Learning to ski in Bulgaria

When I was 15 my school organised a skiing holiday to Austria. I jumped at the chance to visit another country with people other than my parents! A week in the snow in Austria seemed magical to me and after just 2 days of ski school I was learning to parallel turn and ski down the blue runs with ease. I felt I was some what of a natural.

Learning to ski in Bansko BulgariaA year later, bitten by the skiing bug, my college friends and I decided to go skiing one more. We saved up what little money we had and booked ourselves a very cheap ski holiday in Romania. My parents could see I loved skiing so very generously invested in a ski jacket and trousers for me, otherwise known as salopettes. I was all set to ski every year if I wanted to! After a fun filled second ski holiday I should have continued ski holidays every winter, but alas I didn’t.

Being 16, I was too busy spending all my money and then out getting jobs, moving out, paying rent and bills. Life moved on and nearly 17 years passed without another ski holiday in sight. Often thinking “maybe next year I will” but never committing my words in to actions.

Then in early 2011, with very little warning, I find myself buying a ski jacket, asking my friends if they have salopettes and ski gloves I could borrow, frantically preparing myself for a press trip to Bulgaria with the UK budget airline easyJet and Bansko tourist information. With 17 years of growing up, maybe losing a little coordination, balance and confidence along the way, my expectations were firmly set at “old beginner” and was very glad when I was kindly booked in to ski school for the 2 days of skiing ahead.

Welcome to Greece!

The flight was early, meeting fellow journalists and PR at 4:30am at London’s Gatwick airport. Chatting to the others I considered myself to be a total novice. Reminiscing of those days back when I was young and had all the confidence of a college kid. Take off was delayed due to bad weather in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital. The 3 hour flight was smooth and enjoyable until we were put in a holding position, hoping the bad weather would improve. It didn’t and, after watching the same mountain appear in my window 7 or so times we diverted to Greece! We landed in Thessaloniki, just 35 minutes by plane from Sofia but some 5 hours by coach. Worth mentioning this wasn’t easyJet fault, if there’s bad weather then there’s not much you can do but divert.

Thankfully our destination was Bansko in the South-west of Bulgaria, only 3 hours from Thessaloniki. Our transfer was redirected and, after a long lunch in the airport, we boarded our minibus and headed in to Bulgaria at last.

Rediscovering my skiing abilities

Our first full day in Bansko was an early start after a late night’s eating, drinking and dancing in a traditional Bulgarian restaurant. We headed to the slopes with our newly acquired ski gear. So far none of the original feelings of skiing had returned. I wobbly in my tight boots and clumsily carried my poles and skis with the dexterity of a 1 year old. The sizable queue for the cable cars moved quickly and our group were soon on our way up the mountain. Slowly, as we rose above the town and through the trees, something happened. Slowly remembering how beautiful the views could be, how quiet a cable car ride is and how you feel transported to a world like no other.

Arriving at the slopes this somewhat dissipates as hundreds of people amass at the mountain base near the nursery slopes for us “beginners”. Myself and another journalist, Ann, met with our ski instructor for the morning, the wonderful John from Method Snow School. As our lesson began I really had no idea what I was doing. Snow ploughing was something I vaguely remembered but, thanks to John’s expert tuition, I slowly regained from my memory and put to use.

And then it returned

I’m not sure how it happened, or when exactly it happened, but within just 2 short hours, all those memories of skiing from 17 years ago returned. The excitement of mastering parallel turns, steering a short course from left to right, stopping without falling over! Somehow all that information was still there and I could ski again! Not even the hunger for lunch put me off trekking up the nursery slopes (to beat the queue for the button lift) for another run down the short and crowded incline.

Meeting with the group at lunchtime, I was excited to ski some more. The afternoon was our own time to either explore the town of Bansko or ski some more. By now i was bitten and definitely wanted to ski, but I was keen to see the rest of the slopes, feeling vaguely confident enough to maybe try a blue run and slow speed. Others in the group very kindly offered I join them on a few runs to see how I get on. A mulled wine with my tasty Chicken soup had be ready to tackle the blues.

This is a blue run right?

I was so excited to be heading up further up the mountain to try a blue run. My parallel turning abilities slowly returning, we began to ski down, stopping along the way, one point at which was the top of a rather steep looking section. My friends had told me this was a blue run, it looked pretty steep for a blue run but I was here now and there was no other way down the mountain! So we launched off down the steep slope, gathering speed.

It was then that another remarkable thing happened. My confidence grew with every turn, the faster I skied the more control I had, suddenly the steep (apparently blue) run seemed a breeze and was over all too soon. I went straight for the chair lifts and headed back up to the top with the others. Ready to tackle it once more! The second run was even more enjoyable. Confidence counts for a lot in skiing, not enough of it and you’re as likely to make mistakes as if you have too much of it. Finding your ski feet and feeling in control can make all the difference.

By the end of the afternoon it was as though the last 17 years had never happened. As though I’d been skiing every year. I was well and truly hooked again and felt so at home I was able to ski all the way back to the main cable car base, some 6km, with ease, some finesse and raring to go again the next day!

Bansko skiing day 2

The weather wasn’t so good for day 2 but that didn’t stop me. I ditched the ski school and headed straight for the what I had been told was a blue run. I’d later found out it was in fact a red run! By now I was happy to confidently ski down it 4 times in the morning, stopping for lunch before heading to a different run at lunch time. The afternoon was spent repeating this new red run until annoying they closed the chair lift! Had the place been flood lit I could have happily skied all night.

When I finally returned to base and handed over my ski equipment, it was with a sense of disappointment and pride. Disappointed that I wouldn’t be here tomorrow, skiing some more but filled with pride that I had once again discovered I can ski!

I will ski again soon!

I definitely wont be leaving it another 17 years before I ski again, in fact if I don’t get to ski again this season it would be a shame. Definitely next season if not. Skiing is like no other experience on earth. Not only the action of skiing itself but the environment it takes place in, the beautiful views, the stunning snowy landscapes, the hot mulled wine on the slopes with new friends and yes of course the Apres Ski too.

A massive thank you to Bansko Tourist Information and to easyJet for re-igniting my love of skiing. I can highly recommend Bansko for a great cheap ski holiday. I was lucky enough to experience a range of skiing there, from beginners lessons on the nursery slopes, up to red runs in various places. I’d happily return to do it all again.

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