Last week the Horeny family – close family friends – invited me to Avilina for the weekend. Avilina is a small city in northern Slovakia situated not far from the Czech and Polish borders. Nestled amongst the hills of the Mala Fatra, Avilina is surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery. Avilina is also surrounded by opportunities to ski and snowboard.
We woke up early Saturday morning and set out for Winter Park Martinky (Martinske Hole) after a quick breakfast. I was energized with anticipation as we climbed the hill – past numerous vehicles struggling up the ice-patched steep – in Jaro’s sturdy-four-wheel-drive Suzuki. Apparently, four wheel drive or chains are a must when driving in the mountains.
I rented a snowboard and boots for 15 Euro, and we hit the hills. I hit them. I hit the hills so hard my hat and glasses flew off. Your first day snowboarding – as my friend Ryan so adeptly warned me – sucks. Not only do you have to suffer catching your edge and falling hard on your face, but you have to endure the embarrassment that comes with doing it in front of crowds of people. But push on! Everyone of those people – who are no doubt laughing at you on the inside – started somewhere too. Bye the end of day one at Martinky, I was comfortable on both edges, carving, stopping, etc. On day two it went very well at Makov until we got rained out. The only time I fell then was on the lift – four times – which pulled you up via a crooked pole you straddle.
After a weekend of snowboarding, something occurred to me. There are two surefire ways to emasculate a man, or at least neutralize his ego. The first, is to put him in an unfamiliar place where he doesn’t speak the language, and leave him there for a while. He’ll have to surrender your ego – to some extent – to learn a new language among native speakers. The second, is to put that man on a snowboard for his first time. After numerous humiliating and uncoordinated-looking falls, his ego will serve him only in getting him up to try again.
Another thing occurred to me. I was welcomed into the home of people that my mother grew up with in Slovakia. I was able to reconnect with another first generation of children whom I met some 12 years ago during my first trip to Slovakia. Our group of children comprise the collective offspring of people who grew up together as best friends and now live thousands of miles away from each other. It means a lot to me to be able to return to this place and communicate in the native language. I hope that in the future I will be able to return the favor for having enjoyed the incredible hospitality and rich family life that is a mainstay here in Slovakia.
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