Balkan Skiing

Last year I learned to ski at the Bulgarian ski resort of Pamporovo. It was great: lots of snow mixed with some gloriously sunny days, and fun nights out. Pamporovo is quite a small resort though, and by the end of the week we felt we had exhausted the runs suitable for our level, and the night life was limited to two good places. We were impressed by Bulgaria though: excellent value for money, very modern/new resorts and equipment, and very beginner-friendly, so this year we thought we’d go to Bansko which has a lot more runs than Pamperovo, and as a new resort built around a 1000-year old, World-Heritage Site small town, would offer a little more character in the evening.

Bansko definitely has character… the old part of town is lovely, as was our hotel, but the “new town” is very much still under-construction with unfinished pavements, and huge number of unfinished buildings. The weather wasn’t brilliant, but there was snow unlike other parts of the Bulgaria and we had a good time on the slopes (Stephen has photos) and après-ski. Unfortunately avant-ski was another matter.

The problem was that the skiing takes place 1800m higher than the resort, and you reach this each morning with a 20 minute 6-person gondola ride. The gondola starts at 8:30; the first bus from our hotel to the gondola station was 8:30, and on some days, an hour long queue to get on the gondola had formed by 8:45. All ski lessons began at 10am-sharp at the top of the mountain, an organisational failure which added, if not caused, the misery of this giant queue. Anyway, because of this queue, the half-hourly buses from the hotel to the station were inadequate, and there was another queue for the bus outside our hotel by 8:20 every morning which resulted in 25-30 people cramming into an 18 seater minibus—I commute every day in London and this was not how I wanted to spend my holiday! Fortunately once up the mountain, queues for lifts were small and quick: the holiday’s saving grace really, and if it had not been the UK half term, perhaps the gondola situation would have been better.

Because it was half term, we booked the holiday through Balkans Holidays, a tour company I would not use again. They were budget, and that’s exactly the service we got: a month after we booked they changed our flight schedule so that we would arrive at our hotel at 3am, and so when we were subsequently delayed by two and a half hours (including half an hour sitting on a bus at Plovdiv airport because there were not enough seats on the coach!) it was 6am before we got to bed, and we were due at the ski depot at 9am. The ski depot itself was chaos: the system was completely inadequate for the number of people arriving (despite the fact that arrivals were supposedly staggered), and so we queued for two hours to get our equipment. After that there was another hour of waiting around for ski school to begin, but because it had taken so long for the Balkans Holiday ski depot to issue equipment to people, the ski school then discovered they had 40 people for the last two instructors. The Balkan Holidays reps were entirely unsympathetic to the misery of queueing, and did not even apologise for our delayed arrival, or the chaotic system in their depot. In fact, the best they could offer was “get here early”, which seemed a bit like rubbing salt in the wound when it was their fault we had arrived at 6am… The Entertainments Rep was at least entertaining, if you like Club 18–30 holidays, but even the hotel and ski reps simply fobbed us off to other people when we complained about the infrequency of buses to the gondola station, or some of us wanted to change to a more advanced group.

I make it sound like a disaster, but once we were on the slopes, we enjoyed ourselves immensely. I think it may have to be France or Canada next year though…

2 Responses to “Balkan Skiing”

  1. Bansko Bob Says:

    Why do people complain so much? I’m sure your unhappiness was not caused by the Reps so it’s not fair to blame them.

    By the way, the Gondola is 8 man not 6, so if you were travelling in a less then full cabin it’s the fault of the queue for it not moving quicker!”

  2. Nathan Says:

    Hi Bob.

    But people always say that the British don’t complain enough?! 😉

    While it’s not fair to blame the reps for things beyond their control, as a whole Balkan Holidays did seem to be somewhat incompetent (e.g. providing buses with insufficient seats for the number of travellers!), and when we did ask the reps for assistance in resolving problems which were well within their mandates, they were not helpful.