So it’s time. You’ve spent every Tuesday evening for the past 6 months wobbling down the local dry ski slopes on your rented snowboard under the hunky/intimidating (depending on your sexual orientation) tutorship of Scott, your bleached-blond snowboarding teacher-dude. You know your Backside from your Bonk, your Stinky from your Flat Bottom, and Scott says you’ve really perfected your Cant. Now winter is just around the corner, and you’re itching to test out your new found cool on the real thing – it’s time to book your first snowboarding holiday.
But where to go? Your boss jets off to the slopes twice a year and swears by Courchevel in the French Alps. He implores you to stay at the 6-star Le Cheval Blanc hotel: ‘Great concierge service, you can ski straight onto the slopes, oh and the Lobster Primavera is divine – you simply must go!’ he gushes.
The 6-star rating, in case you were wondering, was introduced in France about 3 years ago – the hospitality equivalent of turning the amplifier up to 11 – and has so far been awarded to just 9 incredibly lavish and chic hotels.
But what if you don’t have quite the same financial clout as your boss and you just want a ski resort that’s great for beginners without breaking the bank? What if you can’t go ‘Posh Piste’? Are there more affordable, everyday ski resorts for the average Joe such as you and I to enjoy too? In short, can you ski abroad on the cheap?
Thankfully, yes you can, and there are plenty of options out there for the averagely financed and freshly-educated skier or snowboarder to enjoy throughout Europe. But which is the best, you may be wondering? Well, wonder no longer.
And the winner is…
Poland. Yeah I said it. Poland. You probably weren’t expecting it, but I said it anyway. You won’t hear your boss talking about skiing or snowboarding in Poland because it’s not fashionable, and it’s not one of the big five (That’s Switzerland, Austria, France, Italy, or Germany, list fans). You won’t bump into Wills and Kate there, or Tarquin, Harriette and Rupert for that matter. But surely that is a good thing? What those guys don’t know, (and why they haven’t moved in and ruined it yet) is that Poland has somewhat of an iced-gem in its crown; the beautiful, picture-postcard town of Zakopane, nestled in the incredible Tatras mountain range just 2 hours south of Krakow.
The ski resorts in Eastern Europe traditionally don’t have a good reputation for having modern ski facilities. However, this is 2014, and Poland has seriously got its act together and renovated most of Zakopane’s infrastructure recently. One thing you certainly don’t want to be without whilst skiing in Eastern Europe (or anywhere for that matter) is travel insurance – and great thing about going somewhere cheap such as Poland is that the money you save on the actual holiday more than covers the relatively small travel insurance cost.
In terms of the quality of the slopes and the white stuff itself, Zakopane is right up there. Whilst experienced skiers and boarders may find it somewhat limited after a day or two, this is an article about the best ski resort for the impoverished beginner, so frankly if you’re an expert you shouldn’t even be reading this. That is not to say there is absolutely nothing for the expert in Zakopane. When there is a good dusting of fresh snow the off-piste adventures can be truly fantastic; often with long, undulating snowy paths winding through forests and through beautiful snowy glades.
Then there is the town itself. It too is staggeringly beautiful, with picturesque streams flowing through the centre, pretty, winding pedestrianised streets and snow-capped wooden chalets, it could easily step in should there be a sudden shortage in beautiful Swiss mountain villages for Christmas postcard photo shoots.
The very best thing about Zakopane however, is that being in Poland, everything is cheap. We cannot stress this enough (especially in an article concerning cheap ski destinations). Whilst a bottle of water over in Courchevel or neighbouring Val Thorens can cost you upwards of 7 Euros, in Zakopane, you will never pay more than a sensible 3. Need I say more?
There are also plenty of fine eating establishments at which to enjoy this incredible sensation of value. You can expect bills of around £10 – £15 a head for a full 3 course meal of not inconsiderable quality, including your drinks. The majority of the food available quite rightly consists of Eastern-European and Polish fare, but pretty much the full gamut of mainstream world cuisine is represented somewhere in the town if you look hard enough. We particularly recommend the beautiful and entirely wooden Karczma Przy Mlynie restaurant, which not only looks fantastic but which also serves up top warm, hearty polish dishes perfect for warming your poor English cockles after an afternoon on the slopes. Mind out for splinters in the bum though.
One last thing we must mention about Zakopane, and in fact Poland in general, is the incredible friendliness of the locals. The illustrious resorts of the Alps can often feel rather intimidatingly chic and somewhat elitist, so it is hugely refreshing to come to a town where people are genuinely warm and welcoming to you at every turn, be it in one of the many bars and clubs, or on the very slopes themselves.