Skiing in Ukraine! ⛷ Bukovel.

Me and my husband love to ski. But not just ski, I mean the half of it are those big and beautiful mountains.

Last time we went skiing in Norway 2014th. I was pregnant already with Toms, but I got my doctors permission (how crazy that sounds now). So after 2 years break we were missing mountains so much! Looking through the ski resorts, we decided to go on a budget trip to Ukrainian Carpathians as we hadn’t been there yet and reviews were 90% great. We still don’t want to travel without our son, so we asked my parents to join on our trip to look after Toms and go skiing in “shifts”.

“Ice hotel” sample iglu.

If You want something exravagant, try sleeping in such iglu!

Logically we were thinking about the best time for Toms’ first time on skis and we were lucky to find this article with many skiing instructors’ opinions. The best thing was they completely matched our parental feeling – this year he should watch us skiing and enjoying it and next year he can try himself. They say aproximately 4 years is the best age for kids, who don’t live in mountains. If I jump ahead of time, we met an Ukrainian inustructor in a ski lift and had a little talk about kids and skiing. He also said that next winter, when Toms will be 3,5 years old, would be the time to try skiing. Little ones practise 1 hour a day and plus minus on their 3rd day they (together with instrucot, of course) go to common blue slopes already.
 

As always before travel, we bought few new books for Toms. Also we took some new toy cars with us (I have had this bag full of gifts that are not age appropriate for Toms yet and I look it through time to time) – to award Toms after the long drive. Of course, 1 bag full of his favorite toys and books! And last but not least – I developed photos from our visit to mini Zoo and added them to Toms’ photo album, because kids love to see photos of themselves and old-fashioned photo albums are a good choice instead of smartphones.

There are 1300km drive from Latvian border to Bukovel – the most known and biggest Ukrainian ski resort. Four adults and a toddler we nicely fit in a minivan with roof box for ski equipment. If usually for grownups 1300km is not that far of a road to be thinking about overnight in a hotel, then traveling with a toddler is completely different and it was clear we will be sleeping one night in some Poland hotel. But we didn’t book any to be elastic – we have to go as far as possible on a first day, because you never know many hours Poland-Ukrainian border will take. But we did book an apartment in Bukovel and I suggest to do that timely.

We start our trip on a Saturday morning. First planned hour to two stop is in Kaunas, Lithuania. We have no idea why, but Toms gets to puke few times, so when we stop for an hour second time in Bialystok, Poland, we generously refill Toms clothing and Lidl cash desk. But I think we would have done that anyway, because prises in Poland are way much better than in Latvia. We decide to drive further till 9pm and after start looking for a hotel. Road from Bialystok is not a pleasure – foggy, dark and narrow. Maybe fog is a common issue for this region or maybe it is there only when someone from my family drives through. Toms is sleepy – it must be his body’s self-defence to puking and I can feel a little raised temperature. But he is a hero and drinks much of a water. Just after 9pm he starts to wake-up and protest to driving further. With a 3rd or something try we settle in a nice hotel before Lublin and are surprised that we have managed to drive so far as we wished. I have to add that around Lublin there are meaningfully less hotels than we have used to see in other parts of Poland. Toms is very hungry and he wakes up at night to play with his new award car for about an hour. But his body temperature has normalised, so everything feels good.

Sunday after breakfast at 9am we hit a road again and nausea comes back. We understand that Toms can eat only ricecakes and grissinis on a road. In the middle of a day we are on a border. Poland-Ukrainian border is interesting and hardly understandable if you go there first time. On outward road all passengers with their passports have to go to border guards themselves and when you are at gate, border guard give your documents back. I am telling all this because there aro no such information anywhere. Turns out that exactly today all border control system in Kijev has broken down and its Sunday – holiday for supervisors, so there are no common instruction. One border guard has stopped border crossing at all, other one makes copies of documents and allows it on his own responsibility. When we find that out and get to second line, border crossing is going fast for us. It took 2,5h and commonly it is quite fast. We feel lucky to be in Ukraine and don’t want to hesitate on a border for money exchange.

Ukraine isn’t Poland or even Latvia if we speak about road signs – you won’t get too far without navigation and a map. In the afternoon we were driving through Lvov which is quite big and bumpy city and navigation led us to the street closed for traffic on Sundays. More luck that in all the long ride through the city we didn’t find any working currency exchange. Lucky there is one more city in our way toBukovel – Ivano-Frankivsk and this is where we find a supermarket with currency exchange point. We decide to stop here on our way back to purchase local treats for family and colleagues. Oh, and we can’t resist not to buy a large garbage truck, cause we’ve been looking for one for a long time.

Remaining road to Bukovel is terrible or worse if I must say. Sharp holes, animals running out on the road and pedestrians without any tiniest reflectors… Around 10pm we are finally in Polyanytsya which is the real name of the town (Bukovel is only the name of resort). Of course navigation doesn’t respond to our hotel’s name, so we try to understand instructions given by phone – each of us understands them differently, but finally at 11pm we arrive to our apartment, a bit angry to hotel manager and to each other. Turns out hotel stuff has a party tonight and that must be a reason for those strangly told instructions! But important thing is our hotel is good – two room apartment with a huge bathroom (and a bath, which will be a life saver after 3rd day of skiing!). They offer a crable, but, guess what, stairs are too tight to get the crable to our room, so we take just a mattress.

Our hotel.

Look from our balcony.

We stay in Bukovel for full 5 days. There are english breakfast in our accomodation price and we are approved to order another portion for Toms. He is so happy to eat here because of a parrot living there – they even talk to each other!

We decide to buy 2 five days lift tickets for 4 of us. Me and my husband go skiing the frst morning and we arrange to meet with my parents and Toms at 2pm near the slopes to change, because ski lifts work till 7:30pm. We find out that noone without a helmet is allowed through the turnstile, but here you can rent everything starting with ski clothes for very understandable prices, so this is not a problem, just ignorance. It is sunny with a lot of snow and we feel satisfied with Ukrainian slopes. Turns out there is a playground near our meeting point – what a great coincidence! Toms shows to his boots – he doesn’t have skis! We tell there will be next year and he happily agrees.

 

We have borroved a stroller to be able to go on a long walks on our free time, but sadly the only sidewalk in this resort hadn’t been cleaned even once this winter. Now we understand why so many pedestrians just walk on the street. With a spite and a patience we manage to go to the restaurant and back to hotel, but clearly it is our first and last try. You don’t need a stroller in Bukovel.

Afternoon skiing is not as good as in the morning, but this is the way it is everywhere in the world (ok, I will talk about where I have been, so in whole Europe). Before 5pm they close most slopes and guide all skiers to Bukovel center, where are handful of night slopes with artifical lights. This big movement comes along with long quees by the lifts, but the long working hours give us a chance to ski in two shifts. It gets colder in evenings so we meet at 6pm and all of us have had a chance to ski enough.

 

In the second morning its us who stay home with Toms. Snowstorm, no electricity, but it can be seen through our window that ski lifts are working. In the middle of the day we meet at playground again where between fun and positive emotions we meet also negative ones – the bully bigger boy, who has come here to push the little ones. While me and my husband try out the afternoon skiing, Toms and his grandfather have one ride with a snow-tube. -Did You liked it? -Yes! -Want to ride again? -No!

 

In the similar manner we keep rotating between skiing and parenting, varying skiing hours by the weather. During those 5 days we have seen sun, snowstorm, sun again, rain and wind. If we overthink all week (Monday to Friday), I have to say the fullest slopes was on Friday when many dangerous skiing and snowboard enthusiasts arrive – without any idea how to stop or change their trajectory, but already with some degrees in their system. There were plenty people on slopes also on Monday. But the best skiing was on Wednesday and Thursday, when slopes were quite empty. All slopes are beeing adjusted with retracks every evening, however on Friday after a stormy night the slopes were full of cones, small branches and spruce needles. Only a fallen tree had been taken away leaving just a line with sawdust.

Souvenir market in Bukovel.

When we didn’t ski, we visit local markets, view ice sculptures and taste Ukrainian chebureks, dumplings and strudels.

  

In the evenings we try out different restourants  enjoying that here You can choose whatever dish from a menu You want and it won’t exceed 10Eur per portion. Grilled trout ans mackerel, perfect shashlik, real pilaf and other delights. (Look for some advices at the end!)

Restaurants in Bukovel are interesting with their interior decorations.

Wall paintings are one of the most beautiful thing in Ukrainian Carphatians.

We hit the road home at 9:30am. Now driving in a daylight these awful asphalt holes I told You about doesn’t seem that awful, but You have to be very careful. As planned we stretch our legs and shop at the same supermarket in Ivano-Frankivsk. By the afternoon we are crossing border again. In this direction passengers don’t have to go anywhere – border guards came to take our passports themselves. Only driver have to bring his passport and car documents himself. Both times in the long quee of border crossing we let Toms freely play in a car while we aren’t moving, but every time we drive a little further or border guard comes along we ask Toms to sit in his car seat. After 3,5h which isn’t much again, we are in Poland and it is clear we won’t get any further than to Niemce where we were staying in the beginning of our trip. Next morning we leave at 9:30am, pause for hour and half in Bialystok and return to home in Latvia ap 10pm.

FROM OUR EXPERIENCE:

  • As we have previously experienced skiing in Austria, Italy, Norway and Slovakia, we can easily compare the resorts. Ukraine definitely is not the last place to go, Bukovel is nice and well maintained ski resort. But no other mountains are similar to beautiful sights of Alps, so if You can afford, go to Alps.
  • Very many people (kids and grown-ups) are taking skiing and snowboarding lessons with Ukrainian instructors, usually individual lessons. We observed thet Ukrainian instructors are kind, professional and gentle with kids, so this would be the resort to consider for Toms first skiing experience next year.
  • Ukraine (as well as Slovakia and some resorts in Austria, f.e. Solden) is one of the places You can afford lunch in mountains – tasty and for a good price (and there is available normal lunch – sorry, Norway, this stone goes to Your yard!). We suggest to try dumplings exactly in a bistro near ski lifts Nr.7 and Nr.2, because there You can taste even one of every kind if You want.
  • You don’t need to be worried about language here. Most Ukrainians in Bukovel speak English as well as Russian, but sometimes even here they will treat You nicer if You start a conversation in English.
  • You can pay with a card in many places, but way cheaper is go to currency exchange and pay with cash.
  • From the restaurants where we ate dinner, we can suggest: “Milena” (Polyanytsya) and “Ra” (Bukovel). It was tasty also in “Eleonora” (Polyanytsya), but waiting took too long.
  • Mostly prices in restaurants are given per 100g cooked meal. For example, if You choose grilled fish, keep in mind its weight is approximately 300g.
  • Although food in restaurants tasted really good and felt like we are eating high quality products, its a different situation in grocery stores – there You can see, that ingredients are not as good as we are used to. One example – children’s loved Barny sponge cakes in Ukrainian version has palm oil in them.
  • It is forbidden to import milk and meat products in European Union and that concerns also tourists coming from Ukraine.
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