Some resorts menace you with near-vertical couloirs or endless mogul fields. Romania's Poiana Brasov throws a different kind of scare into you. Set in the mist-shrouded Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania, about three hours from Bucharest, this mountain town marks the spot where Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula, routinely skewered the heads of his enemies on wooden stakes. (Fondue, anyone?) These days, Poiana Brasov's visitors tote skis in lieu of crucifixes, but the Dracula legend lives. Atmospheric Bran Castle, where the Impaler indulged in his torturous pastimes during the 15th century, is a local tourist magnet 30 minutes from the ski hill.
Of course, the resort itself wasn't around in Vlad's day, but it does go back a ways. Founded in 1895 as a vacation retreat for the locals of the nearby city of Brasov, it made the transition to winter resort in 1906, holding its first ski competition three years later.In 1950, two cable cars and a gondola began hauling skiers up to eight wide trails, offering 2,500 feet of vertical. Poiana Brasov's longest run is a blue named Lupului, or Wolf, but the most bloodcurdling terrain lies off-piste: Pine forests tumble into thickly wooded glades where guides steer powder-seekers through the Bear's Forest and other well-cloaked stashes.
Some Transylvanians still believe that vampires prowl the 5,000- to 8,000-foot-high range that hems in the town. Perhaps the chilling legends, retold with relish at both centuries-old farmhouse restaurants and chic new nightspots, are what keep rates down: Lift tickets run $15-$20, a room at the four-star Hotel Miruna averages $70 a night and a private lesson at the ski school costs $10. The resort lures an adventurous, largely European crowd.
Boldness is a prerequisite in town, too, where the après scene is all about sinking your teeth into the local culture. At Coliba Haiducilor (The Outlaws' Hut), the lamb stew comes in a sheep's skull so you can spoon out the tongue and brains yourself. The walls are lined with guns-the restaurant was a hunting lodge-and the tattered skins of wild boars, wolves and brown bears. (Bear steak is one of the most popular dishes on the menu.) With bellies full, skiers hit the bars in the village, where a bottle of Romania's full-bodied red wine will run you $4, and the local beer, Silva, is a mere 20 cents. But when the lifts start cranking the next morning, your guide will be waiting to show you the hairiest terrain out there. And if he offers to take you nightskiing? Shoulder your skis and keep walking.
WHITE FRIGHT Poiana Brasov-in the Carpathians near Dracula's Bran Castle, below-is a century-old ski resort with a chilling past.