We set off by bus from Plovdiv after a very pleasant two days sightseeing amongst the Roman ruins and the very friendly locals. Getting to Bansko from Plovdiv is easy, the buses at this time of year leave three times a day for the two and a half hour journey into the mountains of Pirin National Park, the fare will set you back just 12 leva.
The Journey into Pirin National Park
The scenery on the journey was much more picturesque than our initial arrival in Bulgaria from Turkey. The coach regularly overtook the men driving their horses and carts as you pass streams with icy water trickling down from the mountain tops above. The horse traps clopped along the road were piled high, mostly with firewood to burn in the local houses to keep away the bitter winter chill. The bright winter sun was glistening through spaces in the tree canopy, but it did little to warm the air. Rocks and boulders littered the side of the road after falling onto the highway and being moved aside; along with the piled snow, now black from the exhaust fumes of the winter ski traffic.
The first glimpses of snow are sporadic and coincide with your ears popping during the steep ascent an hour or so into the journey. Twisting and turning along the very windy road you feel the icy chill against the bus window as the temperature starts to drop and the snow replaces grass for ground cover.
Skiing Expectations and the Reality
One of the things on my bucket list for quite some time had been a skiing trip. I had heard many family and friends wax lyrical about the fun they had, the exhilaration and how they couldn’t wait for the snow to return next year for them to slip into their boots and let gravity and their skiing skills take them downhill at speed.
I will admit that I was very giddy before getting there and wanted so much to like it. After trying my hardest for a few days though I had to admit defeat and accept that I was not really going to get this skiing lark.
We had five days of lessons and managed to grasp the basics, but I just didn’t really feel that confident on two slivers of wood and plastic. I certainly didn’t get confident enough to try any of the main slopes and runs with anything more than a slight incline. My stopping skills were about as efficient as a car whose brake system had failed and my turns as graceful as an articulated lorry on a skating rink.
In the end my ageing muscles and bones made the final decision and after a few more days of slowly edging my way across, rather than down, any of the slopes I decided to give it up as a bad job and concentrate on the après ski activities instead.
It’s a real shame as I so much wanted to like it, while I will never say never again, I cannot see myself rushing to the slopes next season. Do I regret it though? No, it’s one more thing I have tried that I have been wanting to do for years, I now know what all the fuss is about. Although I didn’t really get it, I can see the allure of the sport if you do get the hang of it and haven’t got the balance and coordination of a vertiginous buffalo on skiis which is what I seem to have. However, we did have great fun learning, the resort was great and we met some fab people.
If you are thinking of trying skiing for the first time, here is how we tried to do it on a budget with our Bansko Skiing prices for 2013. Lets hope you have more luck than we did.
Bansko Skiing Prices: The Kit
We arrived in Istanbul and went sale shopping in Istanbul to buy the bare necessities. We shopped in Decathlon and Interport hunting through the sale racks and offer rails.
- Waterproof Coat – $50
- Ski Pants – $45
- Thermal leggings and top $20
- Hat $5
- Ski Goggles – $45
- Ski Gloves and liners $15
- Ski boot socks 2 pairs $5
Bansko Skiing Prices: The Lessons
We ended up having five days of lessons (two hours each morning) and spent the afternoon trying to perfect the new skills we had learned that morning. We went with Ski Mania and the groups were not that big, the instructor we had the first day wasn’t that great, but from there we got a new guy who was patient and really good encouraging us in our fruitless endeavours.
For a package of five two hour lessons the cost was 170 Lev each ($110 US – $22 per lesson). You can negotiate and find cheaper shops in larger groups, but we really wanted a very small group and paid a premium for this.
Bansko Skiing Prices: Equipment Hire
The equipment costs for five days was 80 Lev ($50 US) each for skis, boots and sticks, you get a discount on hire equipment if you also have lessons with them. Being a complete novice I cannot vouch for the quality of the equipment, but I am certain I can’t blame this for my lack of progress or confidence on the slopes.
Bansko Skiing Prices: Ski Lift Pass
We bought a six day pass costing 334 Lev ($220 US $36 per day) which gives you some discount against buying the pass every single day, but if you get an injury or the weather turns and you have your pre paid pass there are no discounts or refunds. Note the weather turned significantly about 8 days into our trip and even if we had taken to skiing I don’t think we would have ventured out in the pouring rain and low clouds that descended.
Bansko Skiing Prices: Ski Chalets and Apartments
Accommodation in Bansko is not something you will have a problem with, the resort is growing rapidly and there are hundreds of apartments and hotel rooms to choose from (by the looks of the empty buildings when we were there there may be too many!). We went on the two main holiday apartment rental sites and emailed a few of the owners direct who had availability. Most came back with an offer of $225 for a week. One however was prepared to negotiate so we managed to snag a studio apartment with a small kitchenette, TV and free wifi and all bills for a week in Cedar Lodge 3/4. It was a great location just two minutes walk to the ski shops and lift. The management and staff were very helpful with some great local advice and tips. It was coming to the end of the season when we were there (early March) so you may struggle to get this price earlier in the year.
Total Costs For one person to Ski for Seven days in Bansko
- Ski Gear $190 – available soon on ebay!!
- Ski Hire, Lift Pass and lessons $60 + $216 + $110= $386
- Accommodation $112.50
Total Cost $688 or 450 GBP or $498 (330 GBP) if you exclude our Ski gear costs.
Bansko the Resort
Bansko resort is easy to get to from either Plovdiv or Sofia – we did both routes by bus and it cost us no more that 14 Lev for each of these journeys and takes around two and a half hours. If you want more luxury there are plenty of private car or minibus that will do the same journey for higher costs.
The resort is full of snack bars, theme pubs and traditional restaurants and clubs. We tried one theme pub and the food was awful and preferred the more traditional Mehana’s, they were just more friendly and the Bulgarian traditional food was great. You can eat and drink pretty cheaply here, but we found prices at least a third and sometimes more than double what we paid in places in Sofia or Plovdiv. However, for a ski resort the prices are very cheap.
If you get bored of skiing there is a ten pin bowling alley and an ice rink or two to entertain you or take a wander through the streets and squares of the old town. Spas and hot springs abound in the area if you need to bathe, soak and massage those tired muscles.
I would say skiing in Bulgaria is a really great value option if you are a beginner or intermediate skier, or have a large family. The costs are far lower than anywhere in Western Europe that we researched before deciding to go skiing in Bansko. Sadly we wont be returning, but if you want a budget skiing location you can’t beat Bansko.