Waiting for the slopes

Krakow is obsessed with skiing. After the first snow, trains and busses become crowded with skiers and snowboarders and their equipment. The entire city is on pins and needles every fall waiting for the slopes to open.

The most popular ski-slope in Poland is Kasprowy Wierch, the only slope that can compete with Alpine skiing. Kasprowy is in Zakopane, a thriving tourist town, located 105 kilometers south of Krakow in the Tatar Mountains. The visitor may take ul. Zakopiasnka from Podgorze in Krakow to Zakopane. The traffic backed up on “Zakopianka” is infamous, especially during peak season. The road is heavily traveled and often under construction since it is the only one to Zakopane from Krakow. Trains for Zakopane depart regularly several times a day. The trip, however, can take up to four hours.

Once in town, the visitor needs to go to Kuznice, the base station, in order to take the remarkable 70-year-old suspended railway cabin to the upper ski station that sits 1,959 meters above sea level.

The railway cabin was built in 1937 by the locals of Zakopane and until this year’s modernization project had remained unchanged. This is a wonderful way to see the breathtaking views of the Tatar Mountains. Unfortunately, the line for the ride can take anywhere from forty minutes to several hours.

“The line is nothing compared to what it was 20 years ago when Kasprowy was the only slope in Poland,” remembers Wojciech Szerszen. “The ticket office would open at 07:00 and by 07:30 all the tickets would be sold. After you hiked up the mountain, there was another two-hour wait in line for the lift. You would be lucky if you got to ski down twice.”

The ride now costs 38 zloty and the wait is still quite long. The hike is about two and a half hours. “If I have to wait in line for an hour or longer and pay 40 zloty to go up, I’d rather hike it,” says Pawel Hydzik, a student of Krakow’s Economics University. He tries to get out on the slopes every free weekend and used to ski competitively before he came to Krakow. When asked if it’s worth all of the trouble, Pawel simply answers: “Kasprowy is amazing.”

Once the visitor has reached the top, one way or another, there are two trails, Gasienicowa and Goryczykowa. Gasienicowa is a 352-meter run, while Goryczykowa is almost twice as long. A day pass costs 80 zloty but thankfully both are equipped with lifts and the wait isn’t two hours long anymore.

Although Kasprowy is still the most popular and is regarded by many as the only real ski slope in Poland, it doesn’t rank as the best in a recent study by the Katowice School of Economics. Korbielow, Krynica and Bialka Tatrzanska are ranked as the top three ski resorts. The study took into account, among other aspects, the length of the slopes, the number of ski lifts, whether the slopes were lighted and general comfort.

Korbielow is only 75 kilometers southwest of Krakow, Bialka Tatrzanska is 90 kilometers south of Krakow and Krynica is a little over 113 kilometers southeast. A day pass in Koribelow costs 65 zloty. In Bialka Tatrzanska the visitor can buy a day pass for 60 zloty or a day and night pass for 70 zloty. Krynica, which is the biggest resort, offers a day pass for 85 zloty, which can also be split into morning and afternoon passes.

These slopes are especially appealing for snowboarders because each has its own snow park equipped with half pipes, which Kasprowy lacks.
Zakopane-life is a Krakow based English language company that acts as a guide around Zakopane. Their web site (Zakopane-life.com) has a wide range of information from booking hotels to where to go eat or have a drink. It also has information about the ski conditions and other attractions in Zakopane.

If the visitor wishes to spend New Year’s Eve in Zakopane, reservations need to be made months ahead. At this point in the season, finding a hotel is almost impossible.
There are many other resorts in the area which have a lot to offer.
A great source of all available resorts in Poland as well as in the Czech Republic and Slovakia is the annual Ski Atlas (“Atlas narciarski-Czechy, Polska, Slowacja.”)
Each resort is described in detail. The atlas is available at all major book stores.

What about equipment? All the larger resorts offer rentals both for skis and snowboards. If the visitor doesn’t want to rent equipment at the slopes, buying equipment in Krakow is relatively easy.

If the visitor’s relationship with skis/snowboard is so strong that he/she brought them to Krakow, it may be worthwhile to give them a check-up before hitting the slopes.
There are a lot of shops where the visito can buy equipment or prepare for the season. The people who work there are fanatics and know what they’re talking about.

The gigantic “SNOWBOARD” sign on Plac Inwalidow, although not subtle, does make its point.

There is a decent snowboard shop in the building which also does surface renovation. The guys at “3 Style Sport” will repair skis but not without a little teasing about one’s choice of winter sport. Without a doubt, these guys will put the visitor in the right frame of mind for a good road trip.

If casual last year’s scene, then “Windsport” on ul. Zakopianska and “Sport Service” on ul. Grunwaldzka are also great places and a little more professional. These are of course not the only places that sell equipment. Many other small shops around town as well as the chains Decathlon and Intersport are more than happy to fix visitors up.

The equipment sold in these ski shops can cost a small fortune. This is why so many rely on the ski swap. There is a ski swap in Rotunda Cultural Center every Saturday and Sunday from mid-November to March. The swap takes place in a 2,500-square-meter area and the visitor can buy anything and everything needed to enjoy the Polish ski season.

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