Ski Touring in and around Bansko and the Pirin

Ski Touring

Ski Touring

The ski season lasts only 100 days, some years even less. The normal routine is that the resort management do everything they can to get the pistes open for Christmas and then it snows and snows and keeps on snowing and no matter how much snow is on the hill the muppets close the resort around easter.

This year was a perfect example in Bansko. With perfect conditions on piste until the 10th of may the resort shut up shop around the beginning of APRIL!!!

For most tourists this is cool, they might ski Christmas, Feb half term or possibly a cheeky weekend over easter. For people who live in countries with skiing this annual moment of madness is very frustrating. With the snow at its deepest all the lifts close!

ski touring in Pirin

The solution? Ski touring, Randonne, Ski Mo, Earning your turns, Ski Mountaineering….. Whatever you want to call it, the solution is hauling your butt up the mountain with all your gear and then skiing down. The ratio of up to down is a little different to lift access skiing but the rewards are well worth the effort. 

Because the off piste was so good this winter I spent most of my time skiing lift access backcountry lines. When the lifts closed the proper backcountry was calling and my god did we rise to the call. I’ve had some epic days this spring going places and skiing lines that just blew my mind for their beauty and general awesomeness.

ski mountiaineering in the Balkans

Bansko and Dobrinishtay have some amazing, easy access and sick backcountry lines (the link to the book below is a great starting point) Most of what you really want to do is within about a 2 hour hike. Lines that will transform your instagram reputation from ski bum to ski god are within the grasp of even the old, fat and unfit (yup that’s moi)

Golden rules of Spring touring:-

  1. Invest in the right kit.
  2. Know before you go. 
  3. Get home by 12 noon,  the snowpack can get a bit avalanchy in the afternoons
  4. Avalanche bag, I’ll do a blog dedicated to this in the near future.
  5. Merion merino merino
  6. Down down down
  1. Invest in the right kit, touring gear can be used for alpine skiing so next time you are buying skis why not make them touring skis. Tech has moved on so much recently that my go to piste/backcountry ski is also my touring set up. Buy Dynafit. Simple. I have destroyed a lot of gear over the years and Dynafit appear to be nearly indestructible, light and versatile. Go for a ski to suit your riding style. 88mm wide if you plan more up and piste skiing than pow. 108  beasts if you are aiming for the pow!
  2. Know before you go, as it sounds. Get local info about terrain and avalanche risk before you set off. Touring puts you in places a long way from help and in strange terrain. Get a book on local routes (link below) talk to locals about classic tours, get a local guide ; for ski touring  , for split board touring 
  3. Get home by lunch, spring  brings a new dimension to avalanche risk. A slope that is as safe as houses at 6am can be death on a stick at 3pm. Warm spring days and freezing nights play a significant role in safe spring skiing. As a rule of thumb you want to be in the pub by 12:00. Allow for some faffing, route finding and photo ops and leave early. |a head torch is your friend!
  4. Avalanche Bag, this is such an important bit of kit that I will dedicate a whole blog to it another time.
  5. Merino, you are going to get sweaty. There’s no nice way of saying this. Hauling yourself up the hill with all your gear is hard work. Merino is your friend, it keeps you warm on those early starts and wicks sweat away from your skin as you start getting moist!
  6. Down, this is the best investment you can ever make if you are into mountains. So work out how much money you can afford then double your budget. A good down jacket will last you for the rest of your life and is a godsend. At the end of a hike when you are tired and wet to wrap yourself in a -25 rated down jacket is heaven. We got to the top of a run an hour early this winter and had to wait for the sun to come up. Wrapped in a gore tex shell and my down puffy I was warm as toast even with minus temps and a howling gale.

Here are some links to gear I own and can vouch for 100% Everything below is something I would buy again and again. I know it all looks very expensive but do the math there is some serious value to be had in buying quality. Hestra gloves are a perfect example, in 25 years of skiing seasons I have owned a total of 3 pairs of hestra gloves. Two pairs partially destroyed and 1 pair still looking like new. That’s 11 years per pair, it takes about 1000 days of abuse to destroy a pair of hestra gloves!!

Skiing the Balkans book, this is a great introduction to backcountry skiing and touring in Bulgaria. Classic routes with good descriptions and photos this is a beginners bible. :- 

Ski Boot, you will need a boot that fits a technical binding. Advances in tech now mean you can get the same performance out of technical binding as you can out of a normal alpine binding. If you are planning on hucking cliffs and skiing very agressively I suggest the Dynafit beast binding :-

Skis I bought these seven summit skis this summer, they came as a set as per the link. I was riding them in pow, crud, avalanche debris and on piste all winter. They did the job!!! in super deep pow they were a little bit narrow and on crust they were a little hard to control but most skis would struggle in both those situations:-

Skins there is huge debate about ski touring climbing skins and frankly I am not fit or fast enough to tell the difference. I really like the dynafit ones mostly because I can’t afford the G3 ones that look so cool!!:-

Ski touring crampon, again there is a lot of debate about ski touring crampons. I love them, on crud or ice you have prefect grip. When things are a little laterally slippy they also help. They weigh nothing and are a huge help:-

Leashes, I used these for the first time this winter and they are a god send. I ski on super light technical bindings that really are a bit too weak for a 100kg man skiing agressively. When I have popped out of my skis these little beauties have kept my skis attached! If you want to be charging sweet lines rather than hunting for lost skis get yourself a pair.

Down jacket, I love my puffy, I use it all year. from camping trips in the summer to -25 days in the winter. It is perfect in a tight spot when you need to survive the worst the weather can throw at you and as a little luxury at the end of a long sweaty ski touring climb.:-

Hestra Gloves if I was a poet I would write love songs about Hestra. They are just perfect. Warm, tough, durable and only get better with age. A pair of Hestra gloves will last you a lifetime:-

Icebreaker claim a lot about how good their baselayers are. Odourless, warm in the cold, cool in the warm, breathable, amazing wicking properties. To be honest I didn’t believe a word of the advertising guff when I first heared it and frankly 75 euros for a vest is just nuts. I am now totally coverted. It is all true and more. My record is 30 days and nights straight wearing the same thermals and not a wiff of stink. Great sun protection and cool/warm depending on what you need. Those Kiwi sheep really know their stuff.:-

Head torch, I’ve had a lot of different head torches over the years, even wind up ones and not one has come close to this bad boy. For ski touring before dawn starts the Black Diamond Ion lights up the mountain beautifully. Lots of clever adjustments and pretty lightweight  considering the power this monster is just ideal:-

fresh spring tracks

Co-living

Co-Working in Bansko

Co-living!

What an AMAZING winter we’ve had! Tons and tons of snow, no queues for the lifts. Some of the best powder days of my life and this spring , OMG this spring, it has just been wild. Sooo many days of backcountry touring on some of the best spring snow I have ever seen. It’s now the 4th of May and I am still planning adventures into the hills with my skis!

co-living3

The Awesomeness of this winter has not been limited to the mountains. Avalon has transformed, risen from the ashes, metamorphosed. Whatever you want to call it, the Avalon is no longer the beast it once was. We embraced the co-living idea and ran with it and what a fabulous idea!

co-living2

Co-living in its basic form is a shared house. Guests come and stay for a month or more, and live here in a community of like minded people. We cook together, we drink together, we ski and visit the hot springs together. We live the Bansko dream! 

We’ve had Israelis, Germans, Italians, Brits, Swiss and Bulgarians. A heady mix of people from every background all here to work live and have fun. 

co-living1

Our days developed a rhythm that for me was paradise. In the mornings our guests would hook up and ski together. Dani and I would join them for a coffee on the hill maybe for a few powder runs if the conditions were right. Back at the hotel we’d have lunch and then do all the little jobs to keep the hotel warm and cozy. Bread would be baked, croissants or cinnamon rolls experimented with. Our guests would work either in their rooms or in the restaurant and by early evening we would end up sat by the fire drinking and chatting. This was our winter, no stress and lots of fun. 

co-living

We did a bit of cooking for take away, we did a bit of cooking together. The Curries and Ribs were a huge success in their 100% biodegradable tali boxes. And our evenings cooking together were chaotic brilliance. 

The highlight of the winter for me were our Backcountry days. I’ve been extreme skiing for 26 years now and even though I might not be the best or fittest in town I manage to charge most lines with a certain old school charm. Normally alone or with a mate my backcountry days have tended to meld into a zen like meditation. This year blew a massive hole in that zen. A few of our guests wanted to explore the backcountry and I hesitantly agreed to take them out. Good lines in good snow, safety first and all that, I assumed that “guiding” would be a mildly painful duty. I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

pirin

Seeing Bansko through the eyes of our guests was just amazing. The pure joy they brought to the game was inspiring. Every new line, every new adventure was just filled with pure excitement. They brought a spark to my skiing that has been missing these last few years, the happiness, the simple childish pleasure of bombing through fresh pow, the laughter and high fives at the end of a run. The frisson of fear at the start. The wonder at the beauty of Pirin.

Co-Living has totally transformed the Avalon and I love it! Thanks for a great winter guys, we’re looking forward to more of the same this summer!

co-living4