|Tatra Sauce: Panoramic view of mountains surrounding Zakopane. (Marc Ripol/courtesy, Polish National Tourist Office)|
By the numbers, Zakopane is a small ski town (population 31,000), but its also a place firmly established on the map as far as international skiing is concerned; the town has hosted three FIS World Ski Championships since 1929, as well as several Ski Jump World Cups.
Like Utahs Park City, downtown Zakopane occupies a natural bowl with three main ski areasNosal, Gubalowka, and Kasprowy Wierchlocated on the surrounding hillsides, part of the Tatra Mountains that form Polands southern border with Slovakia. The entire town is fairly spread out, although its easy enough to navigate your way round, and there are (dirt cheap) buses running from the center of town to each of the hills.
The smallest ski area is Nosal, to the east of the town center, which offers nine runs aimed at beginners and intermediates. Take the chair (theres only one) up to the top, and youll find a fairly steep redthe equivalent of a U.S. black runwhich allows you to lay out some chunky turns.
Nosal is a good place to go if there are beginners with you. Theres an even spread of runs, with most of them finishing up close together, making lunchtime rendezvous easy to organize. And despite its modest elevation (3,840 feet), you can get powder here thats as light and fluffy as Colorados finest champagne.
Nearby, Gubalowka (pronounced "gooba-loofka") has more runs than Nosal (12 in total). The longer reds here give you an opportunity to take in the stunning view of the Tatra Mountains on the other side of the valley.
The best of Zakopane skiing, however, is over at Kasprowy Wiercha five-minute cab ride from town. Two ancient cable cars from Kuênice take you up to a pair of snow-packed, treeless bowls at just over 6,500 feet. Just beware of the long lift line here, though.
Good to Know:
Although there are fairly decent rental facilities in Zakopane, theyre not as well-stocked with the latest gear like the stores back home, so youre probably best off bringing your own gearor hiring before you leave. Likewise, you can get lessons here, but its a good idea to organize some at home before coming if youre a little shaky on the skis.
Lift passes are super-cheap (about $2 a pop), but you have to buy them individually for each lift, which is a major pain.
One of the refreshing things about Zakopane is that you can break up the European routine of "ski in the day, drink and do culture at night." Both Nosal and Gubalowka offer skiing under the stars, allowing you turn off that alarm clock and leave the skiing till later.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication