Bulgaria – How to Snowboard… Again

We had agreed to get a ride with Ian and Sophie last night.

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8:30 was the ideal time, so we were up somewhat early to make sure that we weren’t late, or holding the guys up from the ride up the mountain.

Stuffing brekky in our mouths, we get going up to Borovets.

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We see the guys off, and go to collect our gear. We’re still pretty early. The mountain doesn’t open till 9, so there is still some time before things start getting too hectic. Sophie and Ian head up the Gondola, while Bec and I go and collect our passes and gear for the slopes.

After spending about 15mins trying to find where we should be heading, we find out that it was right in front of the building we pulled up in front of.

As we open the door, this chick quickly tries to stuff her phone away and jumps between our eyes and the desk as she asks us our names.
“We have passes for Stokes to collect”
“Yes”

My thoughts? “Yes is the correct answer”

We runs us through our info, and then sends us on our way to collect the boards. The place we are meant to collect the gear from is on the other side of the resort. A good 10 minute walk away, so I ask her “Can we just pick them up from the place next door?”
“Ahh. Yes. You can”

I’m now thinking that it is going to be a logistical headache now that we wanted to change where we are hiring our stuff from.
“Thats fine for us to get our boards from next door?”
“Yes. That Ok”

Well ok then.

Our experience with Bulgarian instructions have not been that they haven’t tried to help, but more that they can’t really explain themselves in english enough to articulate themselves effectively. We usually just end up free-balling it and working it out for ourselves.

We head next door, and the bloke straight away asks us for our tickets, which we give to him, and without batting an eyelid, he starts sizing us up and handing us our gear. There were no worries at all with us getting our gear from the place next door, so I am even more confused as to why she wanted us to walk to the other side of the resort for the gear.

The confusion remains as we strap our boots on, hoist our boards under our arms and make our way out onto the Gondola to head for the top of the mountain.

We walk outside and see the queue.

Since we rocked up, to when we got our gear, the queue had quite literally quadrupled. No exaggeration. It literally took us 40 minutes to get into a Gondola. I am again surprised as how much of an attraction this little ski resort in Bulgaria really is. People literally have come from around Europe to come skiing in Bulgaria.

We hop into the gondola, and we are off.

The whole ride takes a good 25 mins, and you are suspended right between giant pine trees, gradually growing on ever increasingly steeper mountainsides. Its mental. About 15 minutes into the ride, and you reach the intermediate gondola station, where there is a queue of people hoping that there was space left by some neglectful punter below.

Good luck right now.

There are more people waiting in line for the Gondola than I’ve had hot dinners.

From the second gondola station, on, the forestry slowly starts to dissipate until there is only really light shrubbery left, but where the views of the forestry dwindle, the mountainous landscape takes over.

Up this high, you can feel the cold setting in and you can hear the wind howling outside. You’re expecting the worst once you set foot outside, but it’s really not that bad. The view kinda distracts from the beating wind and the freezing temperatures anyway.

It’s stunning.

You exit the gondola station, and you are met with 360 degree views of neighbouring ranges and views that last miles and miles past what you could imagine. You can just see the town of Samokov resting at the bottom of the mountain. Its surprisingly bigger than what it seems like on the ground and seemingly closer than the 15 minute car ride would lead you to believe.

Everywhere you look, there are jagged mountain ridges forging their own path through the sky that they’ve pierced. The sun glares from above and from the reflections below. At this height, there really isn’t much stopping the sun’s rays. I remember that when we were snowboarding in NZ, we forgot about the whole sunscreen thing, and that history is merely repeating itself this time around also.

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We strap our bindings on, and head down the gradual slopes, to reach the button lifts and try our feet out on the slopes of the snow again. It’s been about 3 years since we hit the slopes last, so, naturally, we are a little rusty, so it’s the little kid slopes for us to begin with. Not to say we haven’t been hanging out for this day. Bec has literally been dreaming of this day.

Not even kidding.

She will have literal dreams of snowboarding.

Needless to say, its been a long time coming.

We casually glide down the slopes, but our apparent lack of snowboarding in the last few years has developed a slight inability to judge the grade of the slopes ahead of us. We had to take our bindings off so many more times than you would think is socially acceptable. Not even joking. We slide along the flat surfaces of the “slopes” with one foot in our bindings, while the other pushes along.

Its quicker than walking, but only marginally when you’re a bit of a gimp.

We reach the button lift, and I go first, gliding up the slope with the grace of a ballerina.

… for about 5 meters, before I end up on my ass, flailing and flopping around, and grinding up the snow beneath me. All the while, I am holding on for dear life, while peeling my head back to see what the operator is trying to say to me. I see him signal for me to come back and go again. My feet are still strapped in, so I just roll/fumble out of the path of the others behind me and make my way back to the start.

As I am walking back to the start, I see that Bec has suffered my same fate. Probably helped along by the fact that everything which was once flat and ridable, was now bumpier than that one friend’s pubescent, acne covered skin from when you were 15. I load back up, and this time, I have got a better idea of what I need to do. I lock my legs in and off I go. I want to check and see where Bec is at, but I fear that if I do, I will throw off my centre of gravity and in turn, throw this button lift to the dogs.

I let my wife fend for herself.

I reach the top, and watch a kid take out the barrier cos he couldn’t get ride of the lift fast enough. It was worth watching, and I don’t feel bad for a light chuckling. I stand around for a few minutes, but it’s evident that Bec wasn’t coming up anytime soon. I tell a random to watch out for a lady in a pink space suit and tell her to hang here if he does.

He looks at me funny, but obliges.

I head back down the slopes and find Bec just chilling on the side of the lift. She’d opted to just hang out for me to come back down and catch the chairlift together. This is the first time we have been on the slopes in ages, and this isn’t making it easy, so lets just head to the chairs. We hop on and reach the top of the chair lift, and again, don’t judge the flat areas well enough, and so have to walk some of the way.

Now that we are on the top, we make our way back down to the bottom. The only down the mountain (other than the gondola) was to take intermediate slopes a fair percentage of the way. For those who don’t know, the grades go like this: Beginner, Easy, Intermediate and Expert. Its not hard to imagine that we didn’t want to have to tackle the intermediate slopes too soon. Just getting our bearings on the board for today would be great.

We didn’t have that luxury though.

We slowly glided down the mountain swaying from side to side finding our balance and remembering how to throw the board in the direction we wanted it to go. The kind of people who you want to be like when you grow up pass you as close as they can to assert themselves over you as the premier snow sport enthusiast. I glare intently at the trail of snow spraying across the slope in front of me with a look that says, “I swear to God, give me one more day, and I will find you and race you, and beat you, and then feel good about myself”. The only downside to all of this is that these people don’t have eyes in their ankles, otherwise they would see me talking to them with my squints.

Well, after a little while of getting our balance, and spending enough time on the bigger slopes to turn our legs a little bit jelly, we head to the other side of the mountain. It’s not as big, but there are a lot more easy slopes and the slopes cross and intertwine more often. As we are on our way over, we run into Ian and Sophie making their way to the gondola. I felt bad cos I didn’t notice them until they were literally right in front of me. I try to play it off cool, but I blew it with my over-enthusiastic “Hey Guys!”.

Ian’s eyes say that he knows I didn’t spot them till last minute.

I gotta take more care of this relationship. They’re our ride back down to our accommodation tonight, so I gotta keep the man happy. Turns out that Sophie stacked it a ripper and absolutely nailed her knee. She’s not issues with her knees, so they are already a little touchy, so they are going to call it quits for the day. Having chewed off more than we could swallow on the “big kid” slopes, we power on, choosing to spend the afternoon kicking back on the tamer slopes on the left side of the mountain.

We try a few different slopes, all pretty successfully, before we look to our clocks to decide that we have time for one more run. Judging by how long it has taken us to get down on the other runs, we should be good for one more.

The only issue is that we decided to try a run that we weren’t familiar with.

One thing we have learnt really quick with Borovets is that the vast VAST majority of the slopes are geared for skiers. This is made apparent by all the “ski ways”. I didn’t know what these ski ways were until we got here. Pretty much, it means that you better be ok with taking your bindings off, or just begging for a skier to tow you along until you can reach something better than a .3% slope.

The last run that we decided to do was mostly ski ways.

I mean, we had to take our bindings off around 5 times. I can’t remember exactly, but that isn’t far from the truth at all. The last run literally took us all the way to the edge of closing time. It was not even funny. We meet the guys at the car, we debate who chose to do the last run, they laugh at us, and Sophie cries because of her knee. It’s a messy situation in the car to say the least.

We swing into the shop on our way home to collect some food and alcohol for the night. Sophie is keen to get a bit turnt. Ian isn’t much of a drink and Bec will have one or two, so it’s kinda just the two of us, but I’m down for it.

What makes me even more down for it is the fact that we can get 750ml of vodka for 7 lev, which equals $4.9 AUD. Good luck buying cordial for that price back home, let alone some social lubricant. We add some single barrel into the mix for another 9 lev and make our way home for a good night of drinking ahead.

We tuck into dinner, and as is often with alcohol, we very quickly learn everything that would otherwise take years of trust building and attending awkward family celebrations about each other. We get all deep and meaningful, Bec calls it a night, soon followed by Ian, while Sophie and I stay up and (attempt) to plan Ian’s birthday on Saturday, but that falls by the wayside after we start taking selfies.

Naturally, we ended up calling it a night not long after that.

It was 12:30 when I woke Bec up.

Lots of times.

Sophie and I polished off the vodka and half the whiskey.

Not a bad innings, I say.

Come back for the next story,

Billy

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