In November 2016 I moved from Melbourne, Australia to Luton - approximately 45 miles north of central London - during my university holidays as my girlfriend had become a full-time English teacher in the UK. When I first heard the news I thought that I could travel between the UK and the alps easily considering how cheap I believed flights would be between European countries…. well at least I thought it would be. Upon arriving in the UK I starting pricing out my options to go riding in France, Italy, Switzerland, basically anywhere in the alps which turned out to be way out of my price range because let's be honest, nobody wants to pay €8 for a beer in a western European snow resort.
It was at this point where my research turned to Eastern European snow resorts that were cheap but still had enough fun and hard terrain to ride for at least 4-5 days, which was a lot easier than first thought. After researching resorts in Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Macedonia and Slovakia I came across a resort in Bulgaria named Bansko, which had cheap accommodation, lift tickets and food, which ticked the main three boxes for my future trip.
Bansko Mountain Info
Bansko is a ski and mountain resort located in the south-western part of Bulgaria. The town is situated 6 km from the town of Razlog and 160 km from the capital of Sofia. Bansko lies on the two banks of the Glazne river at the foot of the Pirin mountain, right bellow the highest part of it. The Pirin mountain is an Alpine type mountain with its highest peak - Vihren (2914 m). The town of Bansko is located 925 m above the sea level whereas its ski area - at an altitude of 2000 - 2600 m.
Season Dates: early December till early April dependent on snow conditions
Elevation:1,100m to 2,500m
Trails: 33% Beginner / 50% Intermediate / 11% Advanced / 6% Expert
Lifts: 14 (1 Access gondola w/ multiple high speed 4-6 seat chairlifts)
Miles Piste: 43 miles / 69 km
Longest Run: 3 miles / 4.8 km
Getting to Bansko would prove to be incredibly easy as Wizzair has 3-5 flights daily to Sofia, which is 3 hours north from the resort. As Wizzair is a budget airline, flights do fluctuate depending on when you book, the time of year and all that usual crap that you have to deal with when being on a budget airline. At the start of January 2017, the prices kept going up and up as the days rolled on but I had signed up to the airlines deal list and got a message one day saying, “all flights to Bulgaria booked today are 30% off” which is when I knew this snow trip could become a reality. I booked to fly from Luton, London on the 22nd of January and return on the 28th, which cost $140aud. This included carry on luggage with no weight limit and the addition of my snowboard bag that came under “Sporting Equipment” which was great as it had no weight limit on ski or snowboard bags.
After doing some research online I stumbled across a Facebook page named, “The Bansko Notice Board”, which was filled with local Bulgarians offering private and public transfers from Sofia Airport to Bansko Ski Resort at any time. I booked a transfer through HHB travel as that’s who my hostel booking was under, giving me a 15% discount on the transfer which added up to be about $45-$50aud for a return airport transfer. Note if you want a cheaper option there is a public bus that runs 3 times a day between Sofia Airport and the Bansko Train Station which costs $10aus each way.
When it comes to accommodation for me, as long as there is a bed that is nice and warm and somewhere safe to store my stuff I’m pretty easy to please. After looking at hostels online on the usual sites – Booking.com, Expedia, Trivago and Hostelworld I came across HHB Hostel that was $15aud a night which I thought was crazy cheap through Booking.com. Originally I was scared, as there were only 5-10 photos online that made the hostel look homely which is exactly what I received. Upon my arrival at the Hostel, I was greeted by Stephen (the hostel owner) who showed me around the small 3 Storey Bulgarian house that was converted into a hostel on the top floor with 4 beds and a bathroom right next to the room. Downstairs there is a nice warm living room with fireplace, dining area and kitchen that are all available for use AND if you are an animal lover there are two dogs that live there who are always fun to relax with in the afternoons after snowboarding.
Oh and did I the mention the $15 a night covers a French/Bulgarian breakfast every morning? :)
I was only in Bansko for a short amount of time so a 4-day lift pass was enough for me which set me back at $155aud… almost the same price as a one-day pass in Falls Creek!! The link below shows prices for single + multiple day lift passes. These passes can be bought at the base of the gondola station, but I’m sure if you pay a bit more and stay at a nice hotel you could arrange for them to bring the passes to you when you arrive in town.
The gondola station opened at 8:30 am but seemed to open late some days and EARLY which was great as there were two big lines that converged into one place where everybody would rush into 8-seater gondolas. I arrived at 8 am every morning to be at the front of the line to beat crowds, which can be really bad from around the 10th of February onwards due to mid-term break in various areas around Europe. After a 30 minute gondola ride up the mountain, you arrive at Bunderishka Polyana which is the base of the Intermediate to Expert Skiing area. It is generally very quiet until 1 pm when every man and his dog has made it to the top of the mountain to go skiing. In saying that, when there is enough snow all the runs are incredibly fun and if it snows there is enough tree terrain for weeks. It snowed on the first day I arrived in town so I was riding powder on my first day, which was incredibly accessible from the piste and quiet as everybody seemed to stay on-piste, which makes no sense to me!
A link to the piste map is below and no, the lift on the right side of the page that looks like it has amazing terrain is closed and has been for many years. :(
On the mountain, you can expect to pay inflated prices for meals, but hey remember this is Eastern Europe so the longneck beers on mountain are $4aud - $6aud so you can’t complain about that. When I snowboard I don’t generally eat on mountain because there’s the potential for me to go into a food coma and not be able to ride anymore and it’s WAY too expensive. Which worked out good because, Stephen, the owner of the Hostel also owned a small café called Le Retro, which was a French/Bulgarian crossover that set me back $8 daily. I went there 5 days in a row because $8aud would get you a beer + soup + sandwich + fries. The hostel was located about 15-20 minutes walk south of the gondola, surrounded by local Bulgarian restaurants where people barely spoke English so Google Translate helped me through some of those meals, which was worth it if you want to pay local prices and get a real look and taste for proper Bulgarian food.
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Ben is a snowboarding powder hunter who is currently completing his masters in landscape architecture at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. After starting snowboarding at the late age of 17 in Australia, it became an obsession to travel and ride powder around the world. After three straight seasons in Hokkaido, Japan riding some of the freshest and driest snow in the world his obsession brought him to Eastern Europe, where he is slowly finding resorts in places that you wouldn’t think get much snow - unlocking amazing in resort and off-piste places that aren’t generally considered by Australians when organising an international powder adventure. You can find Ben on Instagram.