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!

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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!

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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. 

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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. 

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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!

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Covid-19

coronavirus-information

Covid-19

Running your own business is one of the greatest adventures in this life. Hundreds of layers of complexity merge together into this one perfect dance of success. From the outside it all looks so easy on the inside it is like juggling chainsaws!

Just like juggling chainsaws it is amazingly satisfying, happy guests, happy staff a steady income, a little glory from a job well done. It’s awesome!

Covid has thrown a few new challenges into the mix, limited capacity, limited numbers of guests travelling, restrictions and new rules really add a little spice to the game!

We have come up with a plan! Hopefully it will be acceptable to our guests.

Social distancing.

The bar and restaurant will work with 50% occupancy, there’s lots of space so we ask guests to spread out.

Testing

All our team will have appropriate and regular Covid blood and PCR tests.

Lock Down

If one of us gets a positive test we will close the Restaurant and Bar. Our guests are more important than our profit.

Take Away

Depending on the local situation with numbers of covid cases/hospital occupancy, available testing capacity etc. We will run the restaurant as take away only.

These are not the laws of the land, these are our choices. If we appear stricter than the country allows it is because we care. I would rather make a little less money than make problems for our guests. I hope you all understand if we cancel an event it is because we love you guys and want to keep you safe.

 

 

 

Winter is coming

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Winter is coming ,

the first gentle snows of autumn have been and gone. The northern slopes of the highest peaks are now clad in their winter whites. Winter is coming, our central heating is on!  The fire in reception is lit, evenings are spent sipping rum laced tea in front of its warm glow . Winter is coming that is an unstoppable reality but what sort of winter is coming the gods only know!

I have been working winter seasons since 1995 I have seen the bad ones when the snow came late and left early, I seen the epic ones where weather systems cycled through relentlessly dumping pow week in week out. I’ve had winters with bookings so bad I’ve had to pay the wages out of my savings and winters so good I’ve not know what to do with all the profit.

12 months ago I thought I had seen everything winter tourism could throw at you. How wrong I was. Winter is coming a winter like no other!

Globally winter 2020/21 currently looks like the worst season in history. Chalet bookings are almost non existent, tour operators have slashed their forecasts and cancelled vast numbers of hotels, resorts and countries. Air lines are 60% down and those numbers are just getting worse and worse.smiley-face

Winter is coming !

For those of us who live here and those of you who are planning on coming to live here this is going to be epic!

Numbers are down! We will have the resort to ourselves. Finally my dreams have come true I have my own private ski resort!

Co-workers and Co-livers mean Bansko is full of really cool people living here for the season. Even if they close the lifts we can still go ski touring, winter mountaineering and back country skiing.

Finally I live in a ski resort and I will not be working 18 hours a day!  Winter is coming YAY!

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Working hours from 9th of November until 15th of December

Avalon will be open for drinks and events,

4pm to 8pm Monday to Friday pre season.

We will be complying with local Covid measures so numbers will be limited.

Follow us on facebook for news.

Green Co-Living

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Green Co-Living

I don’t look like a hippie, you will not find flowers in my hair very often (there’s not much hair!) and I’ve not worn tie dye clothes for a very long time. But in my heart, mind and business it’s all about Peace and Love!  When it comes to Co- living it was always going to be Green Co-Living !

 

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Choose Green Co-Living

There are many options for accommodation in Bansko. You can make a huge difference by choosing a Green Co-Living space. We live in a very fragile mountain environment and we can all make a difference by choosing where you stay. Every choice we make can help protect our mountains.

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What do I mean by Green Co-Living ?

I run the Avalon on the best possible ethical principles. FIRST is Right Action second is profit.

Heating a building like the Avalon in the Balkan winters is a massive task. The cheapest way is to burn brown Ukrainian coal, Eeeww sulphur rich smog inducing filth. Some big hotels in Bansko do this ” Un-Luckily” for Bansko. The next few options, fuel oil and electricity are equally unpleasant just less visible.

honeybee

At the Avalon we burn wood pellets for the central heating and some of the hot water. Not just any wood pellets but wood pellets made from the waste from a bee hive factory in the next village. This is waste wood from sustainable sources reformed into heating ! Yes it involves more work, yes it is more expensive but most importantly Yes it is better for the environment!

sun

The sun shines a lot in Bansko, winter and summer and we use this free bounty to the max! We fitted a huge bank of solar panels  in 2003 to generate 1000 litres of hot water on a sunny day! Made locally these monsters are not the most delicate panels you have ever seen. Bomb proof beasts they have kept us in hot water for 17 years!

For the geeks reading this , hot water solar is the most cash efficient way you can do something for the environment. Heating water is shockingly inefficient in all the conventional ways however using sunshine to heat your water is amazingly efficient. Our panels have been providing “free” hot water for  15 of their 17 year lives. With only a 2 year return on investment I am always surprised more people do not fit them!

high-voltage

Probably the easiest yet most expensive and least visible choice we have made is with our electricity supply. As a business in Bulgaria you can choose where your electricity comes from, it is a simple process that takes 15minutes on line. There are three basic choices, 1) The state monopoly (expensive) 2) the new suppliers (cheapest) 3) Green sources (middle priced).  I get our power from green sources! The actual process is slightly complicated but simply put I can sleep easy knowing that ever kilowatt I use is green!

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Green Co-Living Walking the Walk

Insulation, Double glazing, Energy saving light bulbs all these little details cost more and give nothing back in a purely capitalist way. Doing the right thing isn’t financially the best bet unless our guests value it.

When you are in Bansko choose Green in whatever you do. Support those businesses with solar panels, paper straws and clean energy. If a business has a chimney pumping out thick brown smoke or serve plastic straws don’t use them and tell them why. Your hard earned cash can change the world. Walk the walk don’t just Talk the Talk!

 

 

This is what we do!

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We play in the mountains and look after people!

We live here because we love the mountains, we work here because we love sharing the love! Hospitality is awesome, we make our guests happy and in return they give us the means to live the mountain dream!

Avalon is something different.

There are a lot of options in Bansko for Nomads, cheap hotels, cheap shared chalets, apartments at ridiculously low prices. All of which have something in common they are ok for the money.

At The Avalon we are not cheap because we want to offer something a little bit nicer. Internet that works all the time. Clean communal areas and a team to support you while you are here.

The Team

We have a cleaner to deep clean the kitchen, we expect everyone to clean their own stuff but for scrubbing behind the cooker and cleaning the fans, emptying the bins and generally keeping on top of things we have Rumi!

The communal areas will get a once over every day, you’ve got better things to do than mop corridors and bathrooms.

Every evening we will man the bar from 5 to 9pm, not just to serve drinks but to offer advice, give directions and generally smooth out the bumps in the road of living in Bulgaria.

We have a laundry if you want to wash you clothes, we also have a company that can wash dry press you clothes and deliver them back to you!

Concierge Services

You have moved to Bulgaria, you probably don’t speak the language and probably don’t understand how to navigate the paperwork. We do! I have been running multiple businesses here for 17 years, if you need to do something official we have done it before.

If you need a contract for accommodation for residency, a translator, a driver, a helicopter, a private ambulance, a gluten free vegan birthday cake, a horse whisperer…..whatever it is we have done it before and are more than happy to help you!

The Accommodation

You need a room with a private office we have 6 of them.

You need somewhere to do your yoga we have a space for that.

You want to cook a massive dinner  for a birthday party, we have a team to help.

Prices

Prices start from as little as 234euros a month including all bills. no we are not the cheapest but our guests think we are the best. Tripadvisor reviews!

 

 

 

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Co-living @ Avalon Bansko

In December Avalon will start a new chapter in Bansko!

Covid-19 has totally changed the way we live and work. With less and less office based work, flexible hours and more and more location independent work available we have decided on a change.

Out with traditional old fashioned hospitality and in with a totally new way of living the Bansko dream!

Avalon has been a Home-tel for many of our regular guests for years, our plan is to expand on the Home side of things. We will no be offering our mini apartments and single rooms for rent exclusively on a monthly basis.

Our guests will be able to use the kitchen and living room as their own home!

We will still be doing some weekly events as well as cooking courses, guided ski, bike and hike days.

Our focus is online English teachers and location independent workers who love the mountains.

Co-living-avalon-bansko Online English teachers

Indian food in Bansko

Indian food in Bansko

Indian food in Bansko

Indian food in Bansko.

 

Indian in BanskoThe Hotel Avalon has been offering Indian food in Bansko. for over 10 years now. It’s a slightly strange situation, an English guy cooking Indian food in Bansko but it makes sense I promise. A little bit of history will help.

On leaving school I trained and worked as a British modern chef. Cooking in most of the best restaurants in Bristol and upsetting nearly all of the head chefs. I never lasted long in one place! I’d work 3 months, learn everything I could and then dash off to the Alps to ski all winter or to Asia to wander around the Himalaya, Karakorum and Hindu Kush. My passion for food followed me to Asia. Where sat in wooden shacks in smokey kitchens I’d prize recipes out of everyone I could.15

Mostly we wouldn’t be able to talk in a shared language, there’d be lots of show and tell, spices would have local names, recipes would vary from village to village, but the general idea built up as I wandered through each region. For almost a decade I never really got a chance to cook any of the dishes I was learning. The U.K. was and still is in the throws of the Jamie Oliver food revolution. Cooking was all about “bung in a bit of Basil and slosh a load of olive oil”. I kept learning eating and tasting and writing everything down.

I was sent to Bansko in 2003 to do a job and decided to stay. I tried cooking a bit of “pukker grub” but no one was really interested in what I’d learned in Bristol, so we did a curry night. I thought I’d cook curry the British way and it was a total disaster, people wanted spice. There’s only so much shopska you can eat before you start craving a bit of flavour!

18The adventure started gently, I began by cooking Indian food in Bansko with easy classics from Delhi and Nepal. Then a few Pakistani dishes, aromatic and spicy numbers from up by the Afghan boarder. People loved it! I added some dishes from Goa, then Sri Lanka perfect for the summer. I’ve interpreted some Kashmiri dishes and made them my own ( so popular people now copy them!!) Afghanistan inspired me to make a chicken dish, sour and soapy with lemon and Cardamon and a bucket load of coriander.  Snacks that you would only find in the foot hills of Everest and now served as Indian food in Bansko ! As the years go by we keep changing the menu, this summer I unleashed a couple of new dishes that I thought our guests might like. One a creamy coconut dish packed with chilli from Sri Lanka and the other a mushroom and aubergine “Balti” full of tamarind and rich spices. It appears our guests are willing to be adventurous!

I will keep pushing the boundaries. I have a few dishes with goat that I want to try and a butter “carrai” from Tish Mir that might be too rich for western tummies. I’ve eaten countless versions of bean curries that I’d like our guests to sample. Now we have a tandoor maybe some of the highly spiced Afghan kebabs of offal might come out. Who knows, I keep going back to Asia and every time I get a new recipe or two and every time our guests love it. The adventure that is Indian food in Bansko continues!

We have a huge following of regulars and I’m proud of what we offer, people book months in advance and as a chef that is the most wonderful compliment. I love cooking Asian food and thousands of you love eating what we cook, thank you for your support!

16If you would like to try “Indian food in Bansko” it’s not just Indian ( Punjabi, Kashmiri, Pathan, Chitrali, Nepali, Sri lankan!) please book by Email:- hotelavalonbansko@gmail.com

Our curry nights are every Thursday in the summer season. In the winter every Thursday, most Fridays and some Wednesdays.

We start serving at 7:30 with a selection of Asian street food starters, Papad, samosa, bahji, sukuti, raita, pickles and chutneys.

The main courses are served at 8pm 9 different dishes split pretty much 50/50 between meat and vegan, we adjust the selection according to the season and what’s available. There is also a pretty wide spread of spiciness and heat. About half the meat dishes are cooked in the Tandoor to get that unique flavour as well as our Naan. The Basmatti rice is the best I can find in the U.K.

 

 

 

 

 

The Joy of skiing

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The Joy of Skiing.

20017/18 saw another great winter here in Bansko. Conditions were fantastic the hotel was full and the restaurant is going from strength to strength!

I have noticed a bit of a change this year, it hasn’t come suddenly but has crept up on me. I’m still ski touring and skiing off piste (like a god!), I’m still cooking at the curry nights and the supper club. The cocktails are as splendid as ever. The Awesome Avalon team are getting better and better (if that is possible!! ). No the change isn’t in what we do it is who we are doing it with!

I have noticed that more and more of our guests are starting to have children, the party animals of a few years ago have become loved up couples and those couples are now coming with bigger and bigger and bigger children!

Dylan is now ten and I don’t really know how that happened, one minute I’m a dashing young blade and the next I’m the father of a dashing young blade. The little man who used to need daddy to do anything is now a mini ski god and a fantastic helper behind the bar and in the kitchen.

This winter was all about mountain life with Dylan!

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Skiing with Children

Mountain life is a perfect environment for children, fresh air and exercise are part of the daily routine, eating healthily  and socialising with friendly people are the norm, and Dylan withall the others is loving it ! The real shocker has been seeing the number of humongous children. We’ve been open for nearly 15 years now so those 3 and 4 year olds who came to stay for their first ever ski holiday are now 18 and 19 year old giants!

As skiers and snowboarders we want our children to ski with us. The learning is a fun family adventure, skiing together is a joy, being beaten down a piste by your son or daughter is fantastic. Hot chocolate and picnics in the snow, blazing sunshine in January and the buzz of doing sport together are all brilliant.

6 top tips for enjoying skiing with your children

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#1 Know your child.

I’ve seen 4 year old girls in -20 happy as pigs in poo, I’ve seen 14 year old boys miserable on a sunny day in -5. Know your child. Are they a rufty tufty little bruiser who will keep getting up even after a thousand falls or more of a thinker  who needs to be coaxed and reassured down the hill. Be honest with yourself, just because daddy likes hucking  10 foot cliffs in chest deep pow doesn’t mean Tarquina does.

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#2 The baby is the boss.

You want to ski, that’s why you are here, you love it, you’ve only got a week maybe ten days a year to do it so you fill every day from first lift to last with hell for leather charges down black runs. Now Berti is three it’s time he joined in the fun. 4 hours a day in ski school should do it you’ll get time to ski with the Mrs. If the instructor is firm and Berti would only stop crying like a wimp you should be skiing together as a family by the end of the week!

NOOOOO!!!!! Don’t do it!!!

Let the little beast be the boss. Let your child set the pace. When Dylan was small we used to drive up to Chalin Valog with a sledge and some skis and boots. We would build snow men, have snow ball fights. Play on the sledge. Drink hot chocolate, eat chips and meat balls, make snow angles we would do anything other than ski. It didn’t take long, only a few days of playing in the snow, before he was asking to try on the skis. I would tow him around, he would slide a couple of meters and we would go back to building snow men. He set the pace. He was the one asking for lessons. He wanted me to let him ski …..

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#3 All the Gear All the Time.

The little blighters grow and grow and grow and grow. It’s bad enough buying new shoes every five minutes and then they need equipment. You can rent skis and helmets so there is no problem there but the rest of the kit costs a fortune.

If you want to enjoy skiing with your children that means buying them the right kit. Warm technical jackets and trousers, good quality thermals and gloves, goggles at actually protect their eye. Body armour. YES! Body armour, they will crash and crash badly, a back protector, wrist protectors for boarders, knee protectors the works please!

Being warm and dry, surviving crashes unharmed, being able to see even in the worst weather will make the difference between your child loving and hating skiing. Spend the money, it’s worth it!

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#4 Feed the Beast.

They forget to eat, they forget to tell you they are hungry and then suddenly you are at the top of a red run in full meltdown mode. Tears, tantrums, zero self confidence and they just can’t do it. WTF has happened? The three of you smashed this piste yesterday and now Billy is being a Drama Queen! It’s probably because he’s hungry. Regular snacks, every 45 minutes is best something small something healthy. Regular snacks save the holiday!

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#5 Warm them Up.

One of the great paradoxes of mountaineering is that the first sign of hypothermia is you don’t feel cold. You ask your climbing buddy all the time if they are cold, if the answer is yes then everything is ok. The moment they say no panic! Children are the same but with a lot less internal fat, they get cold and get cold quick.

They don’t notice because they are too busy having fun, but once they are cold they are miserable and once they are miserable so are you. WARM THEM UP! Stop every couple of hours for a 30 minute warm up in a restaurant. Bring extra socks and gloves, a spare layer, a spare jacket if you have space. They are going to fall over a lot and if they get wet they will get cold.

#6 Make it Fun.

Dylan is a better skier than I am. He’s had years of slalom training, hundreds if not thousands of hours smashing gates with the ski team. His weight is forward his knees are bent, edges are well and truly in he can beat me down most slopes in a straight race and beats me every time though gates.

So we mess around on blue runs, he likes it! He likes going over the little jumps on the side of the pistes. He loves getting air (all 6 inches of it!) he likes to play. Yes he can ski powder on 45 degree slopes off piste, but he likes to play, so we play!

If he asks we go off piste, if he asks we go in the jump park, black run? Yes, when he wants. Under the lifts? Yes, when he wants. It’s all about him having fun.  The more your children enjoy skiing the more you will enjoy it.

 

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Summer in the Mountains

Summer in the Mountains

Summer in the Mountains 2017

 

Most people think of Bansko as purely a winter resort. Don’t get me wrong I love the winter months from Christmas to Easter I am one seriously happy bunny. The winter is just 3 or 4  months, for me the other 8 months of the year have their own unique charm. Summer in the Mountains is a really special time for me. The spring rains and the relentless gardening that they cause soon pass and then the 6 months of summer kick in.img_20170724_164004_240

If you red back through my blog you will see that I’ve been pottering, climbing, biking and generally exploring Pirin in the summer for nearly 15 years now. It will come as a bit of a surprise to you to find that I have barely scratched the surface. The main trails I know like the back of my hand. The secondary routes also pretty perfectly. Those unmarked trails  that look like a slight discolouration in the grass? Yup I know pretty much all of them too. The goat paths that always seem to lead to the top are my stomping grounds. Occasionally, more rarely now, the climbing routes get revisited.img_20170724_164843_455

This summer I heard of a new hut built in the south east corner of Pirin. This is an area I knew nothing about and the idea to explore really excited me. The most eastern ridge of Pirin runs almost exactly north to south. We planned to hike the ridge from Bez Bog hut to it’s end and then drop down to the hut.  Dylan is bigger and stronger these days so he came along. There is also now a really cool group of ex pats who love a good potter in the hills so we managed to get together a really nice group for the expedition.img_20170731_165002_354

Leading groups in the mountains is a dark art and I am not good at it. Distances change depending on weather, group size, style of walking, number of breaks, and soooo many other different variables. I normally get it wrong. My best f**k up was what I considered a 7 hour walk becoming a 14 hour walk ! So I was prepared for some issues. I had counted for 6 hours walking to the new hut. It was closer to 9 by the time we had had a picnic, swim, chat or two and sadly for poor Dylan a thousand and one breaks for him to rest!

Children in the mountains are a very un-quantifiable variable. Now the little man is a beast, we walk a lot, he does a load of sport and frankly he is a tough little man. When he is tired you just feed him and he carries on. Unfortunately even this didn’t work and for the last mile I had to carry him. A good lesson for Daddy and after some pasta and sauce a happy child. I would suggest if you are taking children into the hills halve the distance you think they can walk unless you are willing to carry them!img_20170702_193847_830

The second day was a bit of an adventure. New country is always hard to navigate and the endless forests that make up the eastern marches of Pirin are littered with trails and by ways that feel right but are very wrong. After a few hours we met a shepherd who told us we were on the right path if we were going to Greece but way off if we were going to Breznitsa! Herding his flock in front he took us on an hour yomp through the woods and set us on the right road. Again another long long day. Dylan ran out of steam when we got to tarmac so we hitched a lift down to the village.

Pirin is much much bigger than you imagine looking up from Bansko. 15 summers and I think  have covered only 80% of the trails and about the same amount of the peaks. Pirin is an ideal place for a Summer in the Mountains there are plenty of lake walks and easy trails. A project I am working on to bring more tourists to Bansko for a Summer in the Mountains is what I am calling the Davies. It is similar in concept to the Munro’s in Scotland.img_20170702_193757_380

Pirin Davies

If you are looking for a challenge during your Summer in the Mountains why not try bagging all the peaks in Pirin. The Pirin Davies challenge was thought up by my friend and mentor Di Davies, that’s why I’ve named the game after him. There are 89 peaks in Pirin over 2500m. Some are easy like Bez Bog which you could hike in under 3 hours others are epic multi day yomps like the Kamenitsa Begovitsa chain 7 peaks in a day but it takes 3 days in total. We think you could do them all in 10 weeks if you took it slow 6 if you pushed hard. All the peaks are doable without ropes on their traditional routes but some are a little bit hairy with scrambling and traversing steep unstable faces.img_20170702_194026_538

There are plenty of guides who would be willing to help if you need support on some of the trickier routes our friends at Summer Bansko are more than willing to point you in the right direction. The most south easterly and North westerly peaks would probably be best accesses with a tent so you can sleep at the peak and hike back the next day. Both get you 6 peaks in two days so there is some value in sleeping out for sunset and dawn!

I’m almost there with bagging all the peaks only 12 more to go and hopefully by this time next year we will have a lovely little web page with route guides and medals for anyone who bags them all.img_20170706_153142_549

 Annapurna Base Camp

I’m not a mountain guide! I failed my U.K. mountain leader qualification due to a technicality! However I do take people into the hills both summer and winter and some very special people to the Himalaya or Arctic. Guiding is an awesome responsibility that I normally leave to the professionals. The few times I have led groups in Pirin, Nepal, Greenland and off piste in the winter it always reminds me how amazing real professional mountain guides are!20171020_080819

This year I was planning my last trip to the Himalaya and mentioned it to a few of our regulars. Before long we had a group of 6 people interested and last week I came back from trekking with them to Annapurna Base Camp. The trek itself is one of the best in Nepal, at its quickest you can be in and out in 6 days starting from Jungle and passing through every variation of alpine until you get to  Base camp perched on a shelf above a huge glacier! 20171023_081901For me the Himalaya are a home from home the slow transition of landscape travelled though at walking pace, curry three times a day endless cups of tea and cigarettes friendly faces and beautiful places really appeal to me. What strikes me most about these trips is the human element and this trip was extraordinary for that. I had my usual team of Sulu Kumbu Sherpa. With Bihre leading and Sonam looking after the back of the group. This year a new guy came along called Kadgi, he’s been up Everest a few times and was a lovely addition to the team. The group were unbelievable, by far and away the funniest and fun people I have ever had the pleasure to hike with. Every day was full of laughter and banter even some of the harder days did not phase them. I will never forget this year, giggling like children over endless games of Uno teaching Daphne to swear like a navvy in her oh so lovely french accent . Trying to work out the probabilities of Yahtzee ( and failing dismally), the beautiful Chalet accommodation and the  snow at altitude. All in all an amazing trip made all the more amazing for the team.

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Summer in the Mountains

Once again Bansko and Nepal have made my Summer in the Mountains incredible. I’ve clocked god knows how many meters of altitude gain and miles of trail. Days and days of pottering new routes and new summits. As ever the views have been incredible and the experiences awesome. What has really struck me this year is the human contact. In the mountains you are away from the phone the computer and suddenly you are thrown into this old fashioned thing of actually meeting new people and talking to them, listening to them, enjoying their company. I’m not the most sociable of people outside work, as being friendly is my job but his year has been remarkable for the number of truly lovely people I’ve met in the hills.20171023_081901

If you are in Bansko in the summer go up, have a look. There appears to be an ars***le filter on the national park, you’ll only meet lovely people up there!!!