Popova Shapka – The pearl of Shar Mountain

06 February, 22:05
Popova Shapka – The pearl of Shar Mountain

3 February 2014

There is a widespread opinion that only true skiers go to Shapka, while those that just want to be seen go to Mavrovo. Skiers say that there is no better place for skiing than Ceripashina. This tourist centre has many ski tracks that are suitable for beginners and professional skiers, snowboarders and those that use a sleigh. The ski tracks can be used for several disciplines, but as people say, skiing off-track was an unforgettable experience. Extreme junkies rank skiing at Shapka among the very top.

Many consider Shapka to be one of the most beautiful tourist centres in Europe. After a few years’ break, the night skiing was restored and the ski centre has seen Serbian, Slovenian and Croatian tourist returning here over the last few years, while the interest for snowboarding has been constantly increasing, especially for the Scandinavian tourists.

Efforts to revive the centre during the summer include organizing the mountain bike marathon and the traditional mountain-climbing to the top, but despite that, there is still a small interest for that period of the year.

Even though it is known as a location that is abundantly rich with snow, this year has been an exception. However, sunny weather, fresh air and the snow, even in the amount that has fallen, are still attracting tourists from the country and the region.

Popova Shapka is set in the heart of Shar Mountain, at an altitude of 1.780 meters. It is located 18 km away from Tetovo and 53 km from Skopje, with a tarmac road that passes through several villages. There was a 7-km long cable-car in use until 2001, but it was heavily damaged during the war conflict and it hasn’t been in use since. Still, getting to Shapka nowadays is much easier than it used to be. Mrs. Zorica from Skopje recalls having to walk from Tetovo to Popova Shapka before the cable-car was built, while skis and bags had to be carried by donkeys and horses.

The legend about the name Popova Shapka (Priest’s hat)

One of the legends says that this centre got its unusual name after a priest who lost his hat. The villagers looked for the hat for a long time, without success, until one of them shouted that it was on the hill, because it looked like a hat. The priest did not find his hat, but the region got the name Popova Shapka (Priest’s hat). There is another legend that says that an orthodox priest on his evangelical mission, visiting the orthodox homes in the Christian villages with Macedonian population, was brutally tortured and killed, with his body left for the forest beasts to tear apart. Only his hat was found at the site, filled with the priest’s blood, which is why the region is called Popova Shapka.

Historical development

Shar Mountain, one of the most beautiful mountains in the Balkans, full of natural rarities, with its great massif, 30 peaks over 2.000 meters and 23 peaks over 2.500 meters, 80 km long ridge, make it ideal for winter sports. That is why the first skiers appeared during the 1920s. In the early 1930s, the skiers from Tetovo and Skopje discover the area around the Popova Shapka peak for the first time, and that marks the beginning of the pearl of Shar Mountain, as called by many, and one of the most famous ski centres in the Balkan. The first ski section of the Mountaineering society “Ljuboten” was formed in 1929.

In 1934, a small number of enthusiasts who started to use the benefits of Shar Mountain built the first mountain house at an altitude of 1.710 meters. It had four rooms with 20 beds in total. The house was reconstructed in 1936 with another floor added, which expanded the capacity to 60 beds.

The first ski competition was also organized in 1934 and ever since, there were ski competitions held every season with an increasing number of skiers from Macedonia and the neighbouring countries. These competitions lasted until the beginning of WWII and are said to be the predecessors of the Cup of Shar Mountain.

After the war, the skiers and mountain enthusiasts from the “Ljuboten” society, along with the citizens of Tetovo, started restoring the house that was tore down during the war. It was re-opened in 1946 and the conditions were created for the first Shar Cup to be organized. There were participants from all of the former Yugoslav countries, as well as Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, both men and women. In the 1954, the Cup of Shar Mountain was admitted to the calendar of the World Ski Federation.

The first Macedonian skiers

According to information from Shar Cup, the first man to complete an expert course for ski instructor was Cone Avramovski from Tetovo. The first ski section within the Sokolski house, led by Avramovski, was opened in 1932, which enabled an organized training for people. During this period, Popova Shapka was increasingly visited from skiers from Tetovo, Skopje, and even Belgrade and Novi Sad. Some of the skiing pioneers from Tetovo were Nikola Nikolovski, Aleksandar Nikolovski, Vlado Leshkovski, Mile Najdenovski, Risto Ristoski, Leko Martinoski, as well as Nuriman Veliju, the famous ski ace from the village of Lisec. He was the first one from his village to join the skiers from Tetovo and Skopje, and turned his home into a hostel for the skiers. Over the next years and decades, he was a multiple winner of the ski competitions at Popova Shapka. He founded the ski society “Shar” in his village, which resulted in several top skiers, including ski legend Refik Jaja.

Monastery complex

The more significant steps toward tourism development were taken in early 1960, when the concept of Popova Shapka was thought through more thoroughly.

In 1992, it was decided that the “St. Mary” monastery will be restored and renamed into monastery complex “Saint Naum of Ohrid”. The complex spread across a surface of 1.5 hectares, with the monastery church being the focal point with its 50 m2 of base. The altitude of 1.730 meters makes it one of the highest located churches in the Balkan. Within the monastery complex, there is a mountain house called “Konak”, located at the ski tracks, and can accommodate small groups of skiers or mountain climbers.

Today, there are several hotels at Popova Shapka, a great number of resorts, mountain houses, as well as a weekend settlement with around 500 houses. The prices are relatively affordable and the restaurants have solid menus to offer. An investment of 30 million euros is planned for further development of the centre, which includes a new six-seat cable car, new tracks, expansion of the current tracks, bigger parking lots and reconstruction of the main road.

Created by: Dragica Hristova

Translated by: Darko Smilevski

source: МИА

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