If you’re looking for a ski adventure with a twist this winter, it’s worth exploring the slopes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Balkan country played host to the 1984 Winter Olympics back when it was a part of Yugoslavia. While sports like figure skating and hockey were played in the city of Sarajevo, the mountains hosted alpine skiing, ski jumping, and several other events. Today those mountains offer options for every type of skier, from bunny slopers to free-riders. You’ll find well-groomed ski runs; challenging, off-piste skiing; and a quirky après scene — all at extremely affordable prices. Here’s what you need to know.
The ski resorts
Jahorina — which, together with Bjelašnica, is one of the two big ski areas — is located just 17 miles from Sarajevo and comes equipped with 17 ski slopes and six chair lifts. The well-groomed slopes hosted several events in the 1984 Winter Olympics, including the Women’s Alpine Competitions. The Olympic Black ski run can only be accessed by a precarious T-Bar, a surefire way to get the adrenaline pumping.
Jahorina also offers night skiing and has many bars and cafes peppered through its ski fields. If you want to immerse yourself in the local culture, step into Café Restaurant Peggy. As you walk in, you’ll be hit by the smell of smoked meat and the sound of wild Balkan music. Navigate through the throng of hip-shaking skiers to order rich hot chocolate topped with whipped cream.
Tip: Rent your skis at Ski Rental Kristal. The team is extremely helpful, and if you make an effort to be nice and greet them in Bosnian, they will find you comfortable ski boots at the most reasonable price. They might also offer you some rakia, a fruity brandy popular in the Balkans. After a few shots of rakia, you may also find yourself being offered generous discounts on your ski equipment.
Cost: All-day ski pass: $26, ski equipment: $11 per day, one hour lesson: $20
Bjelašnica sits approximately 45 minutes from Sarajevo, has eight ski lifts, and nearly eight miles of ski slopes. This Olympic mountain, which hosted the Men’s Alpine Ski events during the 1984 Winter Games, offers plenty of opportunities for glade skiing through the forests alongside the slopes.
Bjelašnica offers spectacular views from the top of the mountain. At the bottom, a cozy café with a fireplace serves delicious pizza, sausages, and crunchy fries. You will have ample opportunity to consume all the calories you burned while skiing.
Cost: All-day ski pass: $20, ski equipment: $8 per day, one hour lesson: $20
Smaller ski areas
There a few smaller ski areas that have more of a rustic feel and offer better prices than the large ski resorts. The terrain isn’t as well-groomed at any of them, but they offer plenty of opportunities to ski off-piste and incredible value for their cost.
Average cost: $10 for a ski pass and $6 to rent ski equipment
How to get there
Car rentals in Bosnia are very affordable. The cost of renting a car with insurance and ski racks should not exceed $20 per day. If you had been planning to rent a car outside of the country and drive it in, be sure to check the fine print first. Many car rentals exclude Bosnia and Herzegovina from their permitted countries list.
SIXT, however, is extremely reliable, and Bosnia and Herzegovina is on its permitted country list. It also has excellent customer service. Alternatively, Bosnia-Herzegovinacar.com is a local company that connects you with all the Bosnian car rental agencies.
A word of caution: There will be rare occasions when you encounter rogue policemen looking for a bribe. If they pull you over for no apparent reason, insist they bring you to the police station and take down their details. Be polite but firm.
If you don’t want to rent a car, it’s worth speaking to your accommodation about if they offer a shuttle service. Most places provide it for a minimal fee.
In the peak season, a bus service runs every morning from the National Museum bus stop in Sarajevo to the Jahorina Ski Resort.
Where to stay
Luxury hotels are around $80-120 per night, which is what you’d pay at an ultra-budget place at resorts elsewhere. Termag Hotel sits within walking distance of Jahorina ski area, and you can ski right out the door in the morning. It has a sumptuous pool and spa, and it offers a particularly delicious milk caramel for dessert in its restaurant.
Another luxury option, Hotel Bjelašnica, is a half-mile from the Bjelašnica ski lift in Babin Do and 12 miles from Sarajevo Airport. The hotel has a barbecue and sun terrace, and guests can enjoy a meal at the restaurant surrounded by nature and woods.
If you’d prefer somewhere more budget-friendly, you can opt for the Bergkranc Hotel & Resort, which is just 25 minutes from Sarajevo and 15 minutes from the Jahorina Ski Resort. Bergkranc is a family-run hotel with German roots. Expect to be wrapped in warmth and hospitality. It also offers free Netflix and home-brewed alcohol, perfect for those cold winter nights.
Airbnb, Hostelworld, and Booking.com all offer reasonably priced options that cater to both solo and group travelers. As a rough guide, it should cost you approximately $47 per night for a four-person apartment in Sarajevo.
Other good things to know
Apart from skiing, you can indulge in many other winter activities. Termag Hotel offers a day spa for $28 per day, or if you are feeling particularly adventurous, you can hike the Bosnian mountains with a local guide for $55, which includes transportation and guide services for groups of two to five people.
Should you need to stock up on ski apparel and gear, you’ll find plenty of ski shops for that. Nuhanovic offers a range of options at affordable prices.
Be sure to have a cup of coffee. Bosnians take their coffee extremely seriously. It is normally served in delicately engraved traditional metal pots with sugar cubes and Turkish sweets on the side. The coffee should be slightly frothy at the top. If it isn’t, it’s perfectly acceptable to get fired up about the lack of coffee froth.
Bosnians aren’t the chattiest when it comes to strangers. So don’t get offended if your cheery greeting is met with a curt smile. Also, when asking for directions, you will most likely receive straightforward instructions which could end with an abrupt, “Go right, go left, go!” However, if you have the opportunity to get to know them on a deeper level, you will be showered with warm hospitality and plenty of food.