Thinking of going skiing in Poland? Read on for everything you need to know. This guide has information on the best resorts, the top hotels, and what to expect from the experience…
In the last decade or so, Poland has risen from obscurity to become one of the top alternative skiing destinations for anyone looking to escape the Alps.
It’s championed for its range of small-scale resorts and accessibility, but most of all for the price – a day’s lift pass for skiing 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 are in the south, making a snow holiday in and around the amazing city of Krakow a real possibility.
(This page might include affiliate links to hotels and other services related to skiing in Poland. If you book through them, we’ll earn a little something to keep this site going – cheers!)
What will I find in this guide to Polish skiing?
In this ultimate guide to skiing in Poland, we’ll consider the ups and downs of the country’s winter offering with honesty. There’s a heavy focus on the skiing in Krakow region, because – as you’ll see – that’s widely considered to be the best the country has. But we’ll also look at smaller ski destinations in Poland, cute mountain villages, and the very best hotels (say hello to some lovely Polish spas!).
What’s in this guide to skiing in Poland?
- A guide to Poland’s best ski resorts (find out where you should ski)
- A guide to Poland’s skiing regions (discover the main areas of Poland that are good for skiing)
- Where to stay for skiing in Poland (info on locations, hotels, and resorts)
- Skiing in Slovakia (consider heading across the border to squeeze even more from your Poland skiing holidays) .
An [honest!] introduction to the skiing in Poland
The skiing in Poland has been on the up for some years now. The country has successfully positioned itself as one of the top destinations to catch some winter snow in Central-Eastern Europe. The crowds are bigger, the pistes are also getting considerably better.
But before we get carried away with all that, a caveat. While the offering of resorts and runs in Polska has certainly improved in the last decade, it’s still important to manage expectations about what you’re getting when you trade in Chamonix for the Tatras. Let’s take a look at the pros and the cons. Bad news first, obviously…
This is not the Alps. Repeat: This not the Alps. Do not come skiing in Poland 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.
Polish resort skiing also edges towards the easy end of the spectrum, so black runs will be more like tricky reds in the Alps. In addition, snow coverage can get patchy when the winter isn’t the coldest (though that hasn’t been a problem recently). Oh, and you’ll probably find yourself skiing the same runs several times each day.
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 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 often owned by a totally different company to the slope right next door. That means there’s no such thing as big terrain like the Three Valleys.
There are some exceptions to the rule – like Kasprowy Wierch and Kotelnica (more on those later). However, it remains the bane of real winter sportsters who come skiing in Poland 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 no solid evidence on the ground. Just watch this space, I guess.)
TL;DR – this isn’t Whistler, folks.
That’s not to say that there aren’t moments when the skiing in Poland is simply awesome. There are, especially if you hit the Tatras and manage to catch the bigger resorts when they aren’t too busy. And there is loads here for the casual skier or beginner looking to find their snow feet.
In fact, if you’re in for a casual snow holiday, it’s likely you’ll love what skiing in Krakow and skiing in Poland generally can bring to the table. The resorts are uber-family-friendly. Ski tuition is cheap and almost universally multilingual. The pistes are well-groomed and there’s excellent snow-making outside of the national parks. You’ll also get a chance to try your hand at skiing under floodlights after sunset (most resorts don’t close until 10pm in the height of the season).
But most of all: There’s awesome skiing in Poland for beginners. In fact, I’ve been saying for years that Poland is the single best place in Europe to learn to ski.
In short, there’s loads to love about Polish skiing and the skiing in Krakow in particular, but it’s also important to keep your expectations in line with a place that’s still really developing as a winter sports hub.
The top 5 ski resorts in Poland
Let’s cut to the chase. Where exactly should you be looking at when planning a ski trip to Poland? Here’s a brief look at the top five resorts in the country. For more information, just click on through for a full complete guide to each…
1. Kasprowy Wierch
Kasprowy just about tops our list with its high-altitude credentials. It’s by far the most lofty resort in the country. Sat on the peak that gives it the name at nearly 2,000 metres up, it gazes down on the winter capital of Zakopane. Riders enjoy four lifts and 15km of downhill runs across proper alpine terrain. Downsides include a lack of snow making and busy queues in the middle of the season.
Read our full ultimate guide to skiing in Kasprowy Wierch.
2. Bialka Tatrzanska
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 single interconnected ski resort in Poland. Upgrades and expansions in the last couple of years have ensured it’s kept that coveted title – you get 21 groomed runs and 18 separate chairlifts. There’s nothing that will challenge the pros, but it’s got a good mix and is probably the very best skiing in Poland for beginners.
Read our full ultimate guide to Bialka Tatrzanska.
3. Szczyrk Mountain Resort
Out in the beautiful Beskid Śląski mountains to the south-west of Krakow, Szczyrk has been building in recent years in the hope of rivalling the bigger fields of Bialka and the Tatras. It’s done well. There are now 27 lifts and over 700 metres of vertical descent. Perhaps the best selling point is that this one tends to be way less busy than other Polish resorts on this list, particularly during the middle of the season, when thousands flock to Zakopane.
Read our full ultimate guide to skiing in Szczyrk Mountain Resort.
4. Karpacz Ski Resort
The resort of Śnieżka–Karpacz is the best of the Karkonosze, a mountain range that runs along the Czech border. Find it around four hours from Krakow and two hours from Wroclaw. The ski field counts six lifts and six kilometres of groomed runs. Elevations go up to nearly 1,350 metres. Pluses include good snow making and a nice spread between blue, black and red runs. Oh, and this is also a spa town, which means you’ll find some seriously gorgeous places to stay with pools and saunas and whatnot.
Read our full ultimate guide to skiing in Karpacz Ski Resort.
The Szymoszkowa Ski Resort is one of the closest of all to the town of Zakopane. In fact, you can walk from the centre to the base of the runs. It’s not big. There are just two or three designated pistes (depending on what you count), served by just two chairlifts and one magic carpet. Terrain isn’t the reason it’s worth a mention. That’s down to its convenient location, stunning views over the High Tatras, and excellent ski schools – it’s another top spot for skiing in Poland for beginners.
Read our full ultimate guide to Szymoszkowa Ski Resort.
A guide to Polish skiing regions
Much of the geography of Poland doesn’t actually lend itself towards skiing.
For the most part, the country is flat, rolling countryside. Up north, it’s got the Baltic coast, along with the lake lands of Mazury.
The only regions with real mountains are to be found in the south. That means the skiing in Krakow and vicinity (including Zakopane) is some of the best Poland has to offer. The Beskidy (to the east) and the Karkonosze (to the south-west) are also good options.
Those feeling even more adventurous could even add some cross-border action to a holiday skiing in Poland. It’s just a case of moseying across the Slovak border. There are some excellent resorts there, all within a doable drive from Krakow.
The Tatra Mountains
This is the main winter sports region in Poland. No questions about it. Zakopane is located here, right on the cusp of the National Park. It’s where you find resorts like Kasprowy and Polana Szymoszkowa. The highest mountain in the country – Rysy – also peaks here. It’s the number-one choice for skiing in Polanad.
The Beskid Mountains
To the east of Krakow, the Beskids are a more rustic mountain range that run all the way to the border with Ukraine. They are known to have rather chilly weather, so skiing here is a good choice if you’re chasing the snow. The Beskids aren’t as well developed as the area around Zakopane, but that means smaller crowds. It takes around three hours in the car to reach resorts like Kiczera Ski in the heart of the Beskids.
The Karkonosze Mountains (Giant Mountains in English) beckon with some mid-sized Polish ski resorts to the east of Krakow. They have similar seasons (December-April) and altitudes as Czech ski resorts, which are super close. The most famous here is Karpacz.
Where to stay for skiing in Poland
So, you’re settled on a ski trip to Poland? Great choice.
One of the first things you’re going to want to consider is exactly where to base yourself. We’ll have more info on the various ski fields there are to pick from later. For now, let’s consider the towns you can opt for.
Where you choose will largely depend on whether you’re after a holiday laden with some of the best skiing in Poland, or if you’re after a city break with some skiing on the side…
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. It also has the bulk of the most famous ski resorts close to Krakow. And there’s even been a (withdrawn) Winter Olympics bid in its name!
We could write loads about the charm and character of Zakopane all on its own. It’s a beautiful place, set in crack in the middle of the Carpathians. In addition, streets are awash with timber-built lodges and handsome little cottages, smoke twisting and turning from their chimney stacks. The main street is Krupowki, which you’ll want to be close to for the apres – taverns, vodka bars, and jazz shows all meet there.
It’s for all those reasons and more, that we’d recommend planning a Zakopane ski trip in Poland if winter sports are your priority. Its resorts range from high-up mountain bowls to single-slope options for beginners. Moreover, there are some seriously enticing hotels in this attractive and downright fun town. (Many of them are hearty highland chalets with unique timber design and spa facilities to boot).
Between Krakow and Zakopane
The journey south from Krakow to Zakopane takes around two hours in the car (expect much more if there’s traffic, and there usually is!).
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. They loom like a wall of rock and ice against the Slovakian border. (There are some great views of Babia Gora mountain and the peaks to be had if you can find somewhere to stop the car)
Not only is that section of the drive beautiful but it also wiggles past some of the most accomplished Polish ski resorts, sat sprawled on the Carpathian foothills just 20-30 minutes away from Zakopane itself.
Accessible and with lots of options, it might just be the region to consider when you’re planning a holiday skiing in Krakow and vicinity…
Top ski resorts for those staying between Krakow and Zakopane
Staying in Krakow is a choice we love. It lets travellers fuse together some winter sports, great food, UNESCO history and buzzing nightlife, all in the very same trip.
There are small resorts around Krakow, which should take just 30 minutes or so to reach by minibus. That said, you also won’t be limited to them – a two-hour transfer can get you to Zakopane or Bialka, meaning day trips to the very best skiing in Poland are possible.
There are some downsides to consider when basing yourself for skiing in Krakow. Mainly, traffic can get unbearable on the 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 progress as of Jan 2020 is looking slow!).
If you’re not planning on renting a car, you’ll also be limited to the buses and trains that leave from Krakow. That’s fine if you’re going to Zakopane – there are departures every 15 minutes or so. But it’s less good if you’re looking to go to Bialka Tatrzanska for just a day – last time we checked, there’s only a couple of morning departures and only one or two returns late in the day.
Best ski resorts near Krakow
- Bialka Tatrzanska
Bialka Tatrzanska and nearby
You will already have seen us mention the resort of Bialka Tatrzanska. That’s because it’s one of the biggest destinations for skiing in Krakow and the biggest resort for skiing in Poland overall (as of 2020).
The skiing is centred on 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, really). Moreover, it might just be the prime pick if you’re a beginner or just want to be the first on the slopes come morning.
The best hotels in Bialka Tatrzanska
Skiing in Slovakia
The skiing in Poland is usually enough to fill a whole trip with snow-covered runs and lessons. However, some riders might crave what’s across the border. Why? Slovakia’s resorts are designed much more in the ilk of the Alps. To sum up, they have more to entertain veterans of France and Austria.
They sit mainly in the Low Tatras, but do spread across to the High Tatras on the border with Poland. Of the lot, there are really two resorts that stand out from the crowd. They are worth a special mention here because they can now be reached on direct buses from Krakow. You can also drive down to most in less than a morning.
There’s an argument for putting Tatranska Lomnica at the very top of Slovakia’s skiing menu. If it weren’t for the slightly more extensive runs and modern cable ways of Chopok just across the valley, we’d have no reservations in doing just that! Long runs that dwarf anything in Poland meet good altitude in the boundaries of the High Tatras.
Read our full guide to Tatranska Lomnica skiing.
Distance from Krakow: 197km/2h50
Draped over the third-tallest mountain the Low Tatras (the peak of Chopok), Jasna has soared in popularity in recent years. It’s been championed by big ski companies as the next best thing to the Alps. Moreover, its seen lots invested in nifty new gondolas and ski lifts.
Distance from Krakow: 187km/3h05
We hope this guide to skiing in Krakow helps you put together the best winter sports holiday possible. If you need extra tips to do with anything skiing in Poland, don’t hesitate to get in touch!
(In this page, we’ve included affiliate links to hotels and other services in various Polish ski resorts. They all stem from genuine recommendations for accommodations that are near the top slopes or have something unique about them. Using these links to book helps us keep these great guides coming!)