Whilst the pros may rely on sponsors, for most of us mere mortals, skiing can be a pretty expensive pursuit. But your favourite winter sport needn’t burn such a daunting hole in your pocket. There’s some cool and fairly cheap skiing to be had in alternative ski destinations across Eastern Europe, where you’ll save on everything from a lift pass and ski hire to hotels, food and drink without giving up great snow.
With the help of hefty investment in recent years, these resorts are beginning to seriously compete with the swanky slopes of the popular French, Swiss and Austrian Alps. Sure, they’re smaller than (and perhaps not quite as sophisticated as) their ritzy neighbours, but the snow is just as white and fluffy … only far less crowded and at half (or maybe even a third) the cost!
Here’s our list of the nine best Eastern European resorts for a low-cost skiing holiday.
Poiana Brasov, Romania
Deep in the Carpathian Mountains in the heart of Transylvania lies Poiana Brasov, one of the most luxurious resorts in Romania. Often thought of as the “Romanian Alps”, skiing is the main attraction here, but there are also several other activities offered such as ice skating or taking a ride on a horse-drawn sleigh. After going through a massive modernisation process beginning in 2010, the ski area has almost doubled in size. One of the best advantages is that almost all of the slopes are equipped with snow cannons, making it the perfect place for passionate skiers to practice from autumn to spring. After a long day out in the snow, warm up with an aromatic cup of traditional mulled wine, paired with some hearty Romanian specialities. Refuel with your choice of traditional smoked sausages, “ciorba de burta” (tripe soup), or polenta served with cottage cheese, egg and butter.
With almost 200 sunny days out of the year, Kopaonik is affectionately known as the “Mountain of the Sun”. A far cry from the crowded and expensive resorts of France and Austria, Kopaonik is a tranquil winter-wonderland – home to the largest mountain range in the entire country with over 70km of picturesque ski slopes that cater to all types of skiers, from beginners to experts. For the little ones who are just learning to ski, there is a “ski-kindergarten” training centre complete with a conveyor belt and carousel. For those looking for a fun challenge, Kopaonik also offers a night run called Malo Jazero, which is completely lit up at night. Enjoy the sights from the resort’s new six-person, heated ski-lift and at the end of the day, spend the night eating and drinking at the local bars and restaurants, which often include live Serbian folk music.
Spindleruv Mlyn, Czech Republic
Snug in the powdered peaks of the Krkonoše (literally The Giant Mountains), the highest mountain range in the Czech Republic, sits tranquil Spindleruv Mlyn, one of four main resorts in the area. From kid-friendly runs to a snow-stacked terrain park and miles of unspoilt cross-country trails, Spindleruv Mlyn is a serious bargain – and the gorgeous National Park surrounding it is a UNESCO classified biosphere reserve. Head down to the charming snow-capped village, when your ski day is spent, where the smell of simmering stews and piping hot pancakes seems to linger permanently in the air. For a new and eccentric experience, the local Novosad Brewery offers an unusual spa treatment – soaking in fizzy golden beer baths!
Home to the women’s skiing events of the 1984 Winter Olympics, Jahorina and its snowy peaked neighbours attract downhillers in search of a taste of international snowsport standards. Standing proud amongst the tallest Dinaric Alps of Bosnia, Jahorina’s tidy wide slopes are crisp and inviting – towering over the equally charming little town of traditional chalets and foothills coated in fir trees. Only a stones-throw from Sarajevo and a favourite amongst the après-party inclined, this Balkan budget destination makes for a great ski and city break combo, not to mention its glowing reputation amongst nature seekers, who flock here faithfully for the hiking, sledding and fresh alpine air.
Bialka Tatrzanska, Poland
Zakopane is Poland’s biggest and most recognised resort, but if you want to ski on the cheap and avoid the clumsy crowds, head to the tiny picture-perfect village of Bialka Tatrzanska. The resort’s wide, sweeping, tree-lined slopes are very family-friendly and best for beginners and intermediates to sharpen their skills. A taste of the local smoky sheep’s cheese and cranberries with a warm cup of rum-spiked tea works great as a midday energy boost. The nights are pretty quiet in this rural refuge, but a dip in the steaming outdoor pools of the local geothermal baths is a relaxing – and pretty – end to the day.
One of Slovakia’s best-kept secrets, nestled in the Demanovska Dolina Valley – Jasna is a real-life winter wonderland of snow flurry and pine trees, where pistes cut through wilderness and backcountry skiing through national parkland. Whilst Chopok peak lures its fair share of adventure-seekers with its 1,000m vertical drop and multiple freeride areas, newcomers can hit the excellent ski schools or wander off-piste with an expert Slovak guide. The après-ski scene is on the quiet side and revolves around local brews and hot perogi dumplings, but you can always brave the chilly evening air and slice up the last of Chopok’s powder on an illuminated night run.
Recently modernised Bansko is becoming a top destination for snow lovers seeking both good powder conditions and nights that offer a lot more than hot cocoa by the fire. Although extremely beginner-friendly, the resort is not all bunny-slopes – the reds can definitely hold their own and riding full speed through the skyscraper spruces of the glades is as thrilling as it is visually spectacular. Bulgaria’s biggest resort can sometimes get a little congested on the lifts, but luckily there’s always the option to sleep in and have a cosy late breakfast. And you’ll want to sleep in … you won’t find any scary black pistes up top, but Bansko’s legendary bar scene is as much of an adrenaline rush as you’ll need.
Kranjska Gora, Slovenia
Sitting pretty in the majestic Julian Alps, bordered by Austria and Italy and blanketed in a hefty pine forest, is quiet and family-friendly Kranjska Gora. What this Slovenian resort lacks in challenging terrain, it more than makes up for in gentle, well-groomed runs, compact nursery slopes and a stunning landscape to go with the copious amounts of cross-country trails. It does lay claim, however, to a World Cup black run that has been testing slalom stars from around the world for more than 50 years. Despite its pedigree, Kranjska Gora is free of prestige and the prices that go with it – you don’t need to be a celebrity to get a guesthouse on the piste.
Popova Sapka, Macedonia
Standing higher than most Eastern European resorts, you’ll find Macedonia’s Popova Sapka, nestled in the cushy rounded peaks of the Dinaric Mountains. The town, with its veil of white and empty streets, is in a state of perpetual slumber, perfect for those in search of a secret hideaway. The lifts may be a little old school, but the smooth, unmarked slopes are definitely worth it – especially since you’ll have them all to yourself. If you’re determined to venture even further into the virgin white, you’re in luck, Popova Sapka is home to Europe’s first and only Snowcat operation! A converted snow groomer takes you into the immaculate back-country where you can freeride to your heart’s content.
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