", for $3 to $5 per hour. But after some bargaining one can rent it for the same money for the whole day. Rent for skis starts from 5000 drams (about $8.50).The most luxurious here is to rent a snowmobile, which costs at least $20.

For 400 drams (about 75 cents) the funicular will take you to the top of the mountain. It was constructed in 1970 equal to the length of Teghemis Mountain's slope (4,595 meters) and it has three stations. Teghemis Mountain is 3,000 meters above sea level and has a five kilometer skiing route.

A group of volunteer rescue workers, the "White Brigade", are on duty in case of accidents. They say it requires about 40 minutes to get someone off the mountain. This year there have been three such incidents.

There are more than two dozen active hotels in town, averaging about $25 per day for a room with hot water, television and telephone. Those affording more comfortable conditions can have a rest in the high-priced hotels, which have rooms costing up to $200.

For the budget traveler, rooms (with little change since Soviet times) can be found for as little as $6 per day. But the price is indicative of the quality of comfort.

"It is expected that in five years there will be a very developed infrastructure here", says head of the Tourism Department. "This is our problem, how to package our merchandise to present it and to sell it on the international market.

"Stability of the country and internal safety are the primary conditions for the tourist, and these conditions are on relatively good grounds."


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  Photos of the week
  Photo of the week: Talk Time
Click on the photo above to enlarge

Photo of the week: Talk Time
Click on the photo above to enlarge

Ups and Downs of Campaign 2003

In the second week of campaigning, crowds turned out to cheer President Robert Kocharyan. And a crowd turned riotous at a rally for Aram Karapetyan, leaving MP Hayk Babukhanyan recovering from a stabbing.



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