The Ski’s the Limit on the Slopes

Jonathan Adair puts on his ski boots for the first time, and samples the popular slopes in Bulgaria on a Fam trip organised by a local tour operator

I think everyone gets to a stage in their life when they believe some opportunities have passed them by… I assumed I was possibly there with regards to taking a skiing holiday. Certainly, you would think at 55 a break on the beach would be a better option.

But I must admit the week I spent in Bulgaria at the tail end of this year’s skiing season dispelled all my preconceived ideas and fears – first and foremost that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.

Of course, the preparation began well in advance of my departure with loads of advice from experienced friends with reference to what I would need to bring. And I was pleasantly surprised to find any clothing needed was readily available online at a fraction of the price I thought it was going to cost. I also recommend checking with friends as there will be some items you can borrow.

My adventure into the unknown began with the direct flight from Belfast to Plovdiv airport, a Thomas Cook charter with Northern Ireland’s own Balkan Ski, a renowned name in ski circles which has been transformed in the last few years since its acquisition by Belfast tour operator Travel Solutions, adding their own service and quality stamp to the packages.

With my limited knowledge, I was unaware of the range of skills needed for the different types of skiing holidays on offer. Fortunately for me I was starting at the more basic end of the scale with the slopes at Pamporovo the perfect fit for the true novice.

Our party stayed at the Snezhanka Hotel a 3-star, great for families and groups with a reception area that draws the residents together to exchange stories on each day’s adventures. (Something I noticed about skiing holidays is that no matter your skill level everyone loves to chat about how you got on that particular day but I’ll come to the après ski later).

Day One involves the fitting of proper boots and skis, and the depot that Travel Solution have in Pamporovo – the biggest onsite – is manned by experienced and friendly staff who make sure you’re equipped for the week ahead.

Ski school of course is where it all begins and the first few hours will test both your muscles and patience, but as they say practice makes perfect and I was surprised at my progress in such a short period of time. The advice is take time over the basics and it will pay off handsomely as the week goes on.

Pamporovo is the perfect venue if you want to learn to ski, with plenty of room for the novice and great instructors with the patience of a saint, so no one is left behind. If the group is progressing and you need someone one to one, the wonderful Brian from Travel Solutions in there to help.

The days are broken up with lunch on the mountain and some of the views are breathtaking when taking your well-earned break. It’s amazing how hungry you are after a morning on the ski slopes. There are a range of restaurants on site with menus to suit all tastes and I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the fare, much better than I remember from my last visit to Bulgaria, which admittedly was quite a few years ago – and the food was great value for money.

At the end of the day you’re ready for that shower and of course a refreshing beer or a hot chocolate with a secret kick.

In Pamporovo, as part of your package you have dinner in the hotel with a buffet range including starters and salads, hot main course, and a range of sweets. This applies throughout all the hotels on offer, and during our stay we sampled the Orlovets and the newly refurbished Perlik probably the best known.

Of course, no day on a skiing holiday is complete without a sampling of the Après Ski, and Daks Bar right beside the Snezhanka is one not to be missed, with live music and friendly staff. My only warning is that it’s a hard place to leave and you need to remember the early start for the slopes the next day, but it’s worth it, and of course the wonderful fresh air of the mountain will clear your head!

As the week goes on your skill level grows and the progression up the mountain is a wonderful achievement, with Pamporovo perfect for that first week of skiing. For a sterner test we progressed to Borovets, a much livelier resort with a greater challenge on the slopes.

We stayed in the 3 -star Samokov Hotel with a perfect position in the resort and a great breakfast buffet in the substantial restaurant. You can of course have the unique opportunity to come down the mountain and virtually ski into your bedroom as the Rila Hotel which is at the very base of the slope and has a great pool and spa.

As mentioned earlier Borovets is a livelier resort with a vast range of bars and restaurants and I would recommend the Mexican for a great night out. A word of warning though, make sure you book as it’s a very popular spot.

During the week we were able to sample some other activities, including a Skidoo trail through the forest and up the mountain again for some wonderful scenery. I also had a first attempt at Ringos which involves sitting in a giant inflatable ring and being pushed off the slope – great fun for all ages, and of course it generated the odd scream or two.

It’s hard to convey the pleasure I got from my first ski experience and I would have no hesitation in going back. No matter what age you are, it’s never too late to give it a go.

I wish I had taken the kids years ago, I know they would have loved the fun on the slopes and the interaction with the other kids, it’s a family holiday with everyone taking part.

Don’t get me wrong however, skiing and learning to ski can be hard work and your bed is very welcome every night – that’s if you can get out of Daks!