Snow business: Scenic Borovets
Swinging my hips to instructor Ivan’s music booming from a portable player, for a moment I thought I had cracked it.
As a self-taught skier, I can get down from the top of a mountain, even if I look like a wardrobe on two planks of wood. But a week of tuition from the magical Ivan actually ironed out my numerous faults and showed me the error of my ways.
Moral of the story – always take up the offer of lessons.
And there is no better place to learn than Borovets. The cheap and cheerful Bulgarian resort costs a fraction of those in France or Italy, providing a relatively inexpensive place for families to hone their skills.
However, Borovets isn’t a resort for an experienced skier wanting new challenges. Within two or three days you could master its 58km of runs. The four short black runs could really be classed as red, and the reds can be quite gentle.
But zipping through the trees or heading high for the blacks away from the learners on the nursery slopes is fun.
Ivan Pernikliev, our guide and instructor, stripped away what we knew about skiing and rebuilt it in a better, shiny fashion. And because I’d never had a proper lesson, it was something of a revelation.
Sadly, the snow came late to Bulgaria last winter when we visited early in the season and some of the runs were closed, but there were still enough pistes to keep everyone but Franz Klammer interested.
March, Ivan told me, was the best time to come as there’s always snow aplenty and blue skies.
Tough taskmaster: Alun and Ivan
Over the week, he went through a full repertoire of techniques which my ageing, rigid body sometimes found hard to accept. “Push them in,” Ivan said one day as he tried to move my hips, but age said not. Yet after an afternoon of coaxing I managed short rhythmical turns.
The pain in my legs was intense, but the glow of satisfaction of looking half competent for once overcame the agony.
Places to stop for breaks, food and drink on the slopes are plentiful and markedly cheaper than anywhere in the Alps.
At the charming Final House, lunch comes in at 22 Lev (£8.30) for two bowls of hearty chicken soup, bread and two large beers. And there’s free wi-fi so you can post your exploits on Facebook and annoy your friends back in rainy Blighty.
Our home for the week was the Hotel Rila, which lies at the base of the main run, so you can virtually ski into reception.
The views across the slopes to the mountains from the decent rooms are not too shabby either.
Two restaurants coped easily with the busy rush of people and the range of food on offer would tempt even the most fussy child, with ribs, pizzas, roasted onion tabbouleh, pasta and salads.
But it is the bar and reception area which is rather special. In the evening there’s a lively buzz as people relax after a tiring day, comparing injuries, thrills and spills.
Families, especially, make use of the relaxed vibe with their kids safe in the games room. And try getting a Guinness from a bar in Chamonix for £2.50 like you can here.
Over last summer the hotel had an extensive refit to boost Borovets’ move upmarket. I just hope they manage to retain that lively buzz.
Sloping off: Floodlit runs offer night skiing
Outside, the more energetic make use of the floodlit piste to enjoy night skiing. The more sane stay snug and warm in that bar.
Reading some of the reviews of Borovets you would assume that the ski resort was twinned with Sodom and Gomorrah. But walking down the main street at the Bulgarian resort, the most worrying thing was trying not to slip.
Yes there are strip clubs in the town, which doesn’t reflect well, but no one is trying to drag you in so you barely notice them.
So, pay no heed to the negative reviews and concentrate on the positive. In Borovets itself there are a range of lively bars just yards from the hotel which cater for those who aren’t exhausted by a day’s skiing.
Yes, hawkers try to tempt you with offers but they are very friendly and not at all threatening. And given that many of the bars have British football showing, it is not hard to succumb.
The town has also become a favoured haunt for British stag parties, but they just add to the lively atmosphere, and there are many bars and restaurants which are full of nice locals, without pumping music.
My favourites were the Black Sheep Bar – very friendly, with football too – and the Snack Bar Joy, which does fresh pizza and local delicacies. It’s perfectly situated on the main drag where you can collapse in your ski boots. But if you can’t stand another evening in a bar there is plenty more to do.
For just a few Lev you can bomb around the woods on a snowmobile. Tremendous fun doesn’t cover it, though you do end up stinking of diesel fumes.
Recommended: Bar at the Hotel Rila
However, after a tough day on the slopes the best way to relax is in the Rila’s swimming pool. The two hot tubs, in particular, are extremely popular with skiers and their aching bones who are in need of a massage of warm bubbles.
The saunas and steam room, too, helped ease painful joints and a whole range of spa and massage treatments are there for when a day away from the slopes is needed.
A lot is planned for the resort, opening up more slopes and, environmental concerns notwithstanding, they’ll bring much-needed revenue to the area.
The newly refurbished Rila, too, will be a great addition to the resort.
If you are looking for a way to take the family skiing, then Borovets really is the place to go if you don’t have an oligarch’s budget.
Balkan Holidays has 7nts h/b at the 4* Hotel Rila in Borovets from £367pp, based on 2 sharing and departing from Gatwick on Jan 30 inc transfers; Manchester flight from £385pp, East Midlands from £403pp. Learn to ski packs and full ski packs from £150pp and £160 respectively. balkanholidays.co.uk 020 7543 5555
Tourist info: bulgariatravel.org
Time zone: UK + 2hrs
Currency: Lev £1 = 2.62