Skiing is back with a bang this winter – if you’re watching the pennies or just fancy exploring somewhere different, pack your mittens and head to Zakopane, Poland where Snomads run two laid-back chalets that make the perfect base for exploring the Tatra mountains.
A stay with Snomads in Zakopane, Poland
Sick of cookie-cutter skiing holidays? Snomads do things a little differently. Started by three friends with dozens of ski seasons under their belts, Snomads aims to provide a comfy, fuss-free base for skiers and boarders in lesser known corners of the mountains. They already run a clutch of popular chalets in Bulgaria, and now they’ve hopped in Poland to offer two traditional timber chalets in Zakopane, Poland. Stardust, which sleeps 12, can be booked up completely if you’re with a gang or you can book out a bedroom in a shared week, and Stardust 2, which sleeps 11, is bookable for sole occupancy. My mate Ben and I got to try out Stardust 2 last winter, staying in a little set of rooms which sleeps four – two in a cosy bedroom and two in a snug wooden platform in the eves, with a little triangular window from which you can watch the snow falling. Snomads stays include the things you expect (airport transfers, afternoon cake and an honesty bar) and a few things you don’t – amazing local food for breakfast, a sitting room stocked with vintage video games, retro ski onesies to rent and best of all, the Snomads team on hand to help you plan each day’s adventure.
Zakopane itself is on your doorstep, and is possibly the coolest (and maybe the weirdest) ski town I’ve been to. This is a proper town, not a Disney-fied ski resort, and the main drag, Krupowki street, is lined with beautiful wooden buildings decorated with lacy carpentry work, all jam-packed with bars, cafes and restaurants, as well as street food stalls selling tempting-smelling snacks.
There’s also a fascinating local market to explore. Stalls are piled high with traditional fabrics, wooden gadgets, a weird and wonderful mix of new ski kit and vintage clothing and my favourite, hot plates frying up slices of local smoked cheese (Oscypek) before serving it hot with a dollop of jam.
Don’t expect a standard Alpine layout – Zakopane is a proper town, and while you can’t ski straight from most of its streets, it’s surrounded by a clutch of ski resorts perched high up in the Tatras National Park. Most are small, relaxed and cheap (think £20 per day), so the best plan is to play ski pick-n-mix and head to a new one every day. Beginners can tackle the slopes of the Nosal resort right by the Snomads chalets, while more experienced skiers and boarders can plunge down the challenging slopes of Kasprowy Wierch or try night skiing on floodlit slopes in Gubałówka. On our final day, Snomads helped us sort a lovely local ski touring guide who took us on remote woodland trails up the mountainside before helping us practise our turns on steep little descents hidden among the trees. We barely saw another person for the entire day as we explored a hidden side of the Tatras.
The vibe on (and off) the pistes is seriously laid back here, with mostly locals taking to the slopes and little pockets of fun off-piste to try out if you look carefully. And if you’re used to stopping for painfully expensive drinks on the mountainside, you’ll love Poland’s approach – their versions are cheap and cheerful cafes and wooden huts with fires blazing, all serving bowls of hearty stew, cured sausages and that amazing fried cheese, plus flagons of beer. Most days we spent less than 27 zloty (£5) on lunch.
Even the après is unique in Zakopane – you could always hit up the lively bars in town, but if you fancy a different kind of party, hail a ride in a horse drawn sleigh. Wooden sleighs trundle through the snowy forest near the town at sunset, then take revellers to an outdoor kitchen where you can feast on homemade goodies (yep, more sausages) washed down with fiery local liquor, then huddle around a big fire while musicians play lilting local tunes on the fiddle. It feels straight out of a fairytale – if you like your winter wonderlands a little bit different, this is the place to explore.