Mountain safety/Surviving the slopes

Every skier should follow the International (FIS) code of conduct for skiers. Always be properly dressed (jeans are not OK), wear layers, gloves, sunglasses and hat. And don't forget the sun protection.

Mountain safety/Surviving the slopes

article by Paromita Sanatani, originally published in Sofia Echo of 13 December 2002

Judging by the way most Bulgarians drive, one may be forgiven for being a little apprehensive before taking to the slopes for the first time in this country. Let me assure you that while it is true to say that the total disregard for rules is similar to that experienced on the roads, skiing in Bulgaria is nowhere near as hazardous or nerve-racking as the driving.

My years of working and skiing in Borovets have shown me that it is not necessarily the locals, most of whom are good skiers even if a little reckless, that cause the biggest danger on the slopes. The hazard factors are many fold and start off with poor preparation of the slopes. Insufficient snow coverage, badly marked (if at all) pistes and large rocks can even test the most experienced skier.To this day I refuse to wear my own skis for fear of gauging them beyond repair.

Every skier should follow the International (FIS) code of conduct for skiers, but it seems that very few people seem aware of these rules. Try skiing in America - they have patrols, who reinforce the rules and even throw you off a run if they think you are not good enough to be skiing on it.

Elsewhere in Europe they rely on the understanding that the rules are for the safety of all skiers, including oneself. Some of the simplest rules like "not skiing alone" or "not skiing off-piste" are disregarded time and again putting the offenders own life in danger. All skiers are bound to ski within their ability with due regard for those downhill from them and should in no way endanger them or restrict their maneuvers. Leopards don't change their spots, even if they have changed their equipment.

You can be sure that the same guys that cut you up on the Tzarigradsko shosse will cut you up on the slopes of Borovets; but you may stand a better chance at accidentally whacking them with your ski poles. Likewise don't expect any courtesy in the lift queue. Well actually it's only a queue for the British - all other nationals push and barge their way to the front. A few sharp words can usually bring some of the 'bargers' into line but it's best not to get too annoyed about it, you'll get to the lift eventually. If you can't beat them, join them!

In my opinion one of the biggest hazards on the slopes are people skiing beyond their abilities. Why so many people feel brave (and stupid) enough to tackle a black run after just a few days of lessons is beyond me?
Having said that, the lads that I encountered in serious trouble on one occasion, may not have actually realised they were on a black run because of the lack of signs. However far too many youngsters believe that once you've mastered the snow-plough turn they are ready for everything!
Both ski guides and ski instructors are plentiful in Bulgaria and not very expensive at that. It is always advisable to have them show you the best runs for your ability on the first day, and a few tips on style and technique are extremely helpful. During my time as a rep in Borovets, I heard over and over comments like "I had a week of lessons last year - I don't need a ski instructor."

I've been skiing since the age of six and I still feel nervous and unsure when I first take to the slopes. It always feels reassuring to have an instructor with me. Maybe that's why I married one!

My final advice is: Always be properly dressed (jeans are not OK), wear layers, gloves, sunglasses and hat. And don't forget the sun protection.

In my two seasons in Borovets, I had more casualties from sunburn and snow blindness that I had skiing accidents, and nearly all deaths in the resort were related to excessive alcohol consumption and not reckless skiing. Here's to a safe winter season. 

  • Diane Degabriele From Malta
    Sent on 20 February 2007
    Have just returned from a week in Borovets. Had a fantastic time, we stayed at Flora Hotel and it was clean and friendly staff. The place is beautiful, fantastic views but there is just one think i would like to point out, I think the instructors should tell you what you are cabable of and tell you if you are cabable to go a step further i mean, if you can go from green to blue for example, and they should teach you good and stay with you as much as possible as from my first skiing experience i learned that you can easily get hurt or hurt someone while skiing and you can easily get smashed in a tree or have a bad fall even in the green (easy slope) Instructors should do their best to give the best lessons possible!!!
  • Stuart Thomson From Scotland
    Sent on 04 March 2006
    Hello, I am going to Pamporovo mid March 2006. Does any body have any off piste / ski mountaineering suggestions? How easy would it be to create single day tours? Steep gullies etc. Thanks in advance Stuart
  • tom From england
    Sent on 18 April 2005
    dont buy insurance off this site.lost my wallet and had to prove i owned the money.i sent receipt i got when i purchased currency from post office.this wasnt good enough.what else could i send. never again
  • skier From bulgaria
    Sent on 25 February 2005
    I had a scary incident at Bansko. Due to my own fault, while skiiing off piste I became separated from friends and lost in a nasty valley with avalanche dangers. It was 3 in the afternoon and I had been alone for more than 2 hours. Friends who contacted the safety people on the pistes received little response and a refusal to go and search. No names or details were taken fact nothing was done and they felt it was too dangerous to go after me. Eventually, my friends tracked me down (I had written my name in twigs by my track which proved a very good move). We made it to the valley bottom and out at 4.30. I was actually completely knackered when they found me and resigned to staying the night rather than risk injury by continuing. Final point, yes I was stupid to get in such a mess but just so you all know...get lost and you are on your own at Bansko. All the money going into the resort hasn't been put into training rescue services. It is quite easily done too as we were only skirting a piste and I dropped too much into the valley. There are no clear signs. Happy skiing.
  • jeff From Wales
    Sent on 25 January 2005
    put simply there is NO mountain safety in Bulgaria. All the usual skiing rules are reversed. Skiers coming from behind have priority, the faster skier has right of way, nursery slopes are for target practice(aim at the beginers!), okay for a ski school class of seven people to sit down for instruction around bend of 3metre wide slope, the list is endless.When you get to gatwick you know when the borovets flight has landed because all the wheel chairs are pressed into action. You must be prepared for instructors to come from behind with their students in tow to shout abuse at you for being in the way. If you take a bad fall, too bad, no one will stop not even when your unconcious. Its cheap, the hotels are good but you must be able to tolerate the abuse and remember that you can only rely on yourself.
  • Iva Biggen From England
    Sent on 15 February 2004
    I have just arrived back from Borovets,I stayed in the Rila Hotel, never again. The room was dirty and the food was really horrible. We had to eat out every night. The snow was to hard, and the slopes were too steep. Over all i would definetly go back to get my 2 back on my lift pass, that the airtours rep conned me out of. Be warned!!!!!
  • Alett Rdel From Germany
    Sent on 24 January 2004
    I visited Bulgaria since 5 years! Its so nice in pamporovo with so frinly people.... you cant imagine!! I will be there tne next time from 31.1.-8.1.2004 and I am very happy to go there.... So I just can say go to Bulgaria and relaxxxxx... Bye
  • alan bartlett From u/k northampton
    Sent on 12 April 2003
    Had great time in 1987/8 at Orlec Harrielampiev still with the mountain rescue.......he was a great chap as a ski instrutor....hope to hear from you!
  • reuben burns From england
    Sent on 27 February 2003
    i have visited the resort of pamporova three times now and always stayed at the perilik hotel. the last time i visited i had a very bad accident in the mountains from an attempted jump. When landing i ruptured my spleen and therefore it was critical that surgery took place to remove the spleen in time due to internal bleeding. a message to anyone considering the resort is that the emergency treatment and the hospital are pretty shocking.Although th3e resort provides good skiing i would never recmmend bulgaria for a skiing holday. yours spleenless reuben burns