Family Skiing on a Budget?
Skiing has always been something on my bucket list of things to try despite the fact I’m the least sportiest and coordinated person I know! I had always imagined going on a skiing holiday to be expensive what with all the equipment you need and my general impression of ski resorts were that they were all pricey places and only really for the more wealthy. However there are ways to go on a budget skiing holiday as I have discovered.
Our trip came about after my partner had a conversation with a friend at work about his upcoming ski holiday to Bulgaria. Interested by the idea, he decided to look into how much it would cost and was pleasantly surprised at how cheap it was! Firstly we went on to Ryanairs website and found that the flights from Birmingham to Sofia (Bulgaria’s capital) were just £14.99 each, one way, so in total for two adults and one child the flights were less than £100… for that price we couldn’t not go!
I had heard that Bulgaria was cheap country to visit and despite being a member of the E.U, Bulgaria does not use the Euro as its currency but rather the Bulgarian Lev. This is good news for us Brits in particular as we all know about the weak pound against the euro thanks to Brexit! Converting Pounds to Levs is simple as the lev is roughly double the amount in pounds so for example 10 Levs = 5 pounds.
During the planning stage of our trip we found out that there are two main ski resorts in Bulgaria; Borovets and Bansko, with Bansko being the biggest of the two. Both are within a 2 hour drive of Sofia and we opted for Bansko as it seemed to be the most popular. We found that accommodation in Bansko was also cheap and we ended up booking the 5 star Lucky Bansko Hotel for 4 nights for a total of £200.
So with flights and accommodation booked next on the agenda was to buy ski wear! We had booked to go on our trip during the second week of March and this is the perfect time to grab a bargain with March being later in the skiing season. We found that many ski items were on sale in the shops the week before we went. One of the best places to get cheap skiwear is Aldi! You have probably seen skiing stuff amongst the various random items Aldi has to offer and my partner managed to snap up a ski jacket for only £10! By march many people are selling unwanted ski and snow wear and so I managed to get a snowsuit and snow boots for my daughter off Ebay for very cheap.
Our flight arrived at Sofia very late and so we decided to stay at a hotel close to the airport and pick up the hire car the next day. We got a taxi to our hotel (Hotel Dream) 10 minutes away for 5 levs and the next morning we picked up the car rental. We had booked the cheapest car rental we could find, a company we hadn’t heard of and who didn’t have a desk at Sofia airport. We had to ring a number to say what time we would be there and once back at the airport we met a guy who showed us to a car parked up just outside the terminal where another man greeted us and went through the paper work. I did think this set up seemed a little dodgy however we did not encounter any problems with the car and received our deposit back with no issue. If you do not wish to hire a car then there are bus/shuttles that go from the airport to Bansko.
The drive to Bansko took about 2 hours in total. If you ever go to Bulgaria you will notice that the roads in the towns and villages are often a little worse for wear however there is a new motorway from Sofia to Bansko ( funded by the E.U according to signs) which is perfectly good.
We checked into our hotel and the rest of that day and the next were spent exploring Bansko and scouting out the ski hire and instructor options. There are many Ski hire shops in Bansko and many also offer instructor lessons either one on one or in groups. These are all located on or around Pirin Street, the main street around the Ski area, located next to the Ski Gondola entrance. The Ski Resort also has their own official ski instructors which you can book from their office by the gondolas and you will also found several instructors available on the slopes. For children there is a ski school for kids aged 4-7 named ULEN ski school which also includes ‘snow play’ as well as ski instruction.
We deliberated about paying for ski instructor which we probably should have done being complete beginners but it the end we opted to hire the equipment and have a go ourselves! We chose a small ski hire shop where the guy fitted us out and helpfully showed us how to get the skis and boots on and off and after watched several Youtube videos on the basics of skiing we were all set!
The first time we went up to the slopes we drove; there is a road that takes you to where the main ski slopes starts and the Gondola stops (Then you can get the ski lift to the higher slopes) and you can also park up by the beginners slope (where the kids ski school is located.) With it being March there wasn’t any snow in the town itself but as we drove up the road through the mountains we soon encountered snow which got deeper the higher we went 🙂
We also got the Gondola up to the top which takes 20 minutes and offers some amazing views of Bansko so it worth doing even if you aren’t planning on doing any skiing. The Gondola Lift costs 22 Bulgarian Levs for adults and only 1 Levs for a child for one up and down trip or you can get a pass for several days. Current prices can be found here.
Back to the skiing – It was soon apparent that I was not made for skiing! The three of us practised on the beginners area which only has a very slight slope to it but was still plenty scary enough for me. Me and my daughter only lasted a few hours before we called it a day but my partner carried on for another 2 days. We returned to the slopes the following day with a sledge for me and Cora and together we attempted going back down the mountain on the ‘ski road’. The beginning of the ski road starts out on a gentle incline which lulls you into a false sense of security that it is going to be the same most the way down however it does get steeper! My partner being on skis and still very much a novice managed to fall over several times so be warned that it may not be suitable for beginners!
Hotels in Bansko
We were staying at the 5 star Lucky Bansko Hotel which is situated a little further from the main areas of the town and is about a 20/25 minute walk to the Pirin Street Area. I would definitely recommend this hotel with the best attribute being the lovely spa. The Spa is very nicely designed and even has a separate childrens pool. We enjoyed relaxing in the spa every evening, perfect for after a days skiing (or none skiing in my case!). There is also a free creche at the Lucky Bansko for children aged 3-7 however we did not end up using it. If you are looking for a hotel with a creche then there is also the Hotel Kempinski which offers this facility.
Prices in Bansko
My research had led me believe that Bulgaria is a cheap country and in Bansko this is mostly the case. The further away from the Ski Gondola/Lift area you go the cheaper the prices in restaurants are. The old town is the best place for eating out on a budget where you can get a main meal for 8/9 Levs. The restaurants and bars around the Pirin Street Area were similar to UK prices and those on the actual slopes were unsurprisingly a little on the expensive side. There is a medium sized supermarket in the centre of Bansko which mostly sold imported products so was also no cheaper than back home. For smoker, Bulgaria offers very cheap cigarettes, you can expect to pay around £2.50 for a pack of twenty cigarettes.
Aside from skiing I wouldn’t say there was a whole lot to do in Bansko. We came across an ice rink however this was closed in March and the vast majority of shops only sell ski accessories or souvenirs. For children there was a few rides open and a small playground situated by the Ski Gondola station. Less than a 2 hour drive away is the beautiful Rila Monastery in the Pirin Mountains which we enjoyed visiting.
On the whole we enjoyed our skiing trip to Bansko. We had never been to a ski resort before so have nothing to compare it to however I would say it was an ideal place for family skiing on a budget.