Our skiing story begins with New Year’s resolutions. There are mixed opinions on New Year’s resolutions but I like it as I am bit of ‘to do list’ person. So, last year I set two tasks for us: 1) learn to ski, and 2) go on skiing holiday. We enjoy outdoors and hiking but this time we wanted to see mountains covered in the snow. Also, we barely see snow in the UK and skiing is a fun sport and a great way to see mountains covered in the snow. Winter experience.
Learning to ski was a key. We both agreed that going on skiing holiday without knowing how to ski at all is too expensive. We wanted to enjoy our time there as much as we could. We took indoor ski lessons and once we felt ready the ski holiday was booked.
A friend of mine asked me just before we set off for the holiday –why Bansko? Hope, this will give you the answer⛷
Is it a budget holiday?
Skiing holidays tend to be on the expensive side. We didn’t want to spend loads on our first skiing holiday. We may not like it after all. Therefore, we picked up Bulgaria, as it was cheaper than more traditional places like France, Switzerland or Italy. Also, we heard that it is good for beginners like us.
How much did it actually cost?
FLIGHTS. Our return flights with Raynair from London Stansted to Sofia were £52pp in mid January. Hand luggage of 10kg was enough to pack for 3 days of skiing. Flight tickets maybe more expensive in the high season of skiing in Bulgaria, which coincides with school holidays in Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, and UK- Christmas, New Years, end of January, February. The season ends in March depending on the level of snow.
TRANSFERS Sofia to Bansko. If you want to save money on your holiday budget, try to use public transport for your transfers. It is almost always cheaper. We try to use public transport as much as we can in our travels and this time was not an exception. Sofia airport is very well connected with the city centre of Sofia. Just outside the airport there is a metro station and a single ticket costs just 1.60lev (£0.80). It is easy to navigate too. Get to metro at the Sofia airport and go to Serdika metro station. At Serdika station change from line 1 to line 2 and go to Central Railway metro station. The journey is approximately 30minutes. Metro stations are very clean and spacious. We particularly liked that carriages had not only paper maps of stations but also an electronic route tracker. Actually, announcements in metro were in both Bulgarian and English, so you will not get lost.
At the Central Railway metro station exit the metro and follow signs to the bus station. It just 5 minutes or less walk. You can check bus departure times and stands online before coming to Sofia at this website. The coach ticket from Sofia to Bansko is 16lev (£8) one way. The best is to buy the ticket from the ticket booth at the station. You can also buy it from the driver but passengers with tickets are boarded first and these busses get busy! We took 14:00 coach. It took around 3hours to get to Bansko. At Bansko the coach times are shown on the station door. Take a picture of it before you leave. Most of the hotels will be around 20-30min from the Bansko bus station, if staying close to the gondola lift.
The return transfer with public transport was £17.60pp. A shared minibus or private taxi transfers from Sofia airport to Bansko costs from £20pp and more each way.
ACCOMMODATION. Our hotel was just 10minutes from the gondola lift, which helps in the morning to get early to the queue. However, most hotels including ours offer free shuttle buses to and from the gondola lift. En-suite room and half-board cost us £97pp for 4nights.
LIFT PASS. On your arrival day to Bansko it is unlikely that you will be going skiing, as it will be too late. However, you can do couple things to speed up the morning for the next day: 1) buy lift pass, and 2) ski equipment fitting. In order to reduce the time queuing for the gondola lift in the morning come early but also buy you ski pass the day before! You can buy lift pass ticket at the gondola lift cash desk, which is open up to 23:00. An adult lift pass for 3 days was 170lev (£85). If you have a student card, don’t forget to use it, as there are discounted prices for students (yeah!). Each lift pass chip card has a refundable 5lev (£2.50) deposit for the chip card, which you can reclaim after you finished skiing.
SKI EQUIPMENT. You can rent your ski equipment the day on your arrival or you can book it online. After searching from where to rent the equipment online before coming to Bansko, we decided to book online as our chosen provider offered 15% discount with online booking. We were not wrong, as that deal with discount was the cheapest option available. The standard skis set (ski boots, skis and poles) for 3 days cost 59lev (£29.5) per person. We checked prices once in Bansko too. The same skis set was offered for 82lev (£41) and one place offered a discounted price on the spot of 62lev (£31). Whatever you decide, book online or at the place, make sure you get your ski boots fitting and skis set ready the day before of skiing. It will save time on the morning of skiing and smooth the experience. The fittings are usually done late in evening; ours was between 7pm-8pm.
TOTAL? £279pp based on two sharing (excluding food bill outside hotel). Is it cheap for 5 days, including 3 days skiing, holiday? I thinks so
There are two ways to get to the slopes: gondola lift or shuttle bus. You need to get early to the gondola lift, definitely before 8:30, if you don't want to stay long in the queue. Buses from hotels come around 8:30 and the queue gets longer with every minute. We waited 30-40 minutes in the queue every day, despite coming before 8:30 in the morning. The shuttle bus is just outside the gondola lift and works between 9:00 and 11:00. It is free, if you have a lift pass. If the gondola lift queue is long, it is worth getting the shuttle bus. We also saw taxis going up the mountain, so that is another option to get up and escape the gondola lift queue.
It is handy to have a piste map with you. Get Bansko app, which shows ski area map, open slopes and lifts, weather, and more. The ski area is not extremely well signed but it is pretty easy to find the slopes you want. Our favourite route was No.11 from the top then No.10 and then No.12 and again. Yes, I know towards the end we were comfortable with not only blue (easy) but also red (medium) tracks. We loved that at the end of your day you can get back to town using a ski road track (No.1) and not the gondola lift. Now we just need to get more lessons to progress with skiing.
While you are on the slopes, you may want to catch some short breaks and get some food. As you expect food will be more expensive on the slopes than in the town. However, it was still very reasonable. For instance, pizza starts from 20lev (£10), fizzy drinks like coca-cola 5lev (£2.5) (although I am a fan of water!), soup + chicken skewers 22lev (£11). You need to try bean soup, that's is one of traditional dishes. We carried water and snacks with us in backpack and got hot food in one of restaurants on the slopes.
What did we (beginners) pack?
This is what we took specifically for the skiing aspect of the holiday (3days skiing):
- Ski wear (trousers and jacket)
- 3 sets of skiing socks
- Skiing goggles
- Ski helmet
- Ski gloves
- Neck warmer
- 2 sets of ski base layers (thermal bottom and top)
- 1 or 2 fleece jackets as an extra layer, if needed
- Backpack (this was also my small bag on the flight)
- Lip balm with sunscreen
Of course you pack your normal holiday stuff like toiletries, in case medicines (read more here), gadgets, clothes etc. You tend to pack less of your normal clothes tho. What do you tend to pack?
What to do in the evening? Après-ski
The top lifts start closing at 16:05 and the last lift at the lowest station closes at 16:30. So, really you are back at town by 17:00-17:30 (if you ski all day). We were so exhausted after all day skiing that we just visited supermarket on our way back to the hotel, got showers, dinner and went to bed. Well, I stayed up to read an awesome book recommended by a colleague- Night Circus by E.Morgenstern. If you are more energetic than us, there is plenty of night life in the town. The Happy End looked a particularly popular bar/club.
Did we caught the skiing bug? Of course, we did! Where shall we go next year for skiing?🙂