Ski resorts in Bulgaria are great value, with excellent skiing, which is great news for families planning a holiday on the slopes.
It’s hard to believe that just last December, the pound was strong and we could ski anywhere from Whistler Mountain to Zermatt without a financial care in the world. How things change. This December – barring supernatural economic intervention – the pound will not be performing well against Euros and Dollars. In fact, it’s likely to be performing as well as a first timer, new into bindings on the nursery carousel.
If you’ve wisely booked ahead, opted for all-inclusive and dusted off last year’s gear for another airing, you’ll be fine. But if you’re looking at where’s affordable in Europe for the 2016/17 season right now, you might be in for a shock. Prices in France and Austria are up on 2015 (in some cases as much as 20%), Italy’s a bit less expensive but all things are relative and, if you want to ski Switzerland, selling your house may just get you a room in a hostel and an after-dark lift pass.
It’s not all gloom and doom on the slopes for UK family ski holidays this winter. Bansko in Bulgaria is weathering all money woes and coming out for the third year running as Europe’s most affordable resort. And it’s not alone. Several other Bulgarian resorts have upped their game, invested in snow machines, hotels and non-ski fun stuff for kids and families, still kept the costs down and held on to the natural advantages of pretty Alpine scenery and friendly, easy-going atmosphere.
It’s not the best country for advanced skiers. But for the less demanding: few crowds, good ratio ski schools, a growing network of fast lifts and accessible ski areas more than make up for a lack of black runs. So before you throw your skis back into the cupboard and hope for better days, have a closer look at what’s on offer.
1/3 Bansko, South West Bulgaria (160km from Sofia)
Tucked under the dramatic Pirin Mountain in south west Bulgaria, Bansko’s one of the country’s top ski resort and multi-million euro investment over the past few years means you can safely ignore any reviews pre-2013. There’s now a fast network of 14 lifts, including an eight-person gondola. The 70km ski area has good December to March snow coverage at altitudes of 2100 – 2500m. And, of the 18 total runs, over 50% are intermediate or beginner which, when you factor in fewer skiers, works well for kids. Bansko’s also the only resort in Bulgaria with a Snow Park and boarders have the same inexpensive tuition as skiers at the local school.
Off the slopes, there’s a huge ice rink, over five kilometres of cross country and lively traditional Bulgarian inns and restaurants are a bit of a resort speciality. Several hotels have indoor pools and spa facilities. And the original town is still quaintly historic and charming for downtime exploring.
2016 – 2017 Season: 6 December to 19 April
2016 Ski school costs: 5 x day kid’s group lessons £103 at Bansko ULEN Ski School (compared to 5 x day kid’s group lessons £399 at New Generation, France)
Number of runs: 18 runs (69km downhill, 7km night skiing); 12% red, 6% black
2016 Lift pass prices: 6 x day adult lift pass £123, Bansko (compared to 6 x day adult lift pass £174, Les Gets, France). French lift passes charge extra for insurance. Bansko lift passes include insurance
Getting to Bansko
Direct flights from London to Sofia in December take 3 hours 15 minutes and Sofia is just under two hours’ drive from Bansko. Flight prices from £220 return
Staying in Bansko
Regnum Bansko Aparthotel & Spa, 5 Stars from £153 per night in December
Adeona Ski & Spa Aparthotel, 3 Stars from £52 per night in December
Find out more about family ski holidays in Bansko
2/3 Pamporovo, South Bulgaria (240 km from Sofia)
The most southerly ski resort in Europe, Pamporova is purpose-built so you won’t find much authentic heritage here. It’s also low on beginner and intermediate runs: three quarters of the runs here are red or black, so perhaps not the best choice for a first time family ski holiday. But if you’re up for long hours of sunshine, higher altitudes and gorgeous scenery courtesy of the Rhodopi Mountains, Pamporova has all that and more.
The original resort has joined to the Mechi Chai for 2016/17 so the ski area’s almost doubled in size. There’s also a new lift, bringing the total to eight and an improved children’s ski area along with 14 schools and over 100 multi-lingual instructors.
2016 – 2017 Season: 25 December to 9 April
2016 Ski school costs: 5 x day kid’s group lessons £55 at Pamporova (compared to 5 x day kid’s group lessons £399 at New Generation, France)
Ski area: 62km and Pamporova Terrain Park. Altitude 1339m – 2289m
2016 Lift pass prices: 6 x day adult lift pass £100, Pomporova (compared to 6 x day adult lift pass £174, Les Gets, France). French lift passes charge extra for insurance. Pomporova lift passes include insurance
Getting to Pamporovo
Direct flights from London to Sofia in December take 3 hours 15 minutes and Sofia is just over three hours’ drive from Pomporova. Flight prices from £220 return.
Staying in Pamporovo
Complex Grand Monastery. 4 Stars. 2 bed apartments from £65 per night in December
Perelik Palace Spa Hotel. 4 Stars. Rooms from £80 per night in December
Find out more about family ski holidays in Pomporova
3/3 Borovets, West Bulgaria (70km from Sofia)
Bulgarians have been skiing Borovets since 1896 making it the country’s oldest resort and one of the largest. It’s just minutes over an hour’s drive from the capital, Sofia, and loved by weekend skiers. The downside of this is busier slopes but, on a more positive note, popularity means a wide choice of hotels, restaurants, shops and activities.
Surrounded by the Rila Mountain’s dense forests, Borovet’s is breathtakingly pretty and has good snow cover from early December right through to March. In the past, the resort’s also hosted World Cup competitions, so there’s no shortage of challenge on the 58km ski area. Add in a good network of chairlifts and gondolas, several award-winning ski schools and skiable slopes at 2600m and this easy to reach resort is definitely a good all-rounder for a family ski holiday this year.
2016 – 2017 Season: 19 December to 4 April
2016 Ski school costs: 5 x day kid’s group lessons £120 at Borovets (compared to 5 x day kid’s group lessons £399 at New Generation, France)
Number of runs: 24 (58km downhill, 4km night skiing); 13% beginner, 33% intermediate, 38% red, 17% black
2016 Lift pass prices: 6 x day adult lift pass £111, Borovets (compared to 6 x day adult lift pass £174, Les Gets, France). French lift passes charge extra for insurance. Borovets lift passes include insurance
Getting to Borovets
Direct flights from London to Sofia in December take 3 hours 15 minutes and Sofia is just over an hour’s drive from Borovets. Flight prices from £220 return.
Staying in Borovets
Hotel Rila. 4 Stars. from £65 per night in December.
Hotel Festa Chamkoria. 4 Stars. Rooms from £72 per night in December.
Find out more about family ski holidays in Borovets