Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Skiing in Krakow?

This title is rather misleading. No, you can't ski in Krakow. However, just a two to three hour bus ride from the city are the Tatra Mountains and the Polish winter resort of Zakopane. Here you most definitely can ski.

Visitors to Zakopane for skiing should probably be warned, this is NOT a ski resort in the same sense as those one might venture to in the Alps. It is a town that has some areas for skiing. These areas are located separately and your choice of location must very much be governed by your ability and experience. It is probably not somewhere to select for a week of skiing. Rather, it is somewhere you can go and include skiing in other outdoor pursuits.
The skiing recommendations listed here starts with the biggest, most alpine area but then goes on to review some of the other complexes the town has to offer for all abilities.


Kasprowy Wierch Ski Website
This is the absolute BEST place to ski in Zakopane. It is alpine, located in two valleys fanning out from Kasprowy Wierch mountain which reaches an elevation of 1,987 metres. Since it is national park area, no snow cannons are allowed as they would disturb wildlife, so skiers must accept the snow conditions nature flings at them. This ski area, in lot of ways, is wonderfully undeveloped. I read somewhere that is is reminiscent of Austria at the end of the 19th century. However, that is not to say that it lacks the necessary uplift and infrastructure. Indeed, recent changes to how day passes operate has made this a super day out in some stunning scenery.
However, Kasprowy is only for intermediate and advanced skiers. Beginners, do not go here!
To access Kasprowy, you need to get on one of the multitude of minibuses that trawl from the bus station in Zakopane to the village of Kuznice. These buses stop at various stops on the route, so check out any stops close to you. They have cages on the back for you to load your skis onto.  Cost is 3zl and it literally takes about 10 minutes to get there.
At Kuznice, you will find the cable car base station for Kasprowy Wierch. Skis/snowboards can be hired in a few shops here. Day ski and snowboard hire is very reasonable (anything from £6-£10 for the day for skis, poles and boots). If you are planning on ski mountaineering, then ski hire for the technical equipment required is around £18-20 per day.
If you are skiing during the height of the season, a good idea is to check a weather forecast and buy your ski pass for the next day online (Kasprowy Online). You can then collect your pass from the cabin on your left as you ascend the stairs for the cable car. You can then simply jump the queue at the normal pay booths using the lane specifically for pre-paid skiers (many tourists to Zakopane use the cable car only for sight seeing and clog up the pay booths). In terms of the passes available for skiing, as usual they are cheaper if you buy them for more than one day. However, you run the risk of losing out if the chairlifts are shut due to weather conditions on one of your days. You can buy a pass for both the Gasienicowa Dolina and the Goryczkowa Dolina (Dolina means valley) either as an unlimited day pass, or a 4 hour pass. These allow endless chairlift uplift and use of the cable car. We usually find the 4 hour pass is adequate as you actually get an extra hour added on (gratis). Over 65s get a discount. 
The cable car journey is covered in two stages. The top station has a restaurant, toilets and a couple of shops. From here, strap on your skis and off you go!
Top of Gasienicowa Dolina
Word of warning though, the Gasienicowa Dolina which is immediately on your left as you exit the cable car, has a mega steep initial slope. It sometimes feels like you are launching yourself off a cliff. However, it opens out into a pleasingly wide bowl where the snow conditions are wonderful. In addition, it will become obvious to you that the local skiers love to go off-piste.
The drawbacks with this area is that it is quite a short run to reach the bottom of the only uplift, despite a variety of alternative little branches you can take. There is though a very interesting adventure you can involve yourself in from the bottom of this run. Read on to find the details of this later in this post!
If you have tried out the Gasienicowa Dolina, or if you don't fancy it at all, head to the Goryczkowa Dolina. This can easily be done from the top of the Gasienicowa run. Enjoy contouring your way from the col to the right, drinking an awesome view en-route.
The Goryczkowa Dolina has an exciting "gun barrel" access ramp.
It opens into a superb wide slope which then accesses a variety of branches of a truly top notch skiing area.
All branches of this run (except one) ultimately end up at a basic chairlift for uplift back up to the top of Kasprowy Wierch. By basic, I mean wooden! Indeed, it is quite a mission to learn to adopt the appropriate position to arrange your posterior in order to plop safely onto the seat. Good luck by the way at the top when trying to get off!
Incidentally, if you want to go back to the Gasienicowa Dolina from the top of this chairlift, take your skis off, shoulder them, and heave your ass up the steep bank at the top of the chairlift.

When you have had your fill of playing around on the Gasienicowa Dolina and Goryczkowa Dolina, you can choose to ski off down the superb main "Nartostrada" to Kuznice. It is a wonderful glide through pristine alpine forest. One can enjoy gazing at gushing mountain rivers as you whoosh over bridges.

At Kuznice, if you want more, ski into the lane at cable car for those with day passes and start all over again!
If you are more adventurous, why not try out one of the unique Kasprowy "nartostradas" that take you into the depths of the Tatra forests and valleys? This is where the skiing here excels. It is possible to do this with regular skis from the Gasienicowa Dolina and Goryczkowa Dolina (there are an additional 200km+ of trails for those using ski mountaineering kit). You will see them marked on the Kasprowy piste map at the top of this post.
If you want to use the Gasienicowa Dolina "nartostrada" to descend to Kuznice then ski to the bottom of the chairlift and follow the red poles (sign posted to Kuznice). You will reach a point above the Gasienicowa mountain hut where you will have to take the skis off and shoulder them up a hill.
However, its worth it. At the top of the hill there is a boulder at the side of the trail to your right. Turn to the right here and follow the red marker poles beyond it which indicate your way to a forest skiing adventure. Its great, undeveloped, wild stuff! You will end up at Kuznice where you can choose to hop back on the cable car again, or enjoy a pint in the bars at the base before hooping on one of the multitude of minibuses back to Zakopane.

In the Goryczkowa Dolina there is another "nartostrada" option. Watch out for the red poles and signs for the Hala Kondratowa. This is a small mountain hut you can ski through the forest to. This trail initially is quite probably more suited to ski mountaineering, however, it is possible to do it with regular skis. Stop at the hut for a hot wine, then glide down  following the red poles marking the trail down to Kuznice. The great thing about these "nartostradas" is you feel you are really on an adventure into the unknown. They glide you into the depths of nature (there are brown bears here and a good chance of seeing their paw prints in early spring on the runs) and soul satisfyingly quiet. Enjoy!!


For those with toddlers seeking initial ski lessons, then book with Strama for Nosal ski area. Please be aware, this area is for total and utter beginners. The runs are short and flattish. However, if you are filled with trepidation at the idea of bolting strips of wood to your feet and hurling your self down a slippy, snow covered slope, then Nosal is a good starting point to get you up on your feet. If you are an experienced skier, don't bother going here.


Szymoszkowa top slope
Another good choice for braver beginners is Szymoszkowa. There are two ski slopes here. One is for beginners, the other is much more challenging, especially the top section. Ski lessons in English can be booked here which are very reasonably priced. Quite a few of my friends and family have all learned to ski here successfully over the years so it is to be recommended. The real beauty of Szymoszkowa is the stunning view of the Tatra mountains from the slopes. Tickets are priced on how many runs you fancy (punkts). There are also a number of chalet style kzarmas for food and drink scattered around the runs. The drawbacks with Szymoszkowa are that in the height of the ski season, it gets extremely busy by 10 30am, particularly the easy beginners run. Part of the problem is that the chairlift runs pretty slowly - which is actually great for beginners trying get off, but it means there is quite a queue develops at the bottom for getting onto it. The longer more difficult run also develops a queue but it moves quickly due to the speed of the lift.

On the plus side, Szymoszkowa is floodlit and stays open until 8pm. It does get substantially quieter after 4pm therefore, evening skiing is a great option (if you don't mind the moguls on the top of the longer run!). Evening skiing at Szymoszkowa Is an excellent option if you have just arrived in Zakopane and planning to head up the mountains skiing the next day. It allows you to get your "ski legs" on ready for the challenge the next day. It is also wonderfully atmospheric fun if it's not too chilly! There are various cabins located around the slopes for very reasonably priced ski and snowboard hire.
Evening skiing at Szymoszkowa


Another ski area that exists on the suburbs of Zakopane is Harenda. This is most definitely NOT for beginners! It consists of one wide slope that is VERY steep. Adventurous skiers might like it for a half day, but that is all. Unless of course you are quite happy plying up and down the same slope all day. It is also orientated on a very sunny slope meaning the snow strips away quickly as spring approaches. On the plus side, it offers stunning views to the High Tatras.

For families and people who have not done a great deal of skiing before, the absolute best ski complex is not in Zakopane, but can be accessed easily from the town. Just head to the main bus station and jump on one of the numerous minibuses going to Bialka. If there is a large crowd of you, simply hire one of the minibus taxis that are found at the bus station also. You will be able to get a favourable price and probably the convenience of being picked up at the end of your day.

Kotelnica Białczańska is a purpose built complex offering a wide variety of connected runs which is family friendly, and has plenty to keep all entertained. It also has a variety of cross country trails on offer. All facilities are on site such as ski hire, booking lessons, restaurants, barbeques and snacks. There is also an extensive parking area. Again however, during the height of the season, some of the runs do accumulate large queues. However, Bialka does offer floodlit night skiing. It might be an idea to head to it mid afternoon since it does quieten down substantially around 4pm onwards. 


  1. Wonderful, informative post and beautiful photos! Thank you so much for sharing, and warm greetings and Happy New Year from Montreal, Canada. :)

  2. Wonderful, informative post and beautiful photos! Thank you so much for sharing, and warm greetings and Happy New Year from Montreal, Canada. :)