Though it’s not known for it in any way, the Czech Republic is a fantastic place to ski for the first time without spending a lot of money. I had never been skiing for two important reasons. One, because I’m an uncoordinated mess. The second is that skiing is really expensive, and I’ve never been interested in paying several hundred dollars to break my leg.
But now that I live in Prague, I find myself surrounded by people who are obsessed with winter sports and who hit the slopes every weekend. I was excited by the possibility of trying something new so I finally went skiing.
Choosing a ski resort
There are at least 50 places to ski within 3 hours of the Prague. Some of the most popular ones include Herlikovice and Jested. Since I know nothing of skiing, I was taken to Skiareal Rokytnice, which is supposed to be good for beginners. If you’re an expert skier, you may want something a bit more challenging.
Regardless of where you go, you need to make sure you book your transportation in advance. As I said, skiing is popular and buses may be sold out if you wait until the last minute. The Rokybus leaves out of the Cerny Most station in Prague and costs 750 czk ($30). The bus trip also includes the RokyPass which gives you access to all the lifts for the entire day. As a point of reference, the day pass to the resort during peak season is usually 650 czk, so your 2-hour round trip transportation out there is practically free.
The bus leaves at 6:15 am, which means you’ll have an early start. If you manage to stay awake, the ride over is a beautiful trip through small mountain towns and white undisturbed fields of snow.
Unless you’re bringing your own skis, the first thing you need to do is rent equipment. If you’re a first-time skier, even this process will be intimidating. They’ll ask you for your shoe size, your height, and weight to give you the correct size poles and skis. You’ll want to know your European sizes to simplify that process. They’ll give you a ski boot to try on so you can check if it feels right before renting a pair.
Just unlatch every single clasp, pull out the tongue and squeeze your foot in. The boot is rigid and ridiculously heavy, so you may feel a little bit like you’re already breaking your foot trying to shove it in there. Don’t force it. Just get a bigger size. In addition to the shoes, you’ll also be renting skis, poles, and a helmet. For the entire day, that came out to 280 czk ($11).
If you’re skiing for the very first time, I highly recommend lessons before you throw yourself off a lift and ruin your entire day by faceplanting into a pine tree. There are a couple of private schools at the resort. I went with Major Ski School, mostly because that’s the one that my friends booked for me in advance. A two-hour private lesson is 880 czk (around $35), which is insane. A private lesson in most major ski resorts in the world will easily cost you at least $100-200.
I have to admit, having lived in Prague now for several months, I was a little intimidated by the idea of learning to ski with Czechs. I love Czechs but they’re not the most helpful people sometimes, and I was half expecting them to throw me down the hill and telling me to call myself an ambulance when I got to the bottom. And if you think I’m being xenophobic, go to the UPC office for a problem with your internet and watch them give you a pamphlet to call the toll-free number.
But I have to admit, every single person at the resort was amazing. They were really sweet, very helpful, and my two instructors were outrageously patient with me. I would have definitely thrown myself down the hill and told me to call an ambulance. Thankfully they were also very strong because they had to break my fall as I sped out of control toward them several times.
Preparing to ski
You’ll want to come equipped ahead of time with the right tools to make your experience pleasant. That means dressing properly. Make sure you get good ski jacket and pants, both of which should be weather-proof. Trust me, you will fall a million times, and you don’t want to literally freeze your ass off if snow or moisture seeps through. You should also get weather-proof gloves, because rolling around in the snow for several hours can easily lead to frostbite.
As far as clothing goes, I had read that you should have at one thermal layer and at least one sweater under your overcoat. To be honest, I was hot as fuck. I don’t think I’ve ever sweat so much in my life. By the time I got back at it after lunch, I was down to one undershirt and I still had to unzip my jacket.
Learning to ski
Before you can strap your skis on, you’ll have to head over to the slope. Beginner lessons are held on a small slope full newbies that’s accessible on foot. This was fantastic because ski lifts terrify me. And at Rokytnice, you can’t even get on the lift unless you have skis on, which means you have no way to get down except on your skis. So good luck to you with that.
With the help of your instructor, you’ll fasten your boots into your skis and start learning to walk on them. You will probably progress at your own pace, but I spent almost the entire first hour learning to walk uphill (sideways) and trying to figure out how to brake on the way down. This part sucks. Mostly because simply walking on ski boots alone is exhausting. You feel like you’re an astronaut on a planet with extra gravity. So doing that uphill over and over as you try to avoid wiping out by accident is not so fun. You’ll want to strip off all your clothes and tell your instructor to just let you lie on the ground until the lesson is over. But keep at it and your legs will eventually figure it out.
When your instructor is confident in your ability to control yourself going downhill, you’ll take a mini lift up all the way up the hill. At this point, you begin to understand why people like skiing. Despite the fact that I fell off the lift every single time I was getting off it, I had a blast skiing to the bottom and learning to do turns on the way down. Maybe it was the fact that I was so hot, but you lose your fear because of how badly you want a nice breeze to hit your face. For the same reason, falling is also kind of enjoyable.
Fall and get right back up
I was afraid of falling while skiing because I thought I could easily twist something or break my leg if the ski fell in a weird way, pulling my leg with it. But the ski boot is so heavy and provides so much resistance, that if you have a disastrous fall, the ski will just detach.
My second fear was falling and not being able to get up. And I never did figure out how to get up on my own because my instructor pulled me up every single time. It was because of this that I decided to take another lesson after lunch. I’m a disaster, and I need constant supervision and assistance.
But ultimately the anticipation of falling is always worse than the fall. The fall is nice. It’s cool in the snow. Your clothes are so padded and the snow is so fluffy that it doesn’t hurt. And your muscles get to rest. After two hours of going up and down, just can throw yourself on the floor and make snow angels.
Lunch at the resort
There are a lot of restaurants in Rokytnice where you can eat, including some on the mountain that are only accessible by lift. When you’re ready for a break, you can just take your equipment and leave it outside. As someone who comes from Miami where crime is ubiquitous, I was surprised to see there are hundreds of skis and snowboards leaning on buildings or placed in the snow. You don’t have to worry, no one is going to steal your stuff.
And after carrying around all that weight for a couple of hours, you really will just want to dump it as soon as you can. I recommend a beer or two with lunch to loosen you up. I had a much more successful afternoon lesson because I wasn’t as nervous and stiff. And after all that work, you really want to drink. I can now understand why the bars were so packed when I visited Zermatt a couple of years back. Successfully going downhill on a piece of wood strapped to your feet is a fucking accomplishment. And you’ll want to drink to that.
Getting the most out of the afternoon
After you eat and relax for a couple of hours, you’ll still have plenty of time before the bus departs at 4:15 pm to fill up your afternoon. If you made a lot of headway in your lessons, you can get on the lift and try the blue slopes (easy). You’d do best to avoid red (intermediate) and black (expert) until you can handle yourself on the blue trail.
You can also play it safe and spend that time practicing the basics on your own. If you’re like me, you may want to schedule another lesson so you can be accompanied at all times by someone way more skilled than you. But after a total of 3-4 hours of skiing, you will be tired as hell. So take it easy.
So how much is a day in the slopes at Rokytnice going to cost you?
750 czk for the bus and the ski pass (not including the 50 czk deposit)
1320 czk for 3 hours’ worth of ski lessons
280 czk for equipment rental (skis, helmet, and poles)
Totaling 2350 czk or about $94
That’s the cost of a ski pass in Switzerland. God, I love the Czech Republic. And if you’re looking for suitable ski wear on the cheap, Prague’s second hand stores have an amazing selection of ski pants and jackets for a fraction of the cost of buying them new. By the time you get skilled enough to not need lessons, an entire day of skiing will be around $40.
And that’s a really cheap way to find out if you have a passion for skiing. Or a cheap way to break your leg, depending on how your day goes.