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Bulgaria’s Undiscovered Ski Resorts

 

Bulgarian ski resorts have seen a great deal of investment in their infrastructure and facilities of late; indeed the country’s top three resorts, Borovets, Pamporovo and Bansko actively compete with traditional Western ski resorts for business and have seen the growth in tourists double in the last five years. Yet Bulgaria still has many undiscovered ski spots lurking in quiet nooks of its impressive mountain ranges. As tourism develops and investment continues to increase it is likely that some of these ski gems will be further developed to offer a greater range of ski pistes and tourist facilities. Quest Bulgaria takes a look at some of Bulgaria’s lesser known ski havens.

Chepelare

These days, Chepelare is not such the hidden gem it was five years ago. Its close proximity to Pamporovo means that it has been included in municipality plans to link it with Pamporovo in what is dubbed the Pernik Project.

Chepelare itself lies in the heart of the Rhodope Mountains, 10 km from Pamporovo, 72 km from Plovdiv and 222 km from Sofia. It is a quaint mountain town with a river running through its centre, friendly people and a good standard of accommodation. The surrounding scenery is spectacular with august fir trees, clear mountain springs and crisp deep snow slopes.

Chepelare is home to Bulgaria’s longest ski run. The pistes are well maintained but simple; there is a two –seater chair lift from the bottom station, which covers 2,471 m in length and has a capacity to transport 700 people to the top of the Mechi Chal Mountain. The runs start at 1873 m and there are several drag lifts to connect them. The best skiing for beginners is at the top of the mountain and also in the centre of the town (close to the Agarta Hotel), where there is a small drag lift and a beginners slope.

Chepelare’s ski runs are open from December until April depending on the snow. The pistes on Mechi Chal Mountain vary in complexity and variety covering 11,400 m in total with plenty of black and red runs for more proficient skiers; Mechi Chal 1 is a black run covering 3,150 meters. It is 50 m wide with a drop of 720 m –it is a challenging run used for international competitions. Mechi Chal 2 is a mix of red and green pistes, which cover 5,250 m. It is 25 m in width and has a drop of 720 m. Chepelare’s cross country track covers 30 km at an elevation of 1,282 m. There is also a biathlon track close by, which covers 5 km. There is a good ski school here, which offers both one-to-one and group lessons for both skiing and snowboarding.

The standard of accommodation in the town is excellent; there are many small family owned hotels along with some newer larger and more luxurious developments. Booking in advance is imperative during the winter season as the resort fills up very quickly particularly at the weekends when locals from Plovidv and its environs descend on the town.

A day pass for the Chepelare Mechi Chal lift costs 9 Euros for an adult and 4.50 Euros for a child. There are a variety of multi day and season passes with a three day pass costing 21 Euros and 12 Euros respectively and a 6 day pass 40 Euros and 22.50 Euros

 

Vitosha

Vitosha lies close to the capital; in fact you can see the Vitosha Mountain from the city centre. With cheap flights operating on a daily basis to Sofia it’s a great way to combine a spot of sightseeing with your favourite sport. From the city, Vitosha is about a 40 minute drive and there are plenty of parking spaces close to the slopes. There are a variety of public transport options from the city too including a Gondola lift, which you can catch from the outskirts of the city.

At the weekends the slopes are full with local Sofians and the lift prices reflect that this is still a resort for the locals.

There are three lifts in Vitosha and each has a different operating company, which means that a separate lift pass is required for each lift. The pass for the Romanski lift offers the best value and covers the most ground; a day pass costs 13 Euros for adults and 8 Euros for children. Half day passes mean you can ski from 12.30 pm until 4.00 pm. A half day pass costs 8 Euros for adults and 5 Euros for children. The Romanski lift pass will also cover you to use three of the drag lifts in this area.

Some of the best skiing lies close to the Aleko Chalet; here you can catch the areas main lift the two-seater Romanski chair lift, which transports you close to the top of the Cherni Vruh Mountain. The Romanski lift covers a total length of 1970 m and has a capacity to transport 600 people per hour. The journey time to the top of the mountain takes around 15 minutes. The pistes in this area are clear open spaces devoid of trees and bushes, which makes skiing for beginners a great experience. There are a few gentle drag lifts to take you up the top of the mountain; one connects you to the main run which leads directly back to the Romanski chair lift; however beginners venturing onto this run should be aware that this piste divides into three red runs about half way down.

The Vitosha ski area lies on the opposite side of the mountain and is made up of two relatively short pistes called the Konyarnika and the Vetrovala.

Accommodation in the area is improving as more developers move into this area but it is still basic in comparison the Bulgaria’s top three resorts.


 

 

 

Dobrinishte

Dobrinishte is a traditional Bulgarian village surrounded by the most amazing alpine scenery and natural mineral springs close to the international ski resort of Bansko. It is the second most important ski area in the Pirin Range and is located at the base of the Pirin Mountains in the south- eastern Razlog Valley 810 m above the sea level.

There is an excellent range of pistes covering 7 km and suitable for all abilities. The two main areas in this district are the ski chalets of Gotse Delchev and Bezbog. They are connected by a two- seater chair lift with a capacity to transport 500 people per hour. The lift connects with some of the country’s longest ski runs. The pistes in the Bezbog region cover 5,600 m with a total drop of 950 m. Those in the Gotse Delchev area cover 1,500 m and are frequently used for slalom. There are plenty of places to rent equipment and a ski school for both adults and children.

The area offers much in the way of accommodation and restaurants and is a great way to experience some amazing scenery and quality skiing, away from the hustle and bustle of Bansko yet near enough should you wish to add some more variety to your daily runs.

 

Malyovitsa

Malyovitsa lies 40 km from Bulgaria’s oldest ski resort Borovets. It is a scenic area in the north- western Rila Mountains and is easily accessed by a good road system.

There are several ski pistes in the area and plenty of places to hire equipment. The Malyovitsa summit is 2,729 m high and there are several more peaks in this region. The Malyovitsa pistes cover only 4 km in total with the longest, the Uleya covering 1,200 m. The top of this piste is a good black run, but as the elevation decreases the slope gets easier, ending in a blue run and less challenging to the advanced skier.

The other main piste, the Rajdavitsa is 900 m in length and is great for beginners as are the pistes of the Mecha Polyana. The Govedartsi piste covers 900 m and is great for intermediate skiers. Malyovitsa has five drag lifts and several t- bar lifts.

There town offers many good quality restaurants and a few hotels. This is a great resort if you like a little skiing but are not mad keen on getting in as many turns as possible. The stunning scenery and close proximity to some spectacular cultural and natural sights like the Rila Monastery make it a great place to spend the weekend.

Tsigov Chark

Tucked away in the western part of the Rhodope Mountains, 8 km from Batak and 24 km from Velingrad, this charming ski area lies 1,100 m above sea level. There are some excellent conditions for both skiing and snowboarding and plans are afoot to expand the ski territory within the next few years.

The pistes here cover 1,500 m and are divided into two with the lower pistes suitable for beginners. The average drop is about 100 m, making it ideal for both beginners and intermediates alike. The lower piste is served by two drag lifts, whilst the upper slope is better suited to intermediates and advanced skiers and is served by t-bar lift.
A day pass costs 6 Euros and a day’s ski rental costs the same. Ski instruction is also available on request. There is plenty of accommodation on offer here and most of it at low prices. This is another resort, which is great for those who want to do a little skiing and enjoy the charms of the surrounding area which include the beautiful Batak Lake and the natural springs in Velingrad.

 

Panichishte

Panichishte lies 1,350 m above the sea level and borders the Rila National Park and the spa town of Sapareva Banya. It is home to a variety of ski facilities and is one of Bulgaria’s least expensive ski areas.
There are a variety of runs here; the Bekyara covers 470 m and is serviced by a drag lift, which can transport 280 people per hour. The Ajdena run covers 400 m and is also serviced by a drag lift with the same capacity.

This area is great for beginners especially children because it includes the small, gentle run known as the "Baby Ski Run". There is another run close to the Pionerska Hut, which covers 400 m and is serviced by a drag lift with a capacity to transport 350 people per hour. This run also has a designated sledge area, which covers 1,130 m and there are often sledging contests here. Close to the Seven Lakes Hut there is a 300 m piste and drag lift and a 950 m run near the Rila Lakes Hut. There are future plans to link these two huts with a two-seater chair lift. A cross country piste is located close to training area at the fascinating Dry Lake. This area is being equipped with biathlon facilities including shooting platforms.

There are plenty of rental shops and ski centres offering tuition as well as some comfortable accommodation, some in the many rustic, mountain ski chalets.


 

 

Semkovo

Nestled in the foothills of the Rila Mountain, this area encompasses some spectacular panoramic views of the chain of alpine peaks covered with pine forests. A great feature of this area is the sleigh rides, whereby guests can cover themselves with colourful handmade rugs as they are pulled to the nearby town of Belica or into the centre of Semkovo.

At 1,750 m high on the Rila Mountain’s southern slope, there are some fantastic opportunities for winter sports. The season in this area is shorter due to the areas southerly location. Snow starts to fall around the beginning of November reaching 60 to 80 cm by January. There are seven pistes in total covering 4 km with eight drag lifts; the pistes are extremely well maintained and cover all levels of difficulty. The Semkovo piste covers 400 m with a drag lift, which has a capacity to transport 150 people per hour. The Orlite piste is 800 m in length with two drag lifts. The first lift covers 800 m and the second 1,100 meters with capacity to transport 450 and 700 people per hour respectively.

Uzana

Uzana lies majestically surrounded by oak forests at the base of the Ispolin Summit in the Balkan Mountains 1,420 m above sea level and 22 km from Gabrovo. There are plans afoot to construct a ski run right through the heart of the panoramic Balgarka National Park.

The ski season is open from mid December through to the end of March. Pistes in this area cover 3 km in length with the longest slope covering 1,300 m. This run is serviced by a drag lift and is best suited to intermediate and advanced skiers. Beginners will find the remaining seven ski runs are better suited to their needs. Ski doo rides are available and a lot of people in thisareaindulge incite flying.

The area is rich in local folklore and many visitors choose this region because it allows them to combine their love of skiing with a visit to the more culturally rich side of Bulgaria. There is a good choice of accommodation available with some of the best on offer at the Hotel Prima and the Hotel Geographic Centre.

Kulinoto

Quietly tucked away in the northern Pirin Mountain range in the valley of the Kulina River, this mountain resort lies 1,400 m above the sea level 12 km from Razlog. The area also lies close to Bansko but attracts more local skiers and is another village ideal for those who don’t want the glitz of the large international resorts. However, Balkanstroy, a local development company recently signed a contract with Razlog Municipality to develop the area into a fully fledged ski resort. They intend to extend the ski run, which currently lies at 1,600 m and is served by two drag lifts, and install a chair lift as well as construct new pistes to connect to the Dautev Peak. The developers also intend to extend the season by using snow cannons to manufacture snow – at present the season lasts from mid December to mid March.

 

Berkovitsa

Berkovitsa lies at the northern base of the Western Balkan Range 89 km from Sofia.

Ski areas in the western Balkan Range are planning to compete with Bulgaria’s more established winter ski resorts. Berkovitsa is no exception and its mayor is committed to developing winter tourism in the area. Development plans include the construction of a gondola lift from Berkovitsa to Kom 16 km to the east. Investors have already pledged money to the tune of 80.6 million Euros to develop the area.

At present the area only has one ski run serviced by a single drag lift. The municipality plans to double the size of the piste and to reclaim other older unused runs bringing the total length of the ski runs to 15- 20 km. Plans are also in hand to increase the accommodation capacity by constructing a hotel at the top of the lift station with more hotels to follow in the town itself.