I always feel so Australian when I get excited about the idea of “going to the snow”. But it’s what many Australians grow up dreaming about. To be able to afford even just one day skiing in the snow. That’s exactly what we want to do when we go to Zakopane at the foot of the High Tatras in Poland’s far south. For the past week I’ve been anxiously watching the snow reports for the Zakopane region. There has been no snow at all but two days ago the snow cams showed white stuff and the black dots of people skiing on it. I don’t care if the snow is rubbish, so long as the lifts are operating and the slopes are open I’ll take whatever I can get.
After driving along the highway in snowy weather for about 1.5 hours, I follow some signs just outside Zakopane that show advertisements for skiing. Up and up and up we drive. Ever higher in to the mountains. To places where some trees are covered in ice and their branches are almost ghost-like in appearance. We keep driving until we see this stunning vista across the border into Slovakia where we cannot venture (because it’s a condition of our car rental contract that we remain in Poland).
A short time later we come to Male Ciche ski field up in the mountains on the Polish side of the border. There isn’t much snow but there’s enough to ski and the views south are divine. I am in love already and it takes all my self control not to rent skis then and there.
This is Male Ciche. Like all the Zakopane ski resorts it is relatively small by global standards. It has a t-bar and three quad chairs that allow access to four runs: one short beginner run and three longer blue runs of about 750m – 1,250m. The ski resorts in Poland do not cooperate with each other. Rather, competition is fierce and the resorts are not linked in any way. You just have to choose where you want to ski and pay the relevant fees. Good thing it’s not too expensive.
We drive down the mountains through forests of pine and fir trees, and past cute alpine cottages. Zakopane hits us almost like a storm of people. It’s pretty but the streets are a little hectic, mostly because cars just park anywhere and people are carrying skis across roads to access the fields in town. It does grow on us though once we get used to its ebb and flow. The photo above was taken from the balcony of the room we rented. Not a bad sight to wake up to every day.
We walk around town for a few hours, exploring the main street and it’s tourist shops. Dinner consists of pizza and calzone at a little Italian restaurant. I love that Poland’s restaurants make fresh tasty meals at reasonable prices. It’s not cheap like Hungary or South-East Asia but it’s fresh and tasty.
The Harenda ski slope is near our guest house. It’s a bit steep for beginners but I cannot resist. We rent some snowboards and book a lesson. Let’s just say that there’s a reason the photo above shows me in skis. I gave snow boarding a crack and can confirm that it’s not for me. Especially since I love to ski more than any other sport I have ever participated in. Regular readers might have picked up on this after my impromptu ski sessions in Victoria and Japan.
One of the best things about Zakopane is that you can ski at almost all the fields from 9am – 9pm. And there are discounts on night skiing with entry after 5pm being about 30PLN ($AU12) and after 6pm it’s about 25PLN ($AU10). With ski rental costing 10PLN ($AU4) for 1 hour, 15PLN ($AU6) for 2 hours or 25PLN ($AU10)for 24 hours, it’s really quite an affordable exercise. I rented a set of skis and boots. For once the boots actually fit and the skis were a good size for me (in Australia they always give me 1.6m skis but here they gave me 1.5m skis, which felt much more comfortable for me). After the failed snowboarding lesson I still have two hours of ski time and made the most of it. I was a bit wobbly at first but soon got the hang of it and managed to get down the two easiest slopes consistently without falling over. I even managed a few parallel turns and started to reduce the angle of my snow plow. It was a good start and not too bad for someone who only took lessons as a child and rarely skis (though I have been three times since September 2014).