A ski holiday can be a costly affair – not only can flights and transfers be expensive, you’ve got accommodation, all your gear and lift passes to sort out. So you wouldn’t blame me for dismissing it as a European getaway, in favour of warmer climates.
Added to this, I used to believe that skiing and snowboarding were only for the elite, and those a little more well off. Then I moved to New Zealand, and lived one hour, or so from the mountains, where I learnt to snowboard, and I actually loved it.
Fast forward 2 or more years, and I am now back based in Europe, where there are a plethora of mountains and ski resorts; so much that I could easily make a few trips there. However, it took me until now to make the step to doing a ski holiday in Europe.
Where can you ski/board in Europe?
If you’re pretty good on a pair of skis, or a board, you’ll likely want to head to the well groomed mountains in France or Switzerland. However, these will be a rather costly affair, so if you’re on a bit of a budget like me, then you’ll want to look elsewhere.
Before booking my flights, I literally searched for days, and flitted between Andorra, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Poland. I was all over the shop, looking at snowfall, flight prices, hotel prices. It got a bit much at times. In the end, I settled on Bulgaira. I had never travelled there, and the snowfall looked ok. The slopes were also rated as good for beginners, and the resort was only an hour from the airport. So I booked a really early morning flight, and off I went.
Where I went to snowboard in Europe – Borovets, Bulgaria
Bulgaria isn’t somewhere that automatically springs to mind when you think of going on a ski holiday. In fact, it is not a country of choice for visiting in general, unless on a packaged beach holiday. However, Bulgaria is up and coming (although will take some time), and is a great spot to learn how to ski, and at a really good price.
Consider this – a lift pass for one day in the popular French resort, Alpe d’Huez will set you back 50 euro, whereas in Borovets, Bulgaria, you can ski all day for just 28 euros! That is a whole 22 euro left to play with, which in Bulgaria will get you a lot of apres ski and a three course meal in a high class resort bar!
Getting there – Transfers
My initial experience of Borovets was possibly tainted by the fact that my flight was delayed, the Bulgarian passport control was an utter shambles and I got accosted by a private taxi transfer company which I paid 20 euro to take me direct to the hotel. He got lost and took forever to even leave the airport so it was a great start altogether! Plus I had been up since 4am and had eaten a banana and yoghurt inside 8 hours, so I was feeling pretty hangry* (hungry and angry incase you didn’t know!)
Read below for how to get from Sofia to Borovets, for a ridiculously cheap price, by public transport!
Inital impressions of Borovets, Bulgaria
Arriving into Borovets in the evening, can only be described as being like Las Vegas in the snow – a forever Christmas-land, with Christmas trees outside hotels. Neon lights flashed everywhere. Various Bulgarians stood like statues outside their respective restaurants, until on approach they’d come to life and enthusiastically shout “Dinner .. Drinks .. Very good, very cheap”.
It reminded me a little of a beach resort (like Benidorm) but obviously in the snow.
Having never been to an actual ski resort, I wondered if this was normal, or just typical of a cheap Bulgairan resort?
Actually snowboarding (falling over) in Borovets, Bulgaria
So I did what every novice does best (no – not book a lesson, like sensible people) but trek up to the top of the nursery slopes and have a play around.
After half an hour, I got it back, and managed to get from the top to the bottom without a fall.
This led me to believe that I was ready to jump on the quad chair, and travel 500 metres up to tackle a moderate (blue) ski run.
That was all well and good, until I nearly got knocked on the head just trying to sit down on the quad chair – and later jump off it, pretty much faceplanting as I did.
This was well and truely going well on day one.
The view at almost 500m high was incredible though, and I was excited to get on my board.
I strapped myself in, and spotted a sign saying ‘easy way’. YES, I thought – this way was made for me, and off I went.
It took me a good 30 minutes to reach the bottom, falling roughly every 2-3 minutes.
I’d pick up a good bit of speed, and my technique wasn’t bad, then I’d freak myself out with how fast I was going, and crash.
Looking like a total beginner – check!
I spent a good part of 6 hours on the mountain on day one, and didn’t appear to get any better as time went on. Although, I managed a blue run only falling twice, which to me, was a complete success.
Day two was moderately sucesssful. I discovered that there was in fact another lift, and whole part of the mountain which looked awesome. It was a gondola, which meant that it was easier to get in and out of. WIN … or so I thought, until the Gondola continued to climb higher and higher, and I looked back at the resort getting smaller and smaller.
The Gondola stopped at the top, which was Yastrebets Peak, and it stood at 2369m! A bit of a climb from day one. This one included red and black runs (intermediate and expert). I may have been ever so slightly out of my depth. The view was incredible, but I did question if I’d be able to make it to the bottom.
Then I watched as another snowboarder went down the run and fell at least 3 times – so I got on it, and went down too.
The run at Yastrebets Peak was less crowded and much wider, so it felt easier to attempt to look like I knew what I was doing.
I did make it to the middle of the mountain without falling over, and decided that this would be the success of the whole trip.
I managed to get to do a few red runs on this side of the mountain, and felt like I was finally getting the hang on things, until I took a bit of a wrong turn, and went down a section of the mountain, that may or may not have had a sign saying that the area was closed off.
I suddenly found myself on a section of the mountain, totally isolated! I panicked, a lot, until I saw signs towards a lift area, and later some pro skiiers whizzed past me.
Due to my directional issues, it took me at least an hour to get from the top to the bottom. It was challenging, and I am pretty sure it was a black run.
My legs also did not thank me for this little detour, but I learnt to avoid this later on in the day.
Over all, it is safe to say that I will be needing a fair few lessons in future, and that I should almost certainly travel with someone, to avoid making silly mistakes and getting lost!
Costs of snowboarding for 2 days in Bulgaria
As I mentioned before, skiing or snowboarding in Borovets will cost you next to nothing if you compare it to a resort in France or the Swiss Alps.
Here is a break down of how much it cost to snowboard for 2 days in Borovets, Bulgaria
Ski passes for 2 full days
110 BGN (Bulgarian Lev), which is £44. I bought two one day passes at 55 BGN, as I wasnt sure if I could manage a whole two days on the mountain. You can buy a two day pass for 105 BGN (£42), and so can save yourself a few quid!
Equipment hire (board, boots and a helmet) –
70 BGN per day (£28). If you don’t want to get a helmet, then it’ll be 10 Lev cheaper, but I’d recommend you do wear a helmet!
I stayed at the Euphoria club hotel & spa which was not within the resort itself, but a shuttle service was free and only took us 5 minutes to reach the mountain.
I paid £120 for 2 nights in a one bedroom apartment, which had the nicest bed, and was super warm! Breakfast was varied, and I enjoyed relaxing there in the evenings.
Sofia airport to Borovets (private taxi) – 20 Euro (£15.70)
Borovets to Sofia (public transport) – 8.50 BGN (4 euro, 30, or £3.50)
Total – £220.20
(Flights on top of this cost approx. £150 with Easyjet from London Gatwick)
What to pack
Initially I thought that it was possible to go on a ski weekend with just hand luggage – NO, no you really cannot do this. Especially if you do not want to develop hypothermia!
I booked a bag on last minute with Easyjet, and was glad I did. Ski pants and warm layers take up a lot of room!
If you are about to hit the slopes, make sure to take enough spare socks (as they are likely to get wet), and a few thermal (base) layers. I only needed to wear my thermal leggings under my ski pants, and was fine, then wore a few thermal tops, a fleece and a ski jacket on top.
So I have been burnt a lot, and this trip was no exception. Just because you are going to an area with snow, does not make you invisible to the burning hot sun, and if you think about it, you’re actually closer to it on the top on the mountain.
The weather was perfect when I was in Borovets – blue skies and sun, but more than I expected, so I came off the mountain on day one rather rosy cheeked!
Getting to Borovets on the cheap (public transport)
So because I am super unorganised, I didn’t actually figure out how I’d get to and from the resort, and ended up paying a lot for a private transfer there.
I was later left standing in my hotel at 2.30pm, with my bags packed, and with the need to get to Sofia by the evening. The hotel quoted me 50 euro to get a private cab, but I knew there was a public transport option. So I jumped in the shuttle and got to the mountain, where I caught the public bus towards Sofia. The cost of this 1.5 hour journey? 8.50 BGN (£3.50).
To get the bus, (you’ll need to get two in fact) There is a little shelter outside hotel ELA in the resort. The bus departs for Samokov, which is thge nearest town along from the mountain, every 30 minutes and takes approx. 15-20 minutes. However, please note, the bus will not say SAMOKOV on it, but CAMOKOB. I made this mistake, and nearly missed it!
You’ll get off at the bus station, and head for stand 7, which will be the next bus to take you to Sofia, you can normally get the next bus, which is 10 minutes after the Borovets bus arrives. Buy a ticket on board and you’re sorted!
The sign is in English and Bulgarian, so you can’t miss this one.
You’ll get to a random bus station (not the main one) in Sofia and you are more than likely not going to get anyone that will assist you in getting to wherever you are staying. Not even the bus driver could point me in the direction of the nearest taxi company.
However, if you get off the bus, walk in the direction that the bus will be parked in, and take the first road on your right. Walk up this road until you get to the end, and you’ll find a metro station – but have fun trying to read the signs. It took me a while!
So apart from making a few classic abbi errors, of getting lost, getting burnt, paying a bit too much for a transfer. I had a lot of fun, and will want to get on a board at some point soon.
My level of organisation is nothing unsual, and I don’t expect this to change, but hopefully if you head to Bulgaira, you’ll not make the mistakes I have made, and in short – I hope this article has given you a bit of a laugh.