Skiing the Tatra Mountains at Zakopane, Poland

As much as I tried to get to Poprad, the closest airport to the Tatra Mountains, it seems that it’s only an airport in name rather than actuality and so I settled for Cracow in stead. The private shuttle bus transfer from Visit Cracow (ask for Krzysztof Zielinski) took 1 hour and 45 minutes, depending on traffic, as we were told.

Stara Polana Hostel
Stara Polana Hostel – clean, cheap, good location and helpful staff

Zakopane is a tourist town at the foot of the ski areas on the Polish side of the Tatras. There are four small centres – Nosal for real beginners, Szmoszkowa for beginners and intermediates, Marenda for intermediates and advanced and Kasprowy Wierch for the more adventurous amongst us. Nebulous classifications I might add.

Tourist entertainment
Street theatre in the centre

Our choice was Kasprowy Wierch where the first cable car in Europe was built in 1936. Thankfully it has been renovated since! To get to the bottom of it at Kuznice, there are plenty of shuttle buses that leave from Zakopane Bus Station. Here they don’t manufacture snow. It’s all the natural stuff but they do groom the slopes. The cable car lumbers up the mountain every 15 minutes or so, stops at a mid station where you can’t start skiing and continues up to 2000 m.

Kasprowy Wierch
One of the better ideas on our first day!

We were met by fog, foggier, foggiest but being the troupers we are, we decided to cut through the soup and head down in spite of the fact that the edge of the piste was invisible and skiers conspicuous for their absence. But on we pushed and needless to say, stopped in at the first pub to bolster our nerves, steady our shaky hands and come to our senses. The following day was somewhat better with less fog some sunshine and a lot of wind, at times even stopping you dead in your tracks. Still, there were only two sides to ski, one on the left of the cable car and guess where the other one was? Variations on the ‘black’ theme but nothing challenging and long, long trails winding through the trees taking you down to the bottom. The trail to the left was full of surprises, so much so that at one point you unhitched your bindings, scooped your skis onto your shoulders and started the 400 m (not much of an exaggeration) trudge up the hill to get to a spot where you could actually go ….. down again!! 6 Kilometres later you were back at Kuznice.

The infrastructure here is not the best. Ski passes are not valid from ski centre to ski centre so if you’ve bought a ticket at Kasprowy, you’re literally, well I’m not going to say it, if the weather is lousy. The chair lift on the left was convenient, the one on the right? Mmmmm, here inconvenient would be an understatement. One has to keep in mind however, that this is a national park and hence not much development has and will take place to disturb the fauna and flora.

Hearty meals for hungry skiers

Now that I’ve had my rant, here are the positives:

  • Ski touring heaven or so it seemed by the number of enthusiasts scooting up the mountain in stead of sliding down
  • Great for families with beginner skiers
  • Cheap – shuttle bus from Cracow Airport to your accommodation in Zakopane €70 for two adults; shuttle bus from Z Bus Station to Kuznice €0.75 (75 cents) per ride
  • Cheap – ski pass €38/day at Kasprowy Wierch
  • Cheap – ski rental €9 for the usual stuff/€12 for the demos
  • Ski rental service – outstanding from Chili Sports at Kuznice with a range of demos to choose from and good run-of-the-mill skis too
  • Food – two main courses of duck and pork knuckle, and believe me you don’t need more, plus a bottle of wine and some extras €33
  • Accommodation – not expensive
  • Fab hiking in the summer, I would imagine!

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