Bring On Bansko: Budget Skiing At Its Best In Bulgaria

Bring On Bansko: Budget Skiing At Its Best In Bulgaria

With a lively, up-for-anything vibe, this place is fast becoming the destination du jour for skiers looking for fresh snow, fun and plenty of face-planting. Here’s everything you need to know.

resorts offering bang for their buck are hard to come by,
especially in Europe, where having a penchant for powder is a
particularly expensive habit. Step forward Bansko, officially now
Bulgaria’s most popular ski resort (the Snowboarding World Cup was held
there this year) which offers a dream combination of high peaks and
low prices. With a lively, up-for-anything vibe, it’s fast becoming
the destination du jour for skiers looking for fresh snow, fun and
plenty of face-planting. Here’s everything you need to know.

The lowdown

Nestled at the base of the UNESCO-listed Pirin National Park,
Bansko is gritty but charming. Currently undergoing an aesthetic
transformation with many buildings under construction, it’s nothing
a light dusting of snow can’t fix, and what the town lacks in
immediate beauty it more than makes up for with a supercharged
atmosphere. After a day on the slopes you’re spoilt for choice when
it comes to après, with an abundance of bars, restaurants and clubs
at the bottom of the mountains beckoning in the party people. While
75km of tree-lined runs should should please most levels of skiers and boarders, it’s all
about the blue and red runs here – adrenaline-chasing junkies may
not be stretched to their limits, though there are a few blacks if
you can’t resist showing off.

Getting there

Bansko is 155km southwest of Sofia, about a two-and-a-half-hour
drive from the airport. One of the cheapest options is to hire a
car (which can be done in advance or at the airport), alternatively
get a private transfer for around 30€ per person. The team at
are excellent, but if you’re travelling en masse we
recommend arranging a minibus transfer for around 14€ per person.


Accommodation to suit every requirement awaits, from top-notch
luxury hotels to chilled-out chalets, you’re spoilt for choice. For
five-star decadence head to the Hotel Grand Arena; situated next to the
resort’s only gondola, you can ski straight off the piste and into
an outdoor hot tub. At the other end of the scale try the
family-run Avalon Hotel, or head to the St Ivan Ski & Spa for basic self-catering
apartments. It’s worth noting that many of the hotels can arrange
ski hire on request, as well as daily shuttle buses to the gondola
if you’re a bit further out.

The slopes

The pistes are served by a new gondola, which swoops you over
gorgeous fir-tree forests to the top of the mountain – once you’ve
overcome the long morning queues and apparent lack of queuing
etiquette, that is. Be prepared to get your elbows out or get down
early as it can take up to an hour to board (we told you Bansko was
the place to go). If you’re raring to go and really can’t wait to
hit the slopes, you’ll find taxi drivers by the entrance who will
take you to the base for 5€ each. Plans for a second gondola are on
the horizon but at the moment a ski pass costs 30€/day or
175€/week, which you can buy from the ticket office. There are
ski-hire shops on every corner; Traventuria
offers great deals, while those wanting tuition can book into the
local ski school where lessons start at 70€ per person for an hour.
Insider tip: instructors hang around at the bottom of the mountain
at lunchtime offering guidance at cut prices.

Off piste

As the sun sets, ski down from the 2,500m summit and join the
14km-long ski road snaking all the way to the base of the mountain.
It’s a blue run, so after 4.30PM when the lifts close it gets
jam-packed with beginners making a shaky descent – but skimming
between them makes the scenic ride home all the more interesting.
Once at the bottom, you can’t miss Happy End which plays loud EDM music to a raucous
international crowd. Bansko at its finest, this place will pump you
full of cheer and send you merrily on your way. Other standout bars
include Euphoria with its excellent al-fresco terrace and
Penguin’s Bar & Dine
r which is packed every night of the
week. For a more conventional Bulgarian experience, head to one of
the many ‘mehanas’ – cosy local restaurants loaded with traditional
charm. Molerite is one of the best, offering outstanding
food, Bulgarian wines and live music. If you want a night off,
leave the slopes a little early and head to Dobrinishte, a village
just a few kilometres away from Bansko where hot mineral springs
will soothe the day’s aches and pains.

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