I went on my first ever ski trip at the end of February 2020, organised by The Wind Collective (who run group trips around the world) and Mount Noire (a travel group aiming to make skiing more accessible for all). I chose a group trip as I wasn’t sure how to plan it so that would be my first piece of advice for those who feel similarly/don’t have a group to go with. Both are running ski trips in 2021 (Wind Collective back to Bansko and Mount Noire to Val Thorens) FYI!
Our trip was over 4 days in Bansko resort in Bulgaria, which is a 3 hour drive from Sofia (the capital). We stayed at Belvedere Hotel – which had an all inclusive breakfast (important to get your carbs in before a long day on the slopes). – as well as spa facilities and a bar.
Prepping for a ski trip
Travel Insurance – no excuses for not getting this! The insurance covers you if any of the equipment you rent becomes damaged which is super important. It’s also good for health insurance and any lost time you may experience due to bad weather, avalanches etc.
Exercise – skiing is really hard physically! I generally keep fit and was keen to work out even more before so my body could deal with the extra effort needed to put in. I was linked this great workout which is recommended to start 2 months before your trip.
Clothing – This was the biggest challenge for me as I didn’t really have any of the items needed so had to start from scratch.
You need to think of it in 3 layers – base, mid and top layer. You will definitely struggle with temperature control as you’ll be very active then have periods of cooling down so this makes it easy to remove or add layers as needed.
- Base Layer – thermal top and leggings.
- Mid layer – fleece top (fully zipped to protect your neck from the cold and to easily be taken off).
- Top layer – Ski jacket and trousers. It’s important that both are well insulated and have many pockets.
A cool ski jumpsuit could serve as mid layer with a ski jacket over it or top layer with everything else underneath!
Accessories: To keep warm and also complement your gear! The main things I packed were:
– A hat and fur headband
– Ski gloves (ones which are 3in1 and touchscreen are even better)
– Goggles/sunglasses to protect your eyes from the Sun and its reflection on the snow
– Ski socks – you only need one pair at a time as there isn’t much space in the boots
– Sunscreen– I’m adding this as it’s a very necessary accessory to wear as chances of burning for everyone are very high!
Don’t forget about your non skiing clothing too. Again layers are key as it will be freezing outside but very warm inside. And for shoes, a sturdy pair for snow/ice is key – I wore my Timberlands. Finally pack your swimwear for any pool/jacuzzi/hot tub moments.
Ski rentals and lessons
We rented our equipment from SankiySki: skis and ski poles, boots + lift pass access (included in our trip price). They will fit everything carefully so ideal to do this the day for maximum time. You can rent pretty much anything else from these shops including helmets, clothing and accessories. These guys stored our equipment too so we just needed to pick it up in the mornings before getting our transport to the mountain instead of carrying it all the way from our hotel!
They also arranged our ski lessons – shout out to our teacher Janet who was great. There is the option to snowboard if you fancy that too.
Do try and get a couple of lessons done beforehand if possible! Most of us were beginners but the ones who had done gotten a few lessons at home were able to ski much more confidently in the few days we were there. If your trip is longer then you’ll have plenty of time to practice and might not feel the need for lessons beforehand.
If you want to check out the mountain from the top, the ski lift will allow you to do this. Make sure you know exactly where they go and the timings of the last one…otherwise you will have to ski all the way down!
Après ski – literally the turnup after you’re done with skiing for the day. There are a few bars and restaurants along the mountain to start this before you make it back to the ski resort. Have some cash for these places as many wont take card. The resort itself is filled with many options for nightlife from happy hour in bars to clubs plus a few supermarkets for stocking up before you head out. We spent one night at Oxygen which was good fun.
Food – Bulgarian food is a lot of meat and carbs which is good for keeping warm on the slopes. There are plenty of other options too including those for non meat eaters. My favourite restaurant was Fondue which was where we had our final dinner. It was my first experience of cheese fondue (a trip of firsts!). We had a 4 course meal of salad, fondue, meat (pork >> chicken) and dessert. They adapted the menu for vegetarians and lactose intolerant people which was great.
I’ve answered a few questions below which I had personally before my trip and you may also have as a newbie:
– When is ski season? Generally from November to March (some resorts open in October and others close in April). Around Christmas/New Year and in February are the busiest times. From March, snow coverage won’t be as good unless you’re in a higher altitude resort. If you want to do indoor lessons, I’ve been advised summer months are the quietest and cheapest with the price and busyness increasing into ski season.
– What are the chances of me seriously hurting myself? People say the injuries we hear about are usually in competent skiers who get into difficulties. The risks of hurting yourself are there but ways to reduce this are to adequately stretch so your muscles are ready for the movements and stick to the levels you feel comfortable with. Helmets and other protective gear are there if you feel the need.
– What do I do with my stuff on the mountain? If you invest in a good ski jacket, you’ll have plenty of pockets to hold your small items (Your ski pass being the most important of these so keep it in the zip of the arm!). Most of us also took backpacks to hold water, sunscreen and bigger things we needed.
– Is skiing expensive? Yes it is. Even if you go to Eastern Europe like we did and save money that way, you still need to budget for clothing, the cost of rentals and being in the ski resort in general. Finding heavily reduced items (not cheap as quality is important) will save you a lot and you can wear them year after year/sell later on.
– How will I manage the cold? During the day when you’re active, you’ll actually feel pretty warm. At night back at the resort, it will be cold but you’ll be layering so it’ll be fine.
– Will I enjoy it? Absolutely yes! People are generally friendly on the slopes and will help you. On my first day I struggled to climb back up to where I had left my jacket and found myself going backwards which was scary. Out of nowhere, a fellow skier who happened to be nearby held onto me until I was able to control myself!
If you like adventure, fun experiences, meeting new people and seeing nature in all its glory then this is definitely for you. Plus you’ll get top quality photos from your time here as the lighting is top tier!
In conclusion, skiing IS for everyone. A group trip is perfect for your first time and you never know, your fellow travellers might become your future ski buddies.
Will ski season 20/21 be the year you first brace the slopes?! I know I’ll definitely be back!