Why Zakopane ski resort is great for beginner skiers
For our first family ski holiday we wanted to find somewhere with easy slopes and great, English speaking instructors. We also didn’t want to spend a lot on the skiing holiday in case the kids didn’t enjoy skiing. After a lot of research, we found that Zakopane ski resort is great for beginner skiers and also one of the most affordable ski resorts in Europe. Bingo! Luckily the kids loved skiing and we could not have been happier with Zakopane ski resort.
If you’re a beginner and looking for a great place to learn to ski with or without a family, we highly recommend Zakopane Poland. Here’s all the information you need if you’re considering choosing Zakopane for your first ski holiday.
Where is Zakopane?
Zakopane is located in the south of Poland in the Tatra Mountains about 110 km south of Krakow.
Getting to Zakopane
You can find very cheap flights to Krakow, the closest airport to Zakopane, with the main budget airlines. Direct London to Krakow flights depart from London Luton, Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted and take about 2 hours. You can also fly direct from Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow. We flew from Luton with a combination of Ryanair out and Whizz Air back. Remember to check out our guide to finding cheap flights. It’s worth checking Skyscanner using the ‘Whole Month’ view if you have any flexibility on your travel dates.
Hiring a car
We booked our hire car using Rentalcars and picked our car up at Krakow airport. Car rental in Poland is cheap (our rental for 6 days came to £50 for a compact car), the roads are good and everything was well signposted, although we did use Google Maps to direct us. It should take you about 1.5 – 2 hours by car from Krakow to Zakopane. One thing to note is that during the holidays the roads get very clogged up. Google Maps came to our rescue and helped us avoid a long traffic jam on the main road back to Krakow. We took a cross country diversion that saved us 45 minutes.
The benefit of hiring a car is that you can stop when you like. On the way from Krakow to Zakopane, we stopped at the Krakow Salt Mines (Wieliczka Salt Mine). If you have time, there are some great things to do in Krakow. We recommend spending a day in Krakow, wandering around the old town and enjoying a tasty meal before heading down to the slopes. If you’re there over Christmas, the Krakow Christmas market is a must-see.
If you don’t want to drive you can arrange transfers from the airport to your hotel. You will be paying around £100 each way which is quite expensive considering the cost of our car rental for 6 days was £50. You may be able to ask your accommodation to arrange a transfer, or you can find a one-stop-shop who can arrange your transfer, ski hire and ski lessons. We hired our own car, but our ski instructors, Snow4You, can arrange a transfer for you.
Krakow to Zakopane Train
The train can actually take longer than the bus but if you like to travel by train, it departs from the main train station in Krakow centre (Kraków Główny). It can cost between 40 – 70 PLN (£8 – £14) and take between 2.5 – 3 hours.
Krakow to Zakopane Bus
You can take a bus directly from the airport with FlixBus. The price will vary depending on availability but it is around £10 and takes around 2 hours 45 minutes. Alternatively, you can take the train from Krakow airport to Krakow Centre which costs 9 PLN (£2) and then a bus direct down to Zakopane. The bus costs around 15 PLN (£3).
Why is Zakopane good for beginner skiers?
It’s not just the fact that Zakopane has a number of easy slopes to choose from that makes it one of the best ski resorts for beginners. We feel that it makes sense to keep the cost of your first ski holiday down just in case you find out that skiing is not for you after all. Having been voted 2nd most affordable ski resort in Europe by HometoGo recently taking into account lift pass price and accommodation, Zakopane fits the bill for the perfect first ski holiday destination.
Zakopane ski slopes
Zakopane skiing is well suited to beginners because of the number of beginner slopes are dotted around. If you are just starting out, you may want to stick to one ski area while you are learning the basics and familiarise yourself with the slope. Our accommodation was very close to Polana Szymoszkowa so we spent most of our time here. It had a green, blue and a red run. The red run was just challenging enough to keep skiers of a reasonable level entertained for 3 mornings.
Listed below are the main ski areas in and around Zakopane.
Zakopane beginner slopes:
Gigant (by the Great Krokiew Ski Jump)
Zakopane intermediate slopes:
Zakopane advanced slopes:
Zakopane ski schools
If like us, you’re travelling with small kids who are skiing for the first time, or you are a beginner yourself, there are some great nursery slopes in and around Zakopane with ski schools. It probably makes sense to choose the ski school nearest your accommodation or vice versa if you have a preference for a ski school or slope. This way you won’t have to travel too far for your lesson. Just one word of advice. If you are visiting during a Polish school holiday, make sure to book your ski lessons well in advance.
The main beginner slopes with ski schools are:
Nosal – Strama Ski School
Polana Szymoszkowa – Szymoszkowa Ski & Snowboard school
Harenda – Ski School HSKI
We didn’t try these ski schools personally but we did see the ski instructors in action and they looked professional. See below for our ski instructor recommendation.
Our Zakopane ski instructor recommendation
We weren’t able to secure morning lessons with the Szymoszkowa ski school so we looked for an independent company. Snow4You came up in our searches and we were impressed with their level of English over email. The kids took to them immediately when we met them on the slopes as they are fun and full of energy. Using these guys meant that we weren’t tied to one particular ski slope like the ski school instructors are. If we got bored of one slope, they would meet us on another.
Our kids were complete beginners and we had 2 instructors between 4 children which worked out well. It cost PLN 500 (£50) for 4 kids for a 2-hour lesson. We could not have been happier with Jack and Andrew. The kids had never skied before and after 4 days of 2 hours lessons, they were tackling the challenging red run and are now completely hooked on skiing! We couldn’t have asked for better instructors.
Ski rental Zakopane
When booking your ski instructors, you can ask if they will organise your ski rental and lift pass for you or you can do it yourself. As we were staying near the Szymoszkowa slope, we hired the equipment ourselves from the ski rental store at the bottom of the slope and were able to leave it all there at the end of each day for a small charge (30 PLN / £6). It saved us carrying it to the car and storing it at our accommodation.
If you want to save on the ski rental storage, make sure you hire a car large enough to fit your skis. It will cost a little more, but should still work out cheaper than ski storage and you’ll also be able to drive yourself to other ski stations. If you don’t have a car, there are also ski taxis at the bottom of the slopes that can transport you and your ski equipment back to your accommodation.
Note that you will need to present a form of ID (Passport or driver’s licence) in order to rent ski or snowboard equipment.
Zakopane lift pass
The Tatry Super Ski Pass gives you access 15 ski stations in and around Zakopane, including 84 lifts and 57 km of slopes. Check here for up to date prices for the ski pass. It doesn’t cover all the Zakopane ski stations though, so you need to check if it is suitable for you. Nosal and Gigant aren’t included, for example. It was perfect for us based at Szymoszkowa.
Where to stay in Zakopane
There are lots of hotels in Zakopane as well as self-catering accommodation options. As mentioned above, you should choose your accommodation carefully based on where you think you will ski most. The traffic around town can get very congested and what looks like a 5-minute car journey can take 30 minutes during peak times.
We had a great apartment a little out of the centre of town in the Szymoszkowa Residence because we wanted to be near the Szymoszkowa ski station. It had underground parking and a pool, sauna and jacuzzi. You may want to consider looking at Zakopane accommodation with sauna facilities as this is a great way to relax after skiing.
Check Booking.com for a large selection of Zakopane hotels and self-catering accommodation.
Things to do in Zakopane
If you are a beginner, you may not want to ski all day, especially at the beginning of your holiday. We recommend checking out some of the other great Zakopane winter activities when you’re not skiing. Winter activities are mainly available from December to March.
Snowlandia is a winter wonderland located just to the south of the centre of town. There is a huge pyramid on two levels which you can enter and see Egyptian ice sculptures. Don’t underestimate the giant snow labyrinth with a castle at the centre with giant ice walls so you lose your sense of direction. There’s also a toboggan run, an igloo with ice sculptures of famous cartoon characters and a mini zoo.
There are a number of ice skating rinks dotted around Zakopane. They’re fairly cheap at around £2 per hour.
There is an Aqua Park in Zakopane but there are other thermal baths in the surrounding area. There are said to be healing properties in the water, but most people come for the slides, jacuzzis and social aspect of the baths.
Terma Bania (Bialka Tatrazanska – 22 km from Zakopane)
Termy Bukowina (Bukowina Tatrzanska – 15 km from Zakopane)
Chocholowskie Termy (Chocholow – 18 km from Zakopane)
Others winter activities
You can also try Tobogganing, Sleigh rides, Snowmobiling or Husky rides.
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