Monday, 21 January 2013

Bansko Peak Season Review

Bansko is the top winter sports resort in the Balkans and a weeks skiing in the Pirin mountains can be half the price of the Alps, but is it half as good? I traveled to the 'all season resort' over new year to test it out.



The idea of this trip was to do skiing in a budget without skipping on the service or luxury. We chose to fly with EasyJet from Gatwick and on arrival in Sofia we were met by a driver from our Chalet and driven the 2 and a half hour transfer through to Bansko. This is when we first experienced the Bulgarian style of driving which certainly leads to an interesting journey, but more on that later.

We had chosen to stay in a Chalet in Bansko, preferring the small and personal service chalets offer as opposed to big hotels. We had booked with Chalet Bizet (www.skichalets-bansko.com) and were made to feel very welcome from the moment we arrived. Boris, the chalet host greeted us with a glass of mulled wine and some much needed sandwiches before showing us to our rooms. Boris is a local Bulgarian who speaks perfect English and is full of local knowledge and willing to go to almost any lengths to keep his guests happy. Chalet Bizet can host up to 24 people in comfort across its many rooms and self contained apartments. Each of the rooms is modern, well maintained clean and most importantly in a ski resort warm, (perhaps a little too warm at times but thats better than being too cold) The rooms that our group stayed in all had en-suite wet rooms, a TV with local and satellite channels and storage. The beds were more than comfortable with nice clean linen and towels provided. The Chalet was fully catered and throughout the week we were treated to a number of delicious meals, from local delicacies, including Bulgarian chicken soup (amazing) and the infamous cabbage salad (not personally a fan). Breakfasts each morning consisted of both English and continental options as well as tea, coffee and juice. Also included with the cost of the chalet is transport to and from the Gondola lift each day.

Once we were fed, watered and settled Boris offered to take us into town to sort our ski hire. We had pre-booked our skis and passes through Bansko Blog (www.banskoblog.com) who offer 15% discount on standard lift and pass prices (it turned out that Boris has a deal with a ski hire shop and so can sort low price skis and passes for his guests if necessary). Bansko blog is also where we found a wealth of information about Bansko including the highly useful webcams which show conditions at the top as well as the queue length at the bottom.

Before travelling to Bansko the queue for the Gondola to get to the slopes was one of my main concerns, particularly as we were traveling at the peak time of new year. I had read reviews and comments on many forums and blogs giving vague or angry comments regarding the queue. I'm not going to lie, the queue is long and does need something doing about it, but if you were to go to a theme park you can queue longer for 1 ride. The gondola company are doing their best to relieve the issue of the queue times, by putting on minibus shuttles to the top, and trying to get the now infamous second gondola (at the time of writing it is reported that this will be in place for the 2013/14 season, but it seams that this is reported every year. For now, to get to the top quickly follow my top tips:

  1. Get up early, the earlier you join the queue the shorter it is, get there before 8 for the best queue.
  2. Get your elbows out and queue wide. Lots of people love to push their way into the queue, don't let them where possible and make your group nice and big to stop the pushers getting past you.
  3. Join the shortest queue. There are 2 queues for the gondola and 1 for the minibuses so go for the shortest, be aware though that the mini busses arrive less often.
  4. If you can afford it take a taxi to the top (around £40 for 4 people)
  5. Stay at the hotel Kepinski for a VIP queue. (Very Costly)


Most importantly though, don't let the queue at the bottom put you off the slopes at the top, they are worth the wait. Once at the top all the chair lifts are efficient and queue-less even at this busy time of year. The slopes when we were there had a good covering of snow but the weather was a little variable leading to some icy patches in the morning and slushy patches in the afternoon. The weather shouldn't affect your trip to Bansko too badly though as the resort is fully set up for snow production with snow-blowers dotted around the slopes. I cannot fault the pistes of Bansko and even the price of beer impressed being only 7lev or £3 a pint, very reasonable for a ski resort. Although I have read that Bansko doesn't offer the slopes that the alps do, we found it more than adequate, with enough reds to challenge the intermediate skiers and a good ski school and easy blue slopes for the beginners

Included in the cost of a ski pass is mountain insurance, which I had the misfortune to have to use on only my second day skiing. On route down the snow road on the way back to Bansko town I managed to slip, twist my knee and was left rolling around in agony. Before I could begin to think about what to do p, one of the ski school instructors had stopped, phoned the rescue services and assisted me out of the middle of the road. After a 10 minute wait the snowmobile turned up to take me to the gondola. All of this being included in the passes makes for great peace of mind. However Bansko goes one better by including medical cover for common ski injuries in with the pass to, meaning in could be X-rayed at the medical centre and sent on my way with spending a penny (or even a lev). Luckily I managed, after 2 days rest to be able to head back out the chalet and at least walk and take some photos on the mountain.

Boris catered for us for 6 meals out of 7 so on the 7th night we ventured out into Bansko to find some food. We came across Molerite 1792 (www.molerite.com) a traditional Bulgarian restaurant and the 6 of us were welcomed without a booking on a busy Friday Night. There is nothing that I personally could fault about Molerite. The atmosphere is fantastic, the food delicious, the waiters attentive and helpful and the local beer delicious. Perhaps most importantly this 3 couse meal for 6 adults came in at just over £100 with drinks included. I would recommend it to anybody who is going anywhere near Bansko on one provision, they weren't vegetarian. I'm unsure how well vegetarian translates into Bulgarian but there is very little to chose from for the non meat eater with most of the dishes consisting of grilled or pan fried meat.

Overall I would highly recommend Bansko as a resort, even in peak season when others may tell you to stay away it is well worth a trip. The queues can be tedious in the morning but you can avoid the rush if your not planning to have lessons or by just booking afternoon lessons.

Bansko Blog is a great place to find out more about Bankso, visit www.banskoblog.com
Villa Bizet made an amazing base for our trip, see www.skichalets-bankso.com and book early
Molerite 1792 is a wonderful place to eat: www.molerite.com


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