Resort of the week: Bansko, Bulgaria:The Balkans’ most modern resort was until the turn of the century an isolated snow field used by the Bulgarian military for training.Privatisation and government grants helped build the best lift system in the region and upgraded a provincial mountain village into a winter sports resort capable of competing with the Alps.
Bulgaria’s initial appeal is its prices, some 40 per cent lower than western Europe, but Bansko has a growing and loyal following who come year after year to enjoy Ottoman-inspired dishes, a large terrain, varied off-piste activities and excursions, the eccentricity of Balkan nightlife and affordable private ski and board tuitions.
Although the outskirts have suffered from overdevelopment, the centre of the town is a maze of cobbled streets peppered with great restaurants and bars with comfortingly low prices.
Bansko’s managers have some work to do in dealing with the morning gondola bottlenecks, but once on the mountain the riding is superb, with good beginners’ slopes framed by the woods of the Pirin national park and challenging blacks and off-piste under Todorka peak to satisfy the experienced.
Best runWeather permitting, the full 16km descent from the top station through the Chalin woods. Stop halfway to treat yourself to a reinvigorating Rakia, before slowly drifting back into town.
Season lengthMid-December to April
Snow reliability ****
Who goesGrowing middle-class snowhounds of Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia and Russia. College kids from Greece and Turkey. Bewildered Irish apartment owners and traditional first week learners from Ireland and Britain.
Value €€€€The property overhang has kept accommodation prices low. Food and drink are great value and nourishing hearty Bulgarian four-course meals with local red wines can be had for less than €10 per head
Insider tipsIntermediates finding it difficult to progress can hire private one-on-one lessons for less than half the price of Alpine resorts
Tour operatorsTopflight, Directski, Crystal, Inghams, Panorama
One of the distinct advantages of being a boarder is the footwear; lighter, more flexible and cooler than the clunky ski boot. This year the Burton label has pushed comfort out that little bit more with the Supreme range. This women’s line of boots have added internal portable heating keeping your toes extra toasty on those frosty mornings. Available from €249, stockists include Snow and Rock in Dundrum Shopping Centre and Onboard in Dún Laoghaire and off Dawson Street in Dublin 2. See onboard.ie, snowand rock.com.
Another fantastic week of snow across Europe. France, Italy and Austria all had their good starts topped up with fresh stuff during the week.
The low lying Alpine valley resorts will always struggle this early, but very low temperatures have the snow cannons on overtime.
This week will see the opening of the majority of the ski resorts’ full terrain. The Pyrenees and Eastern Europe took a big early week blast and are well set for their busy Christmas clientele.
Next week is hopeful, with the cold snap set to continue and snow continuing to fall even at low altitudes
Snow-forecast.com provides free forecasts for over 2,200 resorts worldwide. Verify the snow status of some 250 popular resorts on skiclub.co.uk or have a peek at your mountain of choice on snoweye.com.
On your skates
Topflight is offering a week’s skiing, departing on January 9th or 16th, 2010, from only €239 to anywhere in Andorra, Bulgaria, France and Livigno in Italy. Price includes flight, transfer and standard accommodation. topflight.ie
Strength and fitness coach Colin Gaffney has devised Ski Fit, a programme that provides skiers with the latest health and fitness information, tools and advice enabling them to ski longer and play harder. His course, which made its debut last year, aims to prepare skiers and snowboarders for all the challenges the snow can offer.
Based in Dublin 6, Colin works with individual or groups from €50 per session. Contact Colin on 087-814 4455.