Looking for somewhere cheap to ski or snowboard this winter? Zakopane in Poland might be for you…
I only learned to snowboard a couple of years ago, having been told numerous times I’d love it. Turns out those people were right. But learning was always going to be the deal breaker. Ski and snowboard holidays are notoriously expensive, so I searched around for the best place to get the skills.
My main requirements looking to learn was primarily cost. It had to be super cheap. Next was an interesting place and thirdly was ease of access from the UK.
Zakopane in the deep south of Poland ticks all those boxes easily. But, as most people say, Poland? Snowboarding??
Around two hours south of Krakow, Zakopane (zako-panny) is nestled in the foothills of the Tatra mountains. The town itself is in the shadow of the imposing Kasprowy Wierch, which is where the best mountain slopes are. Besides the snow sports action, the thing that attracted me to Zakopane was the option to hang out in a proper town which isn’t just geared to skiiers and which had a bit more in terms of culture.
The package I found was courtesy of Whiteside Holidays which is run by a British guy, Gaz and his Polish partner Monica.
We took the gold package which included everything you need for a snow holiday except flights. We were picked up from Krakow airport, whisked to our hotel, checked in and fitted for equipment all very efficiently. The price at the time was an extremely appealing £389 (we didn’t go for the full 7 days, just a five dayer so we got a slight discount). But considering the flights were around £70 from London we were still sub £500 for an all-in snow holiday with transfers, tuition, accommodation, equipment, lift passes and breakfast. So far, so epic…
Hitting The Slopes
Our first day was at Jurgow, which is a fairly small slope about 20-30 minutes out of Zakopane itself. As this was where we had our first lesson and where we spent most of the time sliding on our heel and toe edges (snowboarding speak there!).
Actually most time was spent on our asses – we didn’t get the full benefit of the terrain really. Jurgow is a fairly simple ski area though with a cafe at the bottom, it’s only really one run which starts as a black and turns to a red. Not ideal for beginners but the baby slopes were fine for us.
There is no ski in/ski out option in Zakopane, but thats not a problem as there are quite a few slopes both on the edge of town (Harenda, Gubalowka) and a short drive away (Bialka Tatrazanska, Kasprowy Wierch).
Whiteside provided a ski bus each morning to shuttle us to the slopes and then bought us back each evening. However, there is a local service which can take you to your preferred hang out. Taxis are also pretty cheap in Poland so that’s another option for those who prefer to get straight to the action.
The next few days were spent at Bialka Tatrazanska which is more of a complete Alpine style ski area spread across a valley. Although not particularly Alpine in height (the maximum altitude is about 910 metres) the area sprawls across a fairly large area and is mostly very forgiving wide blue and red runs.
For a beginner such as myself it was perfect to practice turns and get up speed without too much fear of finding myself disappearing off the edge of a mountain. In fact after a few shaky attempts to get down a quite steep red, I was genuinely getting into it and making a bit of progress (which was only hampered by the fact that I’d bruised a rib on day one!).
As a learner snowboarder I found the blue slopes perfect, good gradients (not too flat) and perfectly wide for me to not piss off any serious skiers.
Talking of pissing people off, I did find that most people were quite relaxed and helpful, even when I stacked it in front of them. I didn’t get any pretentious vibe and despite what my Polish friends say about Poland, I found everyone very helpful and accommodating. From the slopes to the cafes to the shops.
As for snow cover, having arrived mid March, there was a fresh dump of snow when we arrived and the main slopes at Bialka Tatrazanska had been topped up with some artificial snow when we got there. All in all, not too icy around the slopes and only a few slushy spots on the run back to town.
On a couple of days myself and Gaz (the proprietor) and a Portuguese guy went off exploring and Gaz’s enthusiasm for both snowboarding and Zakopane shone through.
And you can see why; Zakopane is great fun to be in.
There are a lot of bars and quite a few nightclubs meaning that every night is party night in Zakopane. Experienced skiers will tell you that the apres ski is perhaps the decider when it comes to their holiday. So no worries there…
However, it is also ideally suited to families. There are thermal baths, swimming pools, hiking trails, museums and playgrounds to keep the little ones amused, as well as good shopping and markets.
Another difference between Alpine ski holidays: Food and drink is Eastern Europe cheap. We’re talking around £1 for a beer and about £5 for a very hearty serving of meat and vegetables. My vegetarian girlfriend had a few decent options although the meaty restaurants tended to only offer sides of potatoes and salads. But generally there was always something including large amounts of the local smoked cheese and the vegetarian Pierogi Ruskie (Russian dumplings with cheese and potato). There were a couple of veggie and vegan restaurants though and generally, the phrase, ‘bez miesa’ (without meat) came in handy.
We took a day off at the end to explore the town and were glad we did as there was a lot to see. We took the furnicular railway up to Gubalowka which is a hill and ski area close to the town with amazing views and a little market area ideal for just browsing and checking out the vibe.
Everywhere across the town you see little stalls selling the ubiquitous smoked cheese, which you can also get as a hot snack.
For dining options pretty much everywhere there are standard Polish style restaurants but also some excellent pizzas, Turkish and even a few veggie places which were very good. And if you were feeling the aches and pains from the slopes (as we definitely were) then there are various spas in both Zakopane itself and nearby towns, including the Terma Bania near Bialka Tatrazanska.
Although I have been to the Alps now, which was a completely different experience in terms of snowboarding, I would love to go back to Zakopane one day to check out the other slopes and get stuck into the winter vibe.
It is a beautiful town with a very rustic character, famous in Poland even for being quite unique. If you’re looking to learn skiing or snowboarding on a budget then I highly recommend Whiteside Holidays*, or if you want an affordable ski trip somewhere different then give it a go.
If you’re ready to get on the slopes, check out prices to Krakow on our flight widget below.
*Please note this is not an advertisment, the article is written as a genuine review of Zakopane. There are also other offerings apart from the company mentioned here, search ‘ski package Zakopane‘ or ‘Snowboarding holiday Zakopane’ for more information. See also: Go Ski Zakopane.
Know anywhere else to go snowboarding or skiing on a budget? Or have you been to Zakopane? Feel free to share comments below…