Why savvy skiers are heading to Bosnia's snowy slopes

Mary Novakovich

Mary Novakovich

In need of a ski fix but want to keep an eye on your budget? Head east to Bosnia*, one of Europe's most affordable places for snowy fun in the mountains.

Hit Bosnia's snowy slopes for less
Hit Bosnia's snowy slopes for less © Amel Emric - Alamy Stock Photo

While other ski destinations in central and eastern Europe have been getting skiers' attention, Bosnia is still well under the radar. But it won't be long before this mountainous country in the middle of the Dinaric Alps is discovered by skiers and snowboarders who fancy a budget-friendly break in a fabulous setting.

People have short memories. Back in 1984, Bosnia's capital Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics, the one where Torvill and Dean skated to perfect scores and Olympic gold while the sounds of Ravel's Bolero blasted around the stadium.

You'll find Bosnia's two main ski resorts, Jahorina and Bjelašnica, about an hour south of Sarajevo, and both hosted Alpine events during the Olympics. If you've always wanted to try skiing but don't want to spend a fortune, you'll be in the right place.

Getting to Bosnia: find great value breaks to both resorts with Crystal Ski*.

Why Jahorina?

Jahorina* is Bosnia's biggest ski resort with 47 km of 20 mainly tree-lined runs snaking their way down from the resort's 1,916-m peak.

Complete beginners have three nursery areas where they can learn their turns and gain some confidence; two of which are towards the summit so they'll have wonderful views to spur them on. Once they're ready, they can take on the blue runs that wind through the woods.

Snowboarder on the upper slopes of Jahorina
Snowboarder on the upper slopes of Jahorina © Ivan - Adobe Stock Image

Hardcore experts will find a few challenges, including some picturesque off-piste areas. But it's the intermediates and snowboarders who'll have lots of varied terrain and a wide choice of pistes that are connected by two gondolas as well as chairlifts.

They'll soon discover why the mountain was used for the women's Alpine races, including the slalom, in the 1984 Olympics. And snowboarders can get their kicks in the 3,000-sq-m snowpark.

Come nightfall, keep your skis on so you can whoosh down 8.5 km of floodlit slopes from 6pm till 9pm. If you plan to hang up your skis for the day but still want some mountain fun, fly down the slopes in a giant tube.

Or take things more gently with a snowshoe walk through the woods. If you want to get on the slopes before anyone else, hire a piste basher early in the morning to make fresh tracks before anyone else has even got out of bed.

Why Bjelašnica?

Bjelašnica* might have only 12.5 km of pistes and six slopes, but it offers beginners a gentle place to get to grips with skiing. Intermediates will love the red slopes that run down from the top of the ski area at 2,067 m.

The wooded lower slopes of Bjelašnica
The wooded lower slopes of Bjelašnica © Vedad Ceric - Adobe Stock Image

Experts will immediately want to tackle the Olympic slalom run that was the setting for the men's Alpine races. Who wouldn't want to follow in the tracks of Austrian ski legend Franz Klammer?

As this piste is often left ungroomed after a snow dump, you'll be joyously ploughing through powder. Snowboarders are in for a treat: head to Petica snowpark where you can practise your tricks on the jumps and boxes.

If you prefer your skis long and thin, explore the beautiful cross-country ski trails in neighbouring Igman's Veliko Polje. Pick up the pace by hurtling down the slopes on a sled or a ski tube.

Or just lose yourself in the snowy woods on a winter walk. There's night skiing too on Bjelašnica if you haven't had your fill during the day.

Does Bosnia offer good value?

It certainly does. Every aspect of a winter holiday here is fantastically affordable, from the accommodation to the equipment hire. Ski schools can cost as little as €15 an hour, and lift passes are a fraction of what you would pay in other countries.

What makes it especially appealing to novices is that the inexpensive lift pass is exactly what you need when you're just starting out. In larger resorts in other parts of Europe, you'd be paying for a vast network of slopes you might not be skilled enough to use.

Your jaw will drop when you see how inexpensive food and drink are in Bosnia. Not only are prices as much as two-thirds cheaper than in many Western European countries, but the portions make the word "generous" sound inadequate.

Even when you factor in the premium that some ski resorts might charge for slopeside bars and restaurants, you'll still come away with a bargain.

Combine with a city break

Sarajevo is one of the most fascinating cities in the Balkans, and not to be missed if you're in the region. You'll soon be bewitched by its centuries of history as you walk past 19th-century Habsburg architecture straight into the atmospheric market stalls of the 16th-century Ottoman Baščaršija quarter.

Cable car to the summit of Trebevic in Sarajevo
Cable car to the summit of Trebevic in Sarajevo © Vedad Ceric - Adobe Stock Image

Take the cable car to the top of Trebević Mountain to get wonderful views of the city as well as the chance to walk along the old Olympic bobsled track, long since smothered with graffiti and street art. Bring your hiking boots for winter wanders along the park's trails.

Après-ski

Sun yourself on café terraces at the foot of the slopes, or gather round the giant open fireplaces of cosy bars and hotel restaurants where some have live music.

Bring a big appetite to Bosnia. They love their grilled meats here, including ćevapi (meat rissoles), kobasice (merguez-like sausages) and the Balkan version of burgers called pljeskavica.

With prices so low, it's very easy to get into the spirit of things; literally, in a country where local brandies called rakija are as ridiculously tasty as they are cheap.

When to go

The season starts in December and usually runs until April. The coldest months are from late December to late February, and the resorts have excellent snow-making machines.

The opening weekend in Jahorina in December attracts big names to its huge concert at the bottom of the slopes. Unlike other European countries with February half-term holidays, prices don't go through the roof during that month.

Ready to ski in Bosnia? Browse the latest ski breaks for all the family with Crystal Ski.

Crystal Ski Holidays: Book early for skiing holidays in 2024/2025

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Mary Novakovich

Mary Novakovich

Mary Novakovich is an award-winning journalist, travel writer and author. She often writes about Croatia, France, Italy and Greece for the likes of The Independent, The Guardian and The Telegraph. Mary has also written numerous guidebooks and a travel memoir, "My Family and Other Enemies: Life and Travels in Croatia's Hinterland".

Posted on Wednesday 10th January 2024 in: Europe Skiing & Snowboarding

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