Pamporovo, Bulgaria 1997
One of my earliest memories involves snow. I was about 3. It was the Feast of St. Blaise and I was walking home through crunching snow to Mass Road; hand in hand with my mother, Peggy. We were coming from the Franciscan Friary having just had our throats blessed. Just past The Grotto, we met our lovely neighbour, Biddy Sheehan, and she asked with concern why I was whimpering. Peggy told her I was afraid of the snow. I remember thinking “No, I’m NOT afraid of it, I JUST DON’T LIKE IT!” Looking back, I think what I really didn’t like was the way it went crunch and gave way under my feet when stood upon. Clearly, I was a child who needed to know I was standing on solid ground😊.
Fast forward about 25 years later when my friend, Trish, suggested I go with her on a skiing trip to Pamporovo, Bulgaria. A large group were travelling to Bulgaria from Trish’s adopted home of
Monaghan bringing special supplies to a little girl who required them for a rare medical condition. To this humanitarian venture they would tack on a ski holiday. Sligo-born Trish and I met in AA…not Alcoholics Anonymous but Arthur Andersen (the accountancy firm)….; when we both started in the Tax Dept. there on the same day. We hit it off straight away….and are still firm friends 30 years later. Trish and her husband Brendan had skied many times before but this was to be my first time.
I had reservations about skiing to be honest….I had always thought it a bit crazy. I mean, what other intelligent species would strap long extensions onto their feet/paws/flippers/hooves and hurdle themselves off at speed down a mountainside on crunchy snow?? Only in skiing is going downhill fast considered a good thing! But I resisted listening to my inner whimpering 3-year old and grabbed the opportunity of ticking off another item from my bucket list.
I wanted to see what skiing was all about. And why did some people become obsessed with it? Why did some never fall for it (no pun intended) while others found themselves on the slippery slope of addiction? (pun absolutely intended!) This blog tells how I got on and gives some tips I garnered from my one and only ski trip!
SET AMONGST PINE FORESTS, PAMPOROVO IS A MODERN SKI RESORT, ONE OF THE LARGEST IN BULGARIA AND ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR IN EASTERN EUROPE. At the heart of the Rhodope Mountains, Pamporovo, is the sunniest Bulgarian resort boasting 270 days of sunshine each year. It is situated at an altitude of 5,413ft (1,650m) and the resort is centred around the Snezhanka (Snow White) peak. The unique Mediterranean climate is extremely healthy.
PAMPOROVO IS AN IDEAL SKI RESORT FOR BEGINNERS YET HAS ENOUGH CHALLENGING RUNS TO KEEP THE ADVANCED SKIER HAPPY FOR MORE THAN A FEW DAYS. The lift pass is reasonably priced by European standards and snow cannons are in abundance meaning that skiing is pretty much guaranteed during the season. There are really good Ski Schools, reasonably priced restaurants and a good variety of easy runs, many of which are pretty tree-lined runs.
The long green run goes from the tower at the top all the way back down meaning that all of the Snezhanka peak is accessible. The runs to Stoikite are the next challenge but a gentle blue and a gentle red give you a steady progression in comfort.
Intermediate skiers can jump on the 3 seat chair lift from the Malina ski centre to the top to access most pistes. There are a variety of red runs of varying difficulties across the whole resort and also a variety of blacks. The steepest and the most intimidating is known as ‘The Wall’ and is not for the faint hearted! There are about 13 ski lifts in the resort (7 chair lifts and 6 tows) which serve the 18 ski slopes.
So the FIRST thing I did in preparing for Pamporovo was take myself off for some ski lessons to the dry ski slope at Kilternan, Co. Dublin. (I’d heard that is was so much cheaper to learn how to ski in Dublin than it is on the actual slopes. Not only that, but you actually spend more time skiing on the ski slope in Dublin than you do on the real slopes; no queueing for chair lifts and long walks between runs).
The SECOND thing I did was to rig myself out with all “de gear”. I high-tailed it into Pamela Scott’s on Grafton Street and bought a one-piece blue ski-suit (with zip-off jacket), french polo sweaters from Dunnes and gloves, goggles, socks and headband from The Great Outdoors. Now, of course you don’t NEED to do that. But I reckoned if I was going to break my neck skiing over a cliff then I wanted to look good when they repatriated my body! 🤣 (And as it happened, I later recouped some of the cost of it by selling the lot to a work colleague.)
The 7-night trip was booked with Balkan Tours from Saturday Feb 22nd to Saturday Mar 1st 1997. We flew midday from Dublin to Plovdiv with Balkan Bulgarian Airlines; flying time was just short of 4 hours. On arrival we took the coach transfer to the resort of Pamporovo, the transfer time being about 1 ½ hours.
Our Hotel Rozhen (a 3-star) was situated right in the very centre of the ski resort, close to the other amenities. This hotel is familiar to ski tourists and Pamporovo’s visitors and was one of the first to accommodate visitors back in 1974. Being amongst the first hotels here it has the advantage of occupying an area of stunning beauty and all of its rooms overlook the mountains and the valley where Pamporovo is situated. The view from the hill is worth seeing, especially in winter when the mountain is covered in snow. This panorama is the hotel’s main natural asset. (Obviously, having stayed there so long ago my experience would be very outdated. So if thinking of going to Pamporovo, you should probably research hotels on TripAdvisor for up-to-date reviews).
On Day 1, after breakfast in the hotel, we took the shuttle bus straight out to the Ski School. Most of the hotels run a shuttle bus every day from the hotel starting at around 8.45 up to 10.15 and it returns again in the evening from the slopes from 15.30 up to 16.45. Dropping us off at the ski centre, our Monaghan group was a mixture of first-time skiers (like me) and experienced skiers (like Trish). I had signed up for lessons so joined up with other beginners….we were to be a class of 8 with our ski instructor for the week. We then got fitted out with our skis, ski poles, ski boots and lift passes and then the fun began.
It started with 4 hours of ski lessons with our very patient instructor showing us the basic learning-to-ski moves and getting us on to the nursery slopes. I found out early on that skiing for me wasn’t so much about fitness as it was about stamina…..it takes a LOT of stamina to keep hauling yourself back up when you fall. At one stage, I took off down a hill unable to stop myself ……heading for a class of what looked like 10-year-olds who were snow-ploughing to perfection. Luckily, I managed to throw myself into a fall before I knocked them all down the hill like a line of bowling pins. 🤣 And luckily I managed not to break anything!
Lunch was in the restaurant located at the Ski School offering great food with a really good mid-day atmosphere offering the usual chicken burgers, steak burgers, pizzas, toasted sandwiches and soft drinks. After the afternoon on the nursery slopes we returned back to the boot room leaving our boots, skis and poles for the next day.
We headed back to our hotel with a quick change, had a meal and then headed out to Bedrock the local nightclub at the time. We danced like Snowbody was watching! Suffice to say it was a late night. 😊
And so began our week! Each day after a hotel breakfast, we caught the ski bus out to the ski school picked up our ski equipment, met with our ski instructor to start another day of fun, falls and plenty of laughter. We progressed from Green to Blue slopes (Me never managing the Red or Black Slopes); the colours marking the degree of difficulty. We sometimes had our lunch at the lodges out on the mountain…breathing in the crisp fresh air , admiring the scenery….and exchanging tales of slips and slaps on the slopes. As the saying goes, after lunch it was all downhill from there! Some days the snow was icy and I fell a lot, those were the days I would get back down by hitching a lift on the skis of the ski instructor. However, other days I was really happy with my progress and could start to see the attraction of skiing. There’s something exhilarating in the swooshing down from side to side.
The higher up the slope you went required the use of the ski-lifts to get there. Now, when you tackle these first they are very tricky. Trying to keep my legs and skis straight was a battle I seldom won. Instead, I tended to adopt the stance of a new-born baby giraffe standing up for the first time with legs splaying out before I inevitably landed on my bum. The button or drag lifts became easier to master once I remembered to remain upright and resist the urge to sit down.
And then there were the chair lifts…the treble chair lifts I got the hang of. But I had a pretty hair-raising experience on the single-chair lifts. Heading up the mountain in such a contraption one day, I was admiring the view of the trees to the side and the valley underneath me when all of a sudden the lift system stopped. Someone else had an accident getting off at the top and got entangled or some such requiring the lift system to be halted. This left me dangling in mid-air suspended about 80 feet over the valley. The worst part was the bar that you pull back in front of you and put your feet on wasn’t working properly so I had to hold it in with my hands.
I tell you, I had to do a serious amount of deep breathing and positive affirmations to stop myself panicking. Harder still to get the image out of my head of me going splat in the snow down under me; leaving an impact silhouette…..like a cartoon where Wile E. Coyote is tricked into running over the edge of a cliff by Road Runner and goes splat in the canyon below. Obviously, as I’ve lived to tell the tale, I never did go splat and the system lift eventually restarted and I was brought to the top of the mountain but it shook me!
On the Thursday night all of us in the Monaghan group were treated to dinner at the home of the little girl the group were supporting; hosted by her parents. The home-cooked Bulgarian food was delicious and the night turned into a sing-song when guitars were produced. When we were leaving in the wee hours to return to our hotel, the Dad produced a shotgun and fired into the air as is the custom in some of the Balkan states. He gave me the one of the shot gun cartridges as a souvenir!
The following night was our last night as we said our farewells to our ski classmates and to our excellent ski instructor who presented us all with our Ski Achievement Certificates. We sang “Freeze a jolly good fellow!”
I would highly recommend a Skiing holiday to Bulgaria as its offers great value for money suitable for all budgets, offering a great choice of hotels, very family friendly, superb for beginners and intermediates. My tips from my (very) limited experience would be:
A fantastic, memorable experience ….but skiing probably wouldn’t be my first choice of holiday…..as Larry Gogan used to say it “just didn’t suit me”. I’m so glad I tried it ….I had great camaraderie with my ski-school classmates……but I’m definitely more of a sun, sea and sangria type of gal…………..
Bucket List Items Ticked Off in the above Blog post
Number 4 - Adventure - Ski Down A Mountain
Number 34 - Food & Drink - Eat/Drink Regional Food - Homemade Bulgarian Food
Number 57 - Travel General - Continent - Europe
Number 58 - Travel General - 15/80 Countries - Bulgaria
Number 59 - Travel General - 80 Hotels - Hotel Rozhen - Pamporovo, Bulgaria
Number 60 - Travel General - 80 Cities/ Towns - Pamporovo, Bulgaria
Number 80 - Experiences - 80 Tall Vantage Points - Ski Lift, Pamporovo, Bulgaria
Other Blog Posts
Blog 7 - Alice Springs, Australia
Blog 8 - Adelaide, Australia
Blog 9 - Melbourne, Australia
Blog 10 - Cairns, Australia
Blog 11 - Sydney, Australia
Blog 16 - Books 8 of 80 to read now!
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My name is Mary and this is my bucket list blog ...having survived a near-death experience. I hope it encourages you to "live your best life". See how I'm completing my own bucket list items. And let me know how you're getting on with yours!