We have recently returned from a wonderfully wintery getaway in Poland where we enjoyed several seasonal activities, including skiing. Now, Poland certainly wasn’t the first place that sprung to my mind when skiing was mentioned, in fact, I think you’ll likely agree that the Alps would be the obvious choice for a European skiing getaway. However, many other countries (including Spain?!) have skiing opportunities if you know where to look and Poland is one of them. But, because these areas are lesser known internationally, there often isn’t much information available to non-domestic tourists. That’s where hopefully I’m here to help! This article will provide a guide to the pros and cons of skiing in Poland. We’ve done the leg work, so you don’t have to!
Where to Ski in Poland?
Skiing of all varieties (piste, off-piste, cross-country etc) is available in Poland, most commonly and reliably, in the Tatra Mountain regions in the south where Poland shares a border with Slovakia. Within this region, Zakopane, a winter resort nestled in the mountain foothills is one of the best places to stay if you want to try your hand at some winter sports. It has a very Alpine feel with chalet style accommodation, ski hire shops littered through town and a multitude of ski runs fanning from its centre to cater to all abilities. Zakopane has everything you need to enjoy a jam-packed winter holiday.
How to Get to Zakopane
We found getting to Zakopane a breeze. It has easy public transport links from Krakow city centre meaning in just 2.5-3hours you can go from the bustle of Krakow old town to the snowy slopes of the Tatra Mountains. The bus is slightly quicker, but the train is a little more enjoyable with a bit more space and comfort. Both methods are incredibly easy, taking you directly into the centre of Zakopane and not to mention, pretty cheap! In January 2023 a bus from Krakow to Zakopane cost 30 zloty (about £5.50) per person and the train was 22.50 zloty (about £4.25). Not only was it cheap but we found the public transport throughout our whole trip in Poland very efficient and reliable.
Advantages of Skiing in Poland
It makes for a great combination holiday – As mentioned above, because of its simple and reliable transport links from Krakow, it is easy to enjoy a few days skiing in combination with the cultural experiences of some of Poland’s best-known cities. This makes it a great option for beginners as skiing for a few days is far less intense than being thrown into the deep end on the slopes for a whole week (which is usually the option when you head to the Alps). Skiing is mentally and physically exhausting (but also very enjoyable!) and it can be incredibly gruelling for first timers to commit to a whole week of steeling their nerves and using dormant muscles. In fact, this option doesn’t just suit beginners but everyone who likes to do, see and experience as much as possible on their travels. I mean, who doesn’t like to have their cake and eat it too!?
Zakopane is great for beginners – As mentioned above, not only does the ability to spend a shorter stint of time on the slopes make it a good first-time skiing destination, but there are many other reasons too! There are plenty of green and blue runs (For those of you who don’t know; ski runs are coloured according to difficulty with green being the simplest run, followed by blue, then onto red and finally black being the most difficult) to sink your tentative skis into and most of them are pretty short to reduce fatigue. The slopes I’d say are much quieter than in the Alps which means being part of a 4-ski pile-up is one less thing you have to think about. Additionally, lessons are available in several languages so you can still go to ski school if you want some additional confidence-building. It’s also a cheap place if you aren’t sure if skiing is for you, but want to try your hand at it, but more on that later!
It’s a beautiful destination – not only are the Tatra Mountains great for skiing, its also an appealing destination to explore in its own right. Zakopane has a host of shops, street stalls and wonderful restaurants to try as well as museums, a Ferris wheel and other attractions to explore. Additionally, there are other winter activities to enjoy such as ice-skating, snow tubing, hiking and cable car rides through the glorious snow-capped peaks. Even if you decide skiing isn’t for you, there’s no way you’ll regret visiting this beauteous part of Poland.
Skiing in Poland is much cheaper than most Alpine destinations – From ski passes to gear hire, everything is a lot cheaper. You can also ski and rent equipment by the hour making it very easy to budget and incredibly cost-effective. A 3-hour pass cost roughly £20 plus gear rental (around £6) which is an absolute steal for what is renowned for being an expensive sport. If you want to hit the slopes without it breaking the bank, Poland is an excellent choice!
Disadvantages of Skiing in Poland
Often the runs aren’t as long or numerous in one area – Though there are several runs in the Tatra Mountain region, many of which are beautiful, varied and with routes to challenge all abilities, these often aren’t as long as those in the Alps. Additionally, though slopes are numerous, many of them do not connect which requires travel to each different ski field which can eat into skiing time. Each ski field often caters to either beginners or advanced skiers so it can be hard to find somewhere which caters to all abilities in one single location. As Corey is an advanced skier and I am very much a beginner, we did find it hard to choose a slope which would keep him engaged and me from wetting myself in fear so its something to keep in mind in a mixed ability group.
Be prepared to travel to the slopes – In comparison to the Alps, there are much fewer opportunities to stay on the slopes so skiing to your door is out of the question for most tourists. This means having to get yourself to and from the ski slopes each day which can be a bit of a pain. It’s not too bad if you plan on hiring most of your gear at the slopes, but if you have your own equipment to lug to the ski field, this can be annoying and cumbersome work. There are frequent buses to many of the ski fields, but a car is probably the best way to get around if you want to spend your time hitting all the big slopes.
There isn’t a very big Après Scene – For many, the après is just as much a right of passage as the actual skiing itself. The Polish skiing scene has a much more family friendly vibe and certainly wasn’t as geared up for the bone-jarring, music blaring, champagne spraying, Gluhwein chugging activities found in abundance in parts of the Alps. So, if you’re big into partying on the slopes, it’s maybe more prudent to stick to the Alps.
It can be apparent the area is set up for domestic tourism – Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those tourists who expects everything to be anglified for me. However, it was very clear there was a distinct lack of expectation to come across international tourists which did make things a little tricky at times. The maps, signs, information leaflets were all in Polish, as were many of the websites we looked through. Google translate really was our friend this trip as without it I think we’d have struggled. People were however very helpful and friendly (except ironically in the tourist information office!?) and the majority could speak some English at a push to help us get by but it was a lot harder to plan our skiing experience than in the Alps where they are so used to international tourism. Not a deal breaker, but something to be aware of before you go.
Hopefully this post has given you a bit more information on skiing in Poland and whether you’d be up for giving an alternative to the Alps a try the next time you consider hitting the slopes. As always, I’m always here for any questions to be fired my way and be sure to look out for more posts coming soon including all about Zakopane, top tips for skiing in Poland, Hiking in the Tatra Mountains and more!