Bansko: The upwardly mobile ski resort

Bansko: The upwardly mobile ski resort

The Independent, Stephen Wood, 3.01.05, *with excerpts

Bansko: The upwardly mobile ski resort Stephen Wood reports from Bansko, the Bulgarian resort hoping to replace Andorra as Europe's budget skiing capital The ride up the mountain is quiet and very smooth because the 6.3km-long lift is barely two years old. I am alone in the eight-seat gondola, since, at 9.30am, still the "rush-hour", there was no one else waiting at the base station. I am heading for a ski area that has a network of recently installed high-speed chair-lifts with "hands-free" ticket scanners and a snow-making system armed with 53 cannons. The hotel that I have just left offers large, comfortable bedrooms, bathrooms with baths (by no means a given in four-star-hotels in this part of Europe) and all mod cons, plus piped music (until I find the switch that silences it). Admittedly, the ride up the narrow, rutted road the previous evening told a different story; but come the morning, Bansko, in Bulgaria, defies most of the stereotypes of Eastern European skiing, renowned for its inefficient, outmoded equipment and accommodation. Add the bright weather and plentiful snow, and one might, just, be in Colorado. A decade ago, things were different. With striking frankness, the 1994 Good Skiing Guide recommended that "anyone planning a holiday in Bulgaria should first find out what they are letting themselves in for". Many changes had taken place in the preceding year, the guide said, but the country's skiing still bore no comparison with that in the Alps. It warned sternly that "no comparison should be attempted". Among the guide's concerns were the quality of the food ("washed-out tastelessness"), the medical services ("hospitals reported to be very basic, unclean and lacking facilities"), and the ski equipment for hire ("locally made, not of the quality you would find elsewhere in Europe"). The guide concluded that anyone concerned by these matters - presumably, most skiers - "should perhaps consider a holiday elsewhere". Maybe the criticisms had an impact. Certainly, Bulgaria languished in the following years: its share of the UK skiing market fell from eight per cent in the mid-1990s to a little more than two per cent at the end of the decade. Now, however, Bulgaria is promising to make a comeback. This season, eight British tour operators are offering holidays there; just a couple of seasons ago, only two were. Why the sudden change? It's thanks partly to Bansko, a resort created in the 21st century, but mostly to Andorra. In the late 20th century, the Pyrenean principality took a firm hold on the market for budget skiers from the UK. By the 2002/3 season, Andorra attracted 14 per cent of UK skiers. But then it decided to go up-market. With its new, stylish hotels, Andorra began to price itself out of the budget sector. That presented a problem for British tour operators. Where were they to provide cheap holidays for new skiers? The answer was Bulgaria. The established Bulgarian resorts are Pamporovo and Borovets: it was their shortcomings that prompted the 1994 Good Skiing Guide's criticisms. Bansko barely existed then, but now, thanks to an investment of ??18m, it is the country's most modern resort. Even two years ago, Bansko, set on a high plateau 150km south of Sofia, was a town of 10,000 people with a ski area loosely attached. Then, access to the main part of the ski area - which rises from about 1,700m to 2,560m - was via a long and winding road; now, the gondola runs straight up from Bansko's south-western extreme. The result has been greater convenience for skiers, and a huge opportunity for property developers. Alongside the gondola base is a new five-star Kempinski hotel, and beyond is a vast construction site dominated by other new hotels (among them the Lion, only 10 days old when I stayed there last week). Bulgaria uses the Cyrillic alphabet. But almost all Bansko's property marketing is in Roman script and in English. Why? Because the British account for the biggest slice of the resort's 950,000 skier-days per season, and because, by comparison with Bulgarians, we are very rich. Andorra's rejects are welcome to ski here, and they are even more welcome if they fancy spending ??34,530 on a furnished studio apartment. Bansko's ski area opened on 17 December. I arrived three days later. It's risky to ski so early in a season: few guests come before Christmas and most get their holidays cheaply, so resorts often feel justified in opening the pistes progressively to reduce labour costs. Although I did get the gondola to myself, only three other lifts at the resort were working. Barely a third of the pistes were open. I regretted not being able to ski the 16km run from the top of the slopes to the base of the gondola, but skiing the pistes that were open and "visiting" a couple that were technically closed at least gave me the measure of the area. Its lifts and piste-grooming are good; the terrain is adequate for beginners, and more than adequate for intermediates;
     
  • Pepa From Madrid
    Sent on 24 August 2016
    Un citio presioso pero todo lo demas mentira.la comida,el personal muy mal.No lo recomiendo a nadie.Es una publicidad engañosa.Y de All inclusive nada.No se dejen engañar por las paginas web.Por desgracia en Bulgaria todavia el consumidor no es nadie.
  • Juglena Bankova From Bulgaria
    Sent on 13 May 2016
    Nie byakhme tam na Velikden i pisha malko kŭsno. No vpechatleniata sa ni poveche ot prekrasni! Velikolepna kuhnia (ne savetvat jenite na dieta, da hodiat za poveche ot tri dni, zashtoto yastiyata sa neustoimi, vkusni i ogromni)! Great stil! I mnogo priaten personal!(osobeno damata v restoranta) Pozdravleniya !
  • ger99 From turkey
    Sent on 01 March 2015
    We loved it. Had a perfect 2 bedroom apartment modern, clean new renovated With view to slope. Perfect location in pamporovo as central ski in ski out. Friendly staff, not ovr crowded relaxed athmosphere. our friends (group with total of 7 rooms) all very happy! It is away from city center but close to bowling and 2 nice reaturans.
  • ashley hensman From uk
    Sent on 01 March 2015
    Flora is a lovely hotel clean in a great location and the food was good just make sure you use the safes.
  • Enjoy ski From UK
    Sent on 27 February 2015
    Just came back from Sevlievo in Bulgaria. Drove up to Hotel Impulse in Uzana where I hired skis, boots and poles for myself and two children for just 17 levs for adult and 10 levs each child and used the hotel ski slope 5 levs each. Perfect for the kids first time as parking right at entrance to hotel and slope is 20m walk! Food in restaurant tasty and cheap. Perfect for beginners!
  • Charlotte Hennessy From england
    Sent on 23 February 2015
    WOW, thats all i can say about the previous week of my life. The snow conditions were amazing and the people were so friendly. The night life was always active and the rila hotel was especially fantastic. I loved the accommodation at the rila and i loved the way it is right on the slope. I wouldn't have changed a thing about the holiday and i would recommend this resort to everyone including beginners and experts. Overall, i had an amazing time!!!
  • Brian mcvey From Scotland
    Sent on 20 February 2015
    Going to borovets for 2nd time this time with my son. Had a great time 4 years ago, now with park I expect it to be a lot better now and it was brill last time round. 20 days and counting
  • Lasse WP From Denmark
    Sent on 15 February 2015
    We just had a wonderful trip to Pamporovo. We were a group of 10 adults, and 3 small children (1 to 3 years old), who stayed at the Castle complex, in 4 apartments, for a week (7 days stay, 6 days skiing) Everything at the Castle was great, and the staff was very forthcoming and helpful in every way. The apartments were very practical, and equipped with all necessities. Not luxurious, but really good and adequate in size and layout. You should note though, that towels are not changed every day. Towels are not needed to bring to the spa area and treatments. The food at the Excalibur restaurant was typical for the area, and well prepared. The staff at the restaurant is also great. The Castle complex is situated 2-3 km. from Ski center 2 (Malina). It is of course easiest if you are driving, but there are shuttles from the hotel to the ski center and lift. Ski in-/out is possible at the backside of the complex. We had booked ski- and snowboard packages, and that worked out perfectly as well. The snowboard instructor was a true professional. Patient and very focused on making sure that all of us learned the moves, at our own individual pace. Everyone had a great time, and learned a lot. The area was perfect for us, as we are all beginners on snowboards. Had we been on skies, I suspect the terrain would not be challenging enough for an entire week. We can definitely recommend Pamporovo, and the Castle complex, and will be back next year.
  • james From england
    Sent on 05 February 2015
    Lovely apartments bang on yasterbets slopes. Great spa and swimming pool and cheaper prices than borovets for food and beer. Best hotel and facilites in borovets
  • Jayne Gay From England
    Sent on 25 January 2015
    Just got back from Bansko what a fabulous week. A party of 6 which includes our daughter's aged 20-24 and the night life for them was great. No long queues, food good and we cannot wait for next year!
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