Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bansko - A Beautiful Ski Resort


The town of Bansko is located in Bulgaria (Europe), in the S-W region, below Sofia, nearby the river Glazne (left feeder of Mesta River) in the north-eastern foot of Pirin mountains.
It is just 160 kilometers away from Sofia and 6 kilometers from Razlog.
Its name comes from the old Bulgarian word ban, which means master.
Bansko is probably the biggest east european ski resort.

Bansko (view from gondola)

Located at 925m above sea level, Bansko has its skiing area at 990-2600 m. The Pirin mountains have a predominantly alpine character and even the highest peak of the Bansko ski resort is Todorka (2746m), there is another higher peak in the area - Vihren (2914m).

View of Todorka Peak (from chairlift)

View of Vihren Peak (at the right)

View of Vihren Peak and Pirin Mountains

The contemporary town of Bansko is a unique mixture of old traditions and modern style, where new-built hotels and apartment houses are separated from more than 100 years old ethnographic houses by just a tiny, stone-paved street. The town centre is a listed World Heritage Site. The clock tower measured the time for over 150 years now.

The Architecture of Bansko

The Architecture of Bansko

Bansko Clock Tower

Map of Bansko
(click to enlarge)

Investments in Bansko
During the recent years a multi-million euros investment in a brand new skiing area has been made by Yulen (or Ulen), the company which has the licence to run the skiing area of the resort. Bansko has the best snow record and the longest ski season (15 Dec - 15 May) of all the Bulgarian ski resorts, where we may count other resorts like Borovets and Pamporovo-Chapelare.

View of Todorka Peak and Bansko Ski Resort

During the last couple of years, this resort is under a massive investment process with new hotels and resort facilities being under construction. A new resort area with luxury hotels and holiday apartments is being developed just opposite the Gondola lift, which also makes Bansko the resort having the best hotels. Due to the massive investments in hotels construction and to their multitude, there exists a local competition for accomodations, so you'll find a lot of good accomodation offers and services (see the Accomodation section below).

Access to the ski resort
The access from Bansko to the slopes domain is done by the exclusive 8-seats Gondola cabin lift by Dopplemayer.
Gondola is located in the S-S-W point of Bansko, at the end of the Pirin street which is also the most important street from the old Bansko town.
It has 2 stations, an intermediary one at Chalin Valog (1460m), where is assured the access to the Chalin Valog slopes, and the other one at Bunderitsa (1630m) with acces to the rest of the ski slopes.

Gondola Starting Station from Bansko (view from gondola)

Gondola End Point at Bunderitza

Another way to access the ski slopes is by using the personal car on the road from Bansko to Bunderitsa. On this road, you have variants to Chalin Valog and Shiligarnik. The parking at Shiligarnik costs about 10 BGN ~ 6 euros.

The important thing is that you have to reach one of the 3 ski points of the resort:
1. Chalin Valog (1465m) - 2 ski tracks;
2. Bunderitsa (1635m) - Todorka and Tomba ski tracks;
3. Shiligarnik (1725m) - most of the ski tracks.

Bunderitsa (view from 6-Todorka ski track)

Shiligarnik (view from 12 ski track)

Ski Slopes
The ski slopes are located at approximately 10 km above the town on the northern slopes of Pirin, and are easily accessible for approximately 25 minutes ride on the new Gondola lift which starts from Bansko.
As the authorities say, they have 44 Technoalpine snow cannons which cover most of the slopes and make the ski season last longer; 12 Kassbohrer vehicles are used for slope maintenance purposes.

The prepared ski runs are all marked for the security reasons and they are stretched over 70 km. 25 km of high-capacity lift infrastructure stands for comfort and minimal waiting times.

Bansko Ski Map
(click to enlarge)

Difficulty scale
The distribution is as followed (see Bansko ski map):
- 30% Beginners (or blue slopes),
- 45% Advanced (or red slopes),
- and 35% Expert (or black slopes).

Even the Bansko ski map presents a single ski-road, I consider there are 3 ski-roads that unify the Bansko slopes:
1. the main ski-road, from Bunderitsa to the town of Bansko (990-1630m), that has a length of approx 7km and is fully covered by snow cannons; this is the coolest way to get back to Bansko after a day on the ski slopes; it has also a variant to Chalin Valog's slope number 16, so the skier may choose between the 2 ways to get back to Bansko; the authorities try to make this ski-road more attractive by arranging big moguls on the way back.

View from Bunderitsa-Bansko Main Skiroad

View from Bunderitsa-Bansko Main Skiroad
(variant to Chalin Valog)

2. the Shiligarnik - Bunderitsa ski-road (1725-1635m) with a length of approx 2km, that links the 2 ski areas;

View from Shiligarnik-Bunderitsa Skiroad

View from Shiligarnik-Bunderitsa Skiroad (Bunderitsa, finish part)

3. the Shiligarnik - Chalin Valog ski-road (1670-1470m) with a length of approx 2km, that links the 2 ski areas;

Prepared ski slopes combinations
Next, I will try to detaliate some of the the best prepared ski slopes combinations on this map, based on their level of difficulty:
For beginners:
1. the easieast slopes are of course the 2 ski-roads, the ones between Shiligarnik - Bunderitsa and Bunderitsa - Bansko;
2. the blue part of Chalin Valog slope number 16 that is deserved by a baby ski-lift;
3. the Plato slopes number 3 and 11 on the ski map, deserved by 2 baby ski-lifts;
4. the most frequented combination for the beginners is: the blue part of 6 slope + the blue part of the 4 slope + the finnish part of the Shiligarnik-Bunderitsa ski-road; then is taken the 4-seat chair lift that climbs to the middle of the Tomba slope (9) ;
5. the number 5 ski slope deserved by a 4 seat chair lift; of course, a combination between 3, 11 and 5 is possible;
6. the 10 + 5 track combo deserved by the same chair lift;

View from the Top of Plato Slopes (3 and 11)

Plato Slopes 3 and 11

View of the Chalin Valog's Slope no 16 (blue part)

View of Slope no 5

For advanced skiers:
1. the full 10 slope; even it is marked as a blue slope, it has some areas that may be considered as red ones;
2. the 5 + 12 track combo that arrives somewhere below of Shiligarnik; a 4-seat chair lift deserves this combination;
3. the 10 + 12 track combo that arrives somewhere below of Shiligarnik; the same chair lift deserves this combination;
4. the 2 slope deserved by a 4 chair ski-lift;
5. the 8 slope deserved by a baby ski-lift;
6. the coolest ski slope for the advanced skiers: the 4 slope, or Balkaniada, deserved by the Poma 3-seat chair lift;
7. a combo track between 2 (Banderitsa) and 4 (Balkaniada), both red slope parts may be possible;
8. the 6 (Todorka) slope deserved by a 4 chair ski-lift;
9. a combo track between 2 (Banderitsa) and 6 (Todorka), both red slope parts may be possible;
10. the 7 slope deserved by a baby ski-lift;
11. a combination between 4 (Balkaniada), 6 (Todorka) and 7, all red slope parts may be possible;

View of Slope no 10

View from Slope no 10 (from bottom)

View from Slope no 12

View of Slope no 12

View from Slope no 4 (Balkaniada)

View of Slope no 4 (Balkaniada, at the left)
View of Slope no 6 (Todorka, blue part, at the right)

Main View of Slope no 4 (Balkaniada, from Shiligarnik)

For expert skiers:
1. the 2 (Banderitsa) + 6 (Todorka) + 9 (Tomba) track combo deserved by 2 * 4 chair ski-lift; the difficulty of this combination is given by the Tomba slope;
2. the 6 (Todorka) + 9 (Tomba) track combo deserved by a 4 chair ski-lift;
3. the Chalin Valog slope number 15 deserved by a 4 chair ski-lift; even if marked as red, this slope has black areas;
4. the 9 (Tomba) slope deserved by a 4 chair ski-lift;
5. the upper part of Chalin Valog number 16 slope deserved by a 4 chair ski-lift; this area of the 16 slope has the biggest elevation from the prepared Bansko slopes.

View from Slope 9 (Tomba)

View of Slope no 9 (Tomba, from Bunderitsa)

View of Chalin Valog's Slope no 16 (black part)

Freeride and powder
The fans of extreme winter sports will enjoy also the fun park and the half pipe.
There are various opportunities for the freeride and expert skiers, but they are not encouraged by the authorities when the risk of avalanches exists:
- ski trees at the margin of prepared ski slopes;
- ski trees, moguls and powder under the ski lifts;
- ski trees and powder between the Balkaniada slope and the 10 slope, on the so called Tchashata area;
- ski trees and powder at the west of Todorka peak, where you should go only with a guide because of the highest risk of avalanches (see image map);

Map with the Freeride Dohnhills at the West of Todorka Peak

Other considerations
The program on all the ski domain is from 8.00am to 4.30am. After the program, the slopes are maintained and re-tracked.
It may be noticed that the 13 numbered slope doesn't exist, maybe this is for the skiers to have luck :).
On other Bansko maps, the 15 slope is denoted 17.
Also, the 14 slope is not opened yet, but there exist plans for this slope to work; in the past, the 14 track was denoted "Academica" and was practiced by students and also there exists a student challet on this slope.
On other Bansko ski maps, the skiroad from Bunderitsa to Bansko is denoted as skiroad 1 and the one from Shiligarnik to Bunderitsa is denoted as skiroad 2.

The longest possible track combo on the ski runs makes a 16 km downhill race.

Ski Lifts
On the mountain there are about 25 km of ski lifts that assure the access to the slopes:
- 6 four-seat chair lifts by Dopplemayer: 1 at Chalin Valog, 3 at Bunderitsa (1 of them at 2450m), 2 at Shiligarnik;
- 1 tree-seat chair lift by Poma, from Shiligarnik to the Todorka peak;
- 3 anchor type tow lifts (Shiligarnik area),
- 3 single tow lifts (Chalin Valog and Shiligarnik areas),
- and 10 children dragger (Bunderitsa area).
All ski equipment can be used by one chip-card from SkiData.

Chairlift End Station (at 2600m)

View of a Chairlift

You may get a valid ski-pass for 1/2, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 13 days; also, the seasonal ski-pass is possible.
The 1/2 ski-pass is valid from 0.30pm to 4.30pm.
The ski-pass office program is from 8.00am to 5.00pm with a small break around 0.00pm.
Ski-pass prices here:

Apres ski and ski bars
There are 3 main areas where you can get a break and drink or eat on the ski domain:
1. at Bunderitsa;
2. at Shiligarnik: Todorka restaurant, Bla Bla ski bar, aso; Shiligarnik is the main apres ski area;
3. at 2400m, at the end of the Plato ski slopes: The Goat ski bar; in 2009, here it was also present another ski bar, but I found it burned in 2010.
The prices vary, for example a coffee or a hot chocolate costs between 3 and 5 BGN ~ 2-3 euros, a Coca-Cola costs 5 BGNs, aso.

Other ski services
The wardrobes are located at the lower and upper Gondola lift stations and they are best equipped with everything ski and snowboard you may need; the authorities say they have - 3500 pairs of Atomic ski, Salomon and Volkl ski pairs and more than 670 Atomic boards of all sizes.
Prices here:

The ski school is one of the best ski schools in Eastern Europe assuring professional guidance at the level of group or individual exercises.
Prices here:

Nursery and health assurance are included in the ski-pass.
Ski-pass prices here:

A repairing shop is located in the Gondola lift’s Basic station. Working time is from 8am to 5pm.
Prices here:

You may choose from various offers as Bansko has a lot of accomodation places, starting from 2 star family hotels to luxury hotels with all inclusive. Bansko has also a 5 star hotel.
When you make the reservation, you have to be sure the chosen hotel has a parking place, as many of them don't have. Most of the hotels assure free transfer to gondola station and back. If your hotel do not assure this transfer, then you should know that a parking place at the gondola station costs about 8 BGN ~ 5 euros a day.
It is recommended that you arrange your hotel before you go to Bansko, as the resort is quite busy during the winter.
Accomodation can be established also here:

Night life
After an adventurous day on the ski slopes, Bansko guests enjoy the local restaurants called the Mehanas, serving from traditional Bulgarian cuisine and drinks to international delights. Most of the Mehanas are located on the Pirin street which for the tourists represents the main street.

Night View of Pirin Street

Night View of some Mehanas in Bansko

Night View of Ethno Restaurant (Mehana) on Pirin Street

If you go to Bansko, then you must taste the kawarma kebap speciality; you may also choose between the bulgarian beers like Pirinsko, Kamenitza and Zagorka.

Kamenitza, Zagorka and Pirinsko

The Mehanas employees try to cover a variety of foreign languages that are spoken by the tourists of Bansko, such as: english, greek, romanian, russian, french, german, aso. The same effort is made by the hotels staff, so for the tourists is easy to conversate, expose their wishes and make them understandable.
A modern ice rink with evening program is also available near the gondola station.

The Ice Rink

In 2009, there were also 2 bowling halls and several pool halls.
Discos and night clubs work without time limit, and usually close early in the morning.
The people of Bansko are famous with their hospitality and friendliness.

Other things to know
There are 2 central pharmacies located on the Pirin street; of course, there are many others in Bansko. Bulgarian word for pharmacy is apteka.
Other bulgarian expressions:
"good morning" = "dobro utro"
"good afternoon" = "dobar den"
"good evening" = "dobro vecher"
"yes" = "da"
"no" = "ne"
"I don't understand" = "ne razbiram"
"how much" = "kolko".

There are many banks in the old center of Bansko, near the tower, that offer you a correct price for euro, when you want to exchange for BGNs. You may find almost everything in Bansko, only the prices differ.
An Outdoor Shop in Bansko

The gas stations are located at the Bansko entry from Razlog.

Even if Bulgaria is an EU country, for the moment the internal payments are done in BGN (or leva). At this moment, 1 BGN is approx 53 euro-cents, but you should check the exchange course before reserving your accomodation.

Future plans for Bansko ski resort
The Yulen (Ulen) company intends to build a secondary gondola, starting from Bansko to the base of the 14 slope, as the actual gondola is obviously overloaded. So, soon, "Academica" ski track will work again.
Also, there are big plans for the village located at 5km east of Bansko, named Dobrinishte; here, even if already exists a long ski track, it will soon be built another big ski domain of about 40km, which will be linked to the actual domain of Bansko with the help of another gondola.

Roads to access to Bansko
1. From Belgrade (Serbia) on the highway to Nis (Serbia), pass the border to Bulgaria at Dimitrovgrad, then Sofia, Pernik, Blagoevgrad, Simitli, Bansko;
2. From Skopje (Macedonia) on the highway to Titov Veles (Macedonia), then pass the border at Delcevo (Macedonia), then Blagoevgrad, Simitli, Bansko;
3. From Thessaloniki (Greece) to Serrai (Greece), pass the border at Promachonas (Greece) / Kulata (Bulgaria), then Simitli, Bansko;
4. From Istanbul (Turkey) to Edrine (Turkey), then Kaskovo (Bulgaria), Plovdiv, Velingrad, Bansko;
5. From Bucharest (Romania), pass the border at Giurgiu (Romania) / Ruse (Bulgaria), then Byala, Pleven, Sofia, Pernik, Blagoevgrad, Simitli, Bansko;
6. From Craiova (Romania), pass the border by ferry-boat at Bechet (Romania) / Oriahovo (Bulgaria), then Vratsa, Sofia, Pernik, Blagoevgrad, Simitli, Bansko;
Roads in Bulgaria are quite good, you are adviced to get a GPS with you, but don't forget also a roadmap.

1. Official Bansko site,
2. Bulgaria ski site,
3. Romanian Skivirus forum,