Michael Cranmer reviews Zakopane Ski Resort and finds it won’t cost the earth.
There’s no denying that skiing is an expensive business. It can be bewildering too if you’re a newbie. Equipment, ski school, how to get there, where to go. Advice comes from all quarters. I discovered a surprising destination that fits the bill for a fair-priced holiday for all ages – Poland, yes, Poland.
It’s nowhere near the top of most lists, with France, Italy, Austria and Switzerland ahead followed by Andorra and Spain. But if you are a beginner or low intermediate, or paying for a family, you don’t need mega-miles of pistes and expensive restaurants and hotels. What you want is good value, safety and fun and Zakopane Ski Resort may be the answer.
Zakowheresee? It’s a resort town in the south of Poland sitting at the foot of the Tatra mountain range near the border with Slovakia, two hours from Krakow airport with its range of flights from the UK. It’s the playground of Poles from the capital and their escape for weekends and holidays, many owning second homes there. It can get very crowded during peak times.
Ski the ‘Burbs
There are two ski areas in Zakopane town, Nosal and Gubałówka Hill at the end of the main street. A short funicular ride takes you to a choice of cafes, concessions, restaurants and a couple of gentle blue ski runs and single lift back. Perfect for starters. Nosal is a bus-ride into the suburbs and has 5 lifts for beginners, a ski school, and restaurant.
Kasprowy Wierch is 5 km from the town and an altogether different animal. Billed as an ‘Alpine’ resort it is set within the beautiful Tatras National Park and strictly controlled. Buses from town aren’t allowed in the park necessitating a 3km trudge in ski boots and carrying skis. There are two lifts, a gondola or 4-person chair, and queues can get long, especially around Christmas and February.
Is it worth the walk and the wait? By Alpine standards, frankly, no. But for ski addicts, yes. From the top station at 1,987m 3.3km of pistes are accessed by exposed ridges, but on a fine day the views are spectacular. This is really the place for ski-touring, outside the remit of this article.
Three for the Price of One.
An hour from Zakopane lie three linked individual resorts centred at Bialka Tatrzanska – Kotelnica, Bania and Kaniowka – with everything from easy greens to confidence-building whooshy blues and a couple of more challenging reds. This is mass ski-tourism with schools, restaurants, hotels, shops, hotels, spa and hot pools, catering for the influx around Christmas and Easter.
The slopes are floodlit for night skiing. Sunset from the top lift is a sight worth seeing. An adult Tatry Super Ski pass is about £30 per day, giving access to 60km of slopes. Equipment rental is correspondingly cheap at around £10 to £20 per day. One-to-one lessons are around £135 for three hours. This is staggeringly cheap compared to western European prices, where lunch on the mountain can cost a family of four £200-£300.
Cross Border Action.
Fancy a ski in Slovakia? Bachledka is an hour from Zakopane. No customs or Border Control to negotiate just the charming woods and villages you pass through, the houses with traditional wedged roofs. This is a true family ski resort with everything you could possibly want for smaller ones: snow tubing, mini-sledding, and a mini-carousel, magic-carpets, and a fairy tale route.
Parents can wait and watch from the nearby café, or ski three interconnecting valleys all covered by the Tatry Super Ski Pass. There’s a treetop walkway, toboggan runs, and affordable accommodation.
Go Mad for Trad.
Back in Zakopane and off the mountain, there’s plenty to do and see. The main street, Krupowki, is lined with trees, wooden stalls selling food, souvenirs, and drinks in front of restaurants, cafes and the usual high street shops. It’s very pretty when snow covered and a pleasant stroll. A must visit is one of the traditional regional restaurants like
Wyźnio Zohylina with huge wooden beams, decorated with boar’s heads and sledges, where you’re served by bustling staff in local costume to the sound of a folk band. Very jolly. Great value-for-money menu including, for example, Pstrąg górski smażony (Pan–fried mountain trout) £4.00, or Pierogi z jagodami (Blueberry dumplings) £7.00. with a very good bottle of Reisling at £17.00.
If sophistication is more in your line the hip STRH Bistro Art Cafe is what is says … cozy bistro, viewing café and gallery in one on the top floor of a stylish tenement house. Extremely good expresso and cheesecake for about £7.00. A far cry from the more commercial bustle of the street below.
Continuing the theme of value-for-money combined with local knowledge, Snowmads could be the answer to your holiday conundrum. Run by Maks and partner Rosie their Chalet Stardust is directly opposite the Nosal ski centre, perfect for beginners. They provide a tailored service from pre-trip advice, in-resort shuttle service, extensive local knowledge and connections with ski rental shops and ski schools. The 120-year-old chalet sleeps 12 guest with 4 en-suite bedrooms. A buffet breakfast and after-skiing cake is provided. 7 nights adult from £349, child £297.
The area around Zakopane is blessed with underground geothermal springs and a visit to any one of the dozens of parks and spas is a must. At Goracy Potok there are saunas, swimming pools inside and out heated to 31C, children’s play pools, and restaurants low and high end. Families and friends spend the whole day there. 5-hour tickets £27, children under 100cm free. A great way to round off a week on the ski slopes of Poland.
Tell Me More About Zakopane Ski Resort
Zakopane Ski Resort is Affordable. Great values for families. Lots to do. Several resorts. Suitable for beginners and low intermediates.