Cat Skiing in North Macedonia - Adventures in the Shar Mountains!
With the Japanese borders still being closed to foreign tourists in January 2022, we were forced to get creative and look for a new early season ski destination. Thankfully we found an amazing cat skiing operation based out of the Popova Sapka ski resort in the NW of North Macedonia, about 1.5 hours from the capital city Skopje on the border with Kosovo.
You wouldn't be alone in not considering North Macedonia as a ski destination, but it has a lot going for it. The Shar Mountains pick up a decent amount of snow early in the season, with frequent storms coming in from the Adriatic sea to the west and the Aegean sea to the south east. The mountain is mostly covered in meadow, so it only needs about 50cm's of snow for the cats to operate.
The resort of Popova Sapka is North Macedonia's most popular resort. There are 8 different ski areas in the country and Popova Sapka is the second biggest with 9 lifts, 20 km's of slopes and 817m (2,680ft) vertical drop. The ski area is small compared to the size of the cat skiing tenure, with 80km2 of backcountry slopes available for exploration, with skiing on all aspects above and below treeline. That enabled the local guides to find the best snow depending on conditions.
With their modern, powerful Pisten Bully and Leitner-Poma cats, we were able to quickly access runs and ski a lot of vertical each day. The scenery is beautiful and on a clear day, we could see across to 5 different countries (Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece) and the city of Tetovo (5th largest in North Macedonia with a population of 53,000 people).
This is what the cat skiing in the Shar Mountains can look like......
Food and Drink
We ate like kings! Nearly all the food was included and we had a huge buffet breakfast in the morning, lunches we with the cats and then dinner, was a sample from the menu. Macedonian's like their meat, but they also eat a lot of fresh salads and the freshly-baked breads are great. North Macedonian wine is also very good, but watch out for the Rakia (local type of brandy), it's pretty potent and Macedonian's like to toast and drink it a lot!
Our trip started and ended in the capital city, Skopje. We enjoyed a lovely tour around the city with a knowledgeable, English-speaking local guide and they showed us the main sites, including the Macedonia Square, the Stone Bridge, Old Bazaar, Kale Fortress and many of the cities statues. We also enjoyed a delicious 5-course wine pairing at the Chateau Kamnik winery, which is not to be missed! Here are some of the sites of Skopje.
Getting to North Macedonia
It's very easy to travel to North Macedonia. Most countries can get a tourist visa on arrival and flights to Skopje are inexpensive. We flew from the US to Vienna, Austria and then onto Skopje from there. Currently there are no COVID travel restrictions for travel to North Macedonia.
Overall, we had a great time in North Macedonia and the skiing exceeded our expectations and the culture, food and people, were amazing. Cat skiing in most countries can be very expensive, but in North Macedonia, it is very affordable and definitely worth exploring, if you want to experience an exciting all-round adventure. North Macedonia should not be missed and we'll be back there in 2022. I can't wait!