In the last couple of years, Poland has risen from obscurity to become one of the top alternative skiing destinations for folk looking to escape the Alps and don the salopettes somewhere new. It’s championed for its range of small-scale resorts and accessibility, but most of all for the price – a day’s lift pass in Poland will cost you just a fraction of what they do in France or Austria. What’s also great is that the bulk of the best winter sports spots are in the south, making a snow holiday in and around Krakow a real possibility. In this ultimate guide to skiing in Krakow, we’ll take a look at all the ups and downs of the nearby resorts, the character of the pistes, towns, hotels and everything else in between. Enjoy…
What is the skiing in Krakow like?
Simply put, the skiing close to Krakow is the best in the whole of Poland. But before we get carried away with that, remember that being the best is a relative thing. While the offering of pistes in Polska has certainly gotten better in the last decade, it’s still important to manage expectations about what you’re getting when you trade in Chamonix for the Polish peaks. This is not the Alps. Repeat: This not the Alps. Do not come to Poland skiing expecting kilometre counts in the 100s and the niftiest chairlifts man can muster. Don’t come looking for huge vertical drops and above-treeline bowls.
That’s not to say that there aren’t moments when the skiing in Krakow is awesome. There are, especially if you hit the Tatras and manage to catch the bigger resorts when they aren’t too busy. And there’s loads here for the casual skier or beginners looking to find their snow feet. It’s just worth saying that this isn’t Whistler. Black runs will be more like tricky reds in the Alps, the snow coverage can get patchy when the winter isn’t the coldest, and you’ll probably find yourself skiing the same runs several times a day.
If those aren’t the sort of things that bother you, then it’s likely you’ll love what else skiing in Krakow brings to the table. The resorts are all uber-family-friendly. Ski tuition is cheap and almost universally multilingual. The pistes are well groomed and there’s excellent snowmaking outside of the national parks. Beginners will have loads to get through – in fact, I’ve been saying for years that Poland is the single best place in Europe to learn to ski. Intermediates get some nice challenges and loads of extra ski time to hone their skills thanks to late, night-time opening hours when virtually all of the resorts are floodlit.
The other thing to note about Polish ski resorts that they aren’t really resorts in the Alpine or North American sense of the word. There’s really no such thing as a linked ski area in Poland. Instead of getting chairlifts leading in all directions over the mountains, it’s more likely you’ll get a slope with just one or two chairlifts in total. They are typically owned by totally different company to the slope right next door, which means there’s no big, linked terrain to ski here. There are some exceptions to the rule – like Kasprowy Wierch and Kotelnica – but it remains the bane of real winter sportsters Poland over that there’s been no concerted effort to connect and join all the disparate ski fields. There are always whisperings that something will happen to turn Zakopane into a ski town a la Chamonix but there’s been no solid evidence on the ground. Just watch this space, I guess.
In short, there’s loads to love about skiing in Krakow but it’s also important to keep your expectations in line with a place that’s still really developing as a winter sports hub.
Where to stay for skiing in Krakow?
At the centre of the modern Polish skiing boom is the small mountain town of Zakopane. This charming and compact place boasts the honour of being Poland’s “Winter Capital”. It’s true that the town goes into overdrive from December to March, filling up with skiers and boarders. Anyone who’s come in summer will see that the title is a slight misnomer, though – Zakopane is equally busy in the dry months with hikers hitting the trails of the Tatra National Park.
Nevertheless, Zakopane remains the focal point of the main skiing in Krakow. Aim for here and you’ll find yourself right in the mix, surrounded by ridges with single-run resorts and just a short drive from some of the most accomplished ski resorts in Poland as a whole.
Hotels in Zakopane
One upshot of that is the sheer wealth of excellent hotels there are to choose from in Zakopane. We simply can’t get enough of Aries Hotel and Spa. It’s swish and you’ll need to loosen the purse strings a little for it but there’s really nothing like sliding off the pistes and into a herbal steam room, a bubbling outdoor Jacuzzi surrounded by snow, or a lobby where a crackling wood fire warms the whole place.
If that’s a little out of budget, we also had a fine spa stay in Stamary Grand this year. The pool and saunas are lovely, the breakfast is super-filling (it’s easy to steal lunch, too) and the location is just a stone’s throw from the train station. Even cheaper again is the Czarny Potok hotel. It’s got a slightly dated spa and rooms but the service can’t be faulted. Bambi Boutique Hotel is another place we’ve loved, packed with cosy doubles that ooze Polish mountain style.
Of course, you could also opt to base your ski holiday in Krakow itself. It’s an option we love, letting travellers fuse together some winter sports, great food, UNESCO history and buzzing nightlife in the very same trip. There are small resorts all around Krakow, which should take just 30 minutes or so to reach by minibus. But you also won’t be limited to them – a two-hour transfer can get you to Zakopane or Bialka, meaning day trips to the pistes are possible.
There are some downsides to consider when basing yourself for skiing in Krakow. Traffic can get unbearable on the main road leading from the city to the mountains, which means you can sometimes waste a whole half day sitting in the car. (A new highway is being built to remedy that but it’s likely that will take years to complete). If you’re not planning on renting a car, you’ll also be limited to the bus times leaving Krakow. That’s fine if you’re going to Zakopane – there are departures every 15 minutes or so – but less good if you’re looking to go to Bialka Tatrzanska for just a day – last time we checked, there’s just a couple of morning departures and only one or two returns late in the day. It’s doable though.
You will already have seen us mention the resort of Bialka Tatrzanska. It’s one of the biggest destinations for skiing in Krakow and the biggest resort in Poland as of 2018. There’s more information on its pistes and facilities below but for now suffice to say it’s another option for a base when skiing in Krakow. It’s linked to a small, stretched-out village that’s got an ever-growing number of mountain taverns and guesthouses. It’s quaint and much quieter than Zakopane (no apres at all) but is the prime pick if you’re a beginner or just want to be the first on the slopes come morning.
The top resorts for skiing in Krakow
Roughly speaking, the skiing close to Krakow can be split into three groups. First there are the resorts in and around Zakopame. There are the resorts between Zakopane and Krakow. And then there are the places that let you ski closest to Krakow of all. Lets deal with each, and their pros and cons, in turn.
Skiing in Zakopane
Zakopane is considered the epicentre of not only skiing in Krakow but also skiing in Poland as a whole. It owns the epithet of “The Winter Capital of Poland”, has the bulk of the most famous ski resorts close to Krakow and even had a (withdrawn) Winter Olympics bid in its name. It’s for all those reasons and more that we’d recommend it as the best base if you’re looking for a more ski-orientated holiday with a bit of Krakow on the side. Its resorts range from high-up mountain bowls to single-slope options for beginners.
This is the only truly alpine ski resort in all of Poland. It’s also the only place to offer skiing within the borders of the Tatra National Park. That brings both pros and cons. On the plus side, it’s high – clocking up altitude of nearly 2,000 metres. It’s also relatively big, packing in a whole bowl of good black runs (veterans of the Alps should read “challenging red runs”) and another mountainside of long and winding pistes that go from above the treeline and down to the valley bottom.
On the con side, the restrictions of the national park mean snow-making isn’t allowed, which can be disastrous during bad seasons but also great when there’s been a fresh dump, depending on your outlook. Because of the height, Kasprowy is also susceptible to high winds and cloud coverage that can sometimes be enough to close the lifts. I visited in January this year and found pretty nice conditions, some clouds gathering, some winds, but also stretches of sunny and snow-doused pistes.
Kasprowy Weirch is served by a single gondola that goes from the small village of Kuznice just outside of Zakopane. That takes you up to the summit where four runs start. Some are on the north-west facing side, with a single chairlift linking the bottom of a bowl to the top. Others go down the north-east side, running from a ridge on the border with Slovakia to the base station. We’d recommend getting to the gondola as early as you can because it’s not just for skiiers – a ride to the top of Kasprowy is popular year-round with travellers, too. Oddly, that can have the effect of keeping Kasprowy nice and quiet and it’s quite unusual to ever have to queue once you’ve made it to the top station.
Where to stay near Kasprowy Weirch
Stays close to Kasprowy Weirch can be on the northern side of Zakopane, closer to the small base station of Kuznice. We’ve unearthed a few good and some excellent places to stay over the years. Hotel Nosalowy Dwor could be top of the list, what with that swish spa and lovely modern pool facility. There’s also Hotel Crocus, which has clean rooms with lovely Tatra views and a nice pool hidden behind its mountain-style facade.
You can see Polana Szymoszkowa‘s duo of pistes from all over Zakopane town. They rise straight from the northern edge of the centre, off a wide street that acts like a sort of ring road. That makes them nice and accessible, if a little prone to crowds when the season is in full flow.
Szymoszkowa isn’t big. It’s got just two marked runs and even they are really the same one, marked hopefully as a pair on the ski map. Still, there’s plenty to be said for this resort. Firstly, it’s got excellent tuition. It’s the place I first learned to ski in Poland, and since then the tutors have taken care of family members and friends. What’s more, the ski pass is cheap. It’ll cost you around just 60 PLN (£12) for two hours. Then there are the gorgeous views of the Tatra Mountains that unfold from the top station – they are wonderful, perhaps the best of all skiing in Krakow.
Because Polana Szymoszkowa is located outside of the national park, snow making is alive and well. That means this one has a longer season and can stay open even when conditions go bad. The two chairlifts are getting a little dated but new electronic gates and a few upgrades in 2018 helped to keep things ticking along nicely. It’s still a solid choice for skiing in Krakow.
Where to stay near Polana Szymoszkowa
If you think Polana Szymoszkowa is the skiing in Krakow for you, then we can really recommend two hotels, both of which we’ve stayed in and had great service. The first is Villa Jan, It’s just a short walk from the base of the slopes, has parking and a lovely family-run vibe, plus beautiful views over the Tatras. The second is Villa Orla. You can walk up the cobbled street across the river straight to the ski lifts from there and the home-cooked breakfast is lovely.
Polana Szymoszkowa 2, 34-500 Zakopane, Poland, +48 18 201 72 30
Everyone who enters Zakopane on the main road leading in from Krakow will see Harenda ski resort on the hillsides. Frankly, it’s small and not very impressive but mightbe a great spot for complete beginners looking to find those snow feet. A couple of spirit level-flat green runs right at the base of the slope take care of that. It’s also accessible, with a big car park and a location that means you won’t have to navigate the traffic clogged streets of Zakopane to arrive.
Skiing between Zakopane and Krakow
The journey south from Krakow to Zakopane takes around two hours in the car – more if there’s traffic, and there usually in December to March. As soon as you leave Krakow behind, you’ll start to see the landscape change. The lowlands start to crumple into hills and wooded valleys. You’ll go up and down on the roads over ridges, going higher but rarely going lower. Eventually, you’ll drop into a wide valley that runs between the town of Gaj and the soaring peaks of the Tatras, which soar like a wall of rock and ice against the Slovakian border. Not only is that section of the drive beautiful but it also wiggles past some of Poland’s biggest ski resorts, sat sprawled on the Carpathian foothills just 20-30 minutes away from Zakopane itself. So, if you’re looking for the most popular and largest skiing in Krakow – this is the place to go.
Bialka Tatrzanska – Kotelnica
Officially named Kotelnica Bialczanska, though regularly referred to by the name of the small village (soon to be a town thanks to the skiing) where it makes its home, Bialka Tatrzanska is the largest interconnected ski resort in Poland. Upgrades and expansions in the last couple of years have ensured it’s kept that coveted title, with a grand total of 21 groomed runs and 18 separate chairlifts combining to make Bialka Tatrzanska one of the most popular resorts of all for skiing in Krakow.
The skiing is spread over four or five low hills that sit just a whisker away from the rock-ribbed High Tatras, offering beautiful views across Poland’s southern ranges when the air’s clear. The runs range from greens to reds, though the reds here are short, snappy pistes that will seem more like a tricky blue to seasoned riders who’ve been to the Alps. The upshot is that Bialka is simply excellent for first-time skiers. There are whole areas dedicated to tuition and nursery slopes fed by short, easy drag lifts. What’s more, lessons are readily available from the on-site ski school and won’t break the bank. You can expect to pay around 150 PLN (£40) for two hours of private tuition.
These days, Bialka spreads southwards from the main hub of the resort by the base of the Bania Hotel to link with the smaller ski area of Kaniowka. Regular patrons had waited years for the addition of a small chairlift to connect the two – not for the extra kilometre count but to ease pressure on the entry chairlifts and ticket offices. We’ve not been back in 2018 but hopefully the new link has had the desired effect and you won’t be queuing too long before you get a ride.
You can now base a whole trip of skiing in Krakow in Bialka thanks to the forever-growing range of hotels at the base of the lifts. We can wholeheartedly recommend a few that we’ve stayed in. For the best access to the main station and the base of the lifts, Pensjonat Novobilski is hard to beat. It’s also modern and cosy inside with heating that kept our socks nice and toasty for the next day’s riding. Our only gripe was the meat in the scrambled egg at breakfast.
Skiing in Krakow and vicinity
While Poland’s finest slopes are unquestionably in the southern Tatra Mountains, around the self-proclaimed “Winter Capital” of Zakopane some two hours away from Krakow, it is also possible to don the salopettes a little closer to the city. In fact, leave town any time during the winter, venturing into the rising hills that line the Vistula valley, and snow, pistes and resorts abound – the perfect option for any travellers eager to combine culture with skiing in Krakow.
Krakow Valley, Krzeszowice
Nestled in the countryside just to the north of Krakow town, Krakow Valley is unquestionably the closest option for winter enthusiasts looking to hit the slopes. Accessible by bus from the centre, this summertime golf resort and country club transforms itself during the colder months to make the most of the town’s sporadic snow cover with two separate drag lifts of up to 650 meters in length. Granted the on-snow action ain’t going to rival the Alps and there’s nothing to cater to more advanced riders, but at just 30 minutes’ drive from the heart of the city, this spot is sure thing for skiiers in search of a speedy in and out!
Paczółtowice 328, +48 12 258 60 00
Podstolice SKI, Wieliczka
Just to the south-west of the famous salt mining town of Wieliczka (the same of UNESCO fame), Podstolice SKI offers up three small and simple pistes on the slopes of Krakow’s soft surrounding hills. Passes cost just 20 PLN for one hour’s riding and offer patrons access to three separate lifts, which open runs with a maximum length of 350 meters. There’s also an on-site ski school with affordable tuition, along with a classic Polish karczma for those mid-ski pierogi and piwo (beer) needs!
Podstolice 260, +48 12 278 58 78
A mere 45 minutes south of the city and draped over the rising foothills of the Tatra Mountains, Myslenice ski resort is one of the better-equipped and more expansive of the options for skiing in Krakow. At the time of writing, riders here enjoy access to two long and winding pistes that make their way through the thick fir forests from the tips of Chełm Mountain to the meandering courses of the Raba River. The views are fantastic, the prices are low and there are even plans to add on a longer blue run that will bring Myslenice into the forefront of skiing close to Krakow.
Jodłowa 1, +48 509 300 914
This three-run ski station makes its home between the beautiful undulating hills that eventually give way to the Tatra Moutains further to the south of the city, offering two of the longer pistes of all the resorts boasting close proximity riding to Krakow. Skiing here is easily accessible and great for beginners and intermediates alike, with the map split between a green nursery slope, a long blue of 1,450 meters and a more challenging red that weaves between the poles of the main four-person ski lift to the base of the valley at Kasina Wielka.
Kasina Wielka 672, +48 18 506 51 00
Boasting some fantastic broadside views of the Carpathian Mountains and the national parks close to Zakopane, Lubomierz Ski touts its selection of short blue to black (although black surely is pushing it here) runs just 65 kilometres from the city, making it a great choice for skiing in Krakow. The slopes are wide and well groomed, while all the pistes are well-lit for afterhours riding and there’s a ski school on site too. In short, this one’s a fine option for combining with an overnight outing from Krakow into the mountains just to the south.
Lubomierz 186, +48 18 448 85 48