Pamporovo: the little known ski jewel of Bulgaria

Pamporovo, located in the hospitable Rhodopa mountain amid magnificent pine forests, is Bulgaria’s second most significant ski resort. The winters here are generally mild, with an average January temperature of -3C (about 27F) and the area enjoys about 150 days of snowfall per year, which coupled with the high number of sunny days makes for a fantastic snow- and sun-filled ski holiday.Pamporovo boasts thirty-seven kilometers of  well-groomed ski trails for skiers of all abilities, as well as 25 km of cross-country tracks. Most numerous are the blue and green  graded slopes, whose gentle inclines offer a non-intimidating experience to the newly-trained. Apart from Bulgarians, there is a good number of Britons and other foreigners who come here on ‘learning’ packages where qualified instructors from Pamporovo’s ski schools will teach them the art of skiing.The resort’s official website offers some excellent virtual tours of most ski trails, but be aware that because of the wide-angle used for filming, the runs appear to be less steep on video than they truly are.

One of my  most favorite trails are Stoykite # 1 and #2. At about 3.5km long each they offer a good mix of red, blue and green graded inclines, as well as scenery of startling beauty along the way. A great reason I do like skiing this way is the express 6-seater lift that connects to the top; it’s the most modern in Pamporovo with padded seats and a bubble windshield. And it has no lines, ever!(this pink dot down there is me!)At the very beginning of Stoykite also start the more advanced trails # 3, 4, 11 and 5 (all graded black except for 11). Unlike similar runs in the popular resorts of the Alps which can get pretty crowded, here you are quite likely to be going down all by yourself. Which automatically means unspoiled groomed snow both in the morning, and in the afternoon on most days.

And if skiing comes as natural to you as walking (or if you’re feeling suicidal) you can always bring it on with the pros at ski run #2, also dubbed ‘the Wall’, where Pamporovo Europa Cup was held this season.  As the nickname implies, the run’s top part appears to be nearly vertical when seen from the start.UntitledThe Wall ends at station Studenets, one of the four ski slope entrance points of Pamporovo. It has a number of hotels with direct access to the trails (Grand Monastery Apartments, Laplandia Hotel, and others), as well as multiple cafes, fast food eateries, a bunny slope with a drag lift.UntitledThere is also a ski pass vending office. The costs for the ski passes are 50 levas per day and 37 per half day (to/from 12:30pm) and children below 7 ride free.  Currently 2 levas equal about 1 euro.UntitledThe three-seater lift from Studenets (note the short line) connects to Snezhanka tower, which is where most of the key ski runs begin. The 156 meter high tower is the emblem of Pamporovo and was recently reopened to visitors who come to enjoy the vistas from its observation deck or cafe at the top. It costs 5 levas to enter, a real bargain, compared to the 19 leva round-trip ticket on the ski lift. But on a good day the views can be simply breath-taking. About 90% of the runways are equipped with a system for artificial snow, which ensures constant coverage throughout the entire winter season, regardless of the weather. With a snow depth of about 3 meters (10 feet) in mid-March, season 2011/2012 never saw the use of the snow cannons. There are several places around the Pamporovo slopes where one can enjoy a hearty lunch, but I had my heart set on ‘Bohemi’ – a cozy, laid-back restaurant serving traditional rhodopean meals. They have delicious house-made sausages, homemade banitsa and sheep yoghurt, which one normally doesn’t get to try outside of home. The service is efficient and the prices are quite reasonable. Lots of foreigners, as well as locals go there; it is probably among the most visited food establishments in the vicinity of the ski runs.  ‘Bohemi’ is located at the foot of Snejanka-1 right where it crosses over with Senjanka -13. On warmer sunny days you can join the crowds who soak in the good weather on the tables outside.Feeling tempted to see for yourself?

You can get here faster if you fly into Plovdiv, which is about 85km from Pamporovo. The airport is not big, however, and the route from your origin is unlikely to be served by any common carrier.Pamporovo is also about 230km from Sofia (3hrs straight drive), the capital city of Bulgaria. If you choose to rent your own car (best option) and go from there, you will find the section Sofia – Plovdiv (140km) very easy to do. It’s a safe true highway ride and keeping within the speed limit ensures that there would be no problems with the authorities. After the exit to Plovdiv, you would need a GPS to point you in the right direction all the way through Asenovgrad (18km from Plovdiv), where the two way mountain pass to Pamporovo begins. It certainly isn’t the most relaxing drive, but it is not overly complex either. Problems can come from the fact that there are not many opportunities to pass slower vehicles which always carries a certain risk. On the other hand, it is never too crowded and the road is generally well kept. I do suggest daylight driving though.

If you choose to go via bus transfer, it would cost less, but you won’t have any flexibility within the resort; a private car transfer would be much more expensive, and in my opinion, the least worthy of all three ways to get to Pamporovo.

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