Running a hotel in Bansko for the last 11 years has been one hell of an experience. I’ve posted on here a lot of stuff about village politics, ex pats and skiing. The things I love and the things I hate, difficult times in the hills and the joy of powder. I’ve written a lot about the joys of a ski resort and the Pirin mountains. I love this place where my life revolves around my hobbies rather than around my work and my work is really a bit of a hobby! Lately I’ve been thinking about the cycles of my life, I’m a father now yet still a ski bum, I still dream of far off peaks to be climbed and faces to be skied and at every moment I feel the passing of time, the every changing now always constant always changing.
Each week of the winter season has its own distinct flavour depending on which nationality is on holiday, the mad mix of everyone over new year crystallises into a distinctly Russian first two weeks of January. Romanian, Bulgarian and Turkish half terms collide in the dust of the Russian exodus. Then, after a little lull the Danes! The Brits! Another lull and then the huge explosion of light and sound that is Horizon .
The team here at the Avalon remain constant. Each week has its cycle, Monday night off, Tuesday cocktails, Thursday and Friday curry nights , change over day on Saturday and repeat, but the team, the faces, the smiles, the tiredness in the eyes the happy pleasure in a busy evening, these things remain constant. I feel the seasons turning most acutely in my morning routine 07:20 leave the house, half way to Bansko beep and wave to the train, 07:30 pick up Lilly, 07:40 “Good morning Ivan” and every day more and more of the sun pokes it’s head above the horizon.
Last night I noticed another cycle in our year, a very personal cycle that touched me with the brevity of its contact but also the length of the cycle itself. We had some guests in for our curry night and we got chatting, they are like old friends. The ease with which we settled back into joking and talking belied the reality of how rarely we meet. This family eat once a year with us, I probably only see them for 15 minutes a year and yet they feel like friends I have know for a lifetime. All through the winter our regular guest pop into our world, friends who come back year after year. People who are such an important part of my life but only for such fleeting moments.
The hotel has about 85% of its bookings from repeat guests, now these guys I really get to see and spend time with, 7 days together morning and evening, I’ll chat to most people, ski with some, go into the back country with a few and as the years go by their kids grow and I’ll teach one or two of them to ride powder. I love this part of my job, simply put it’s cool! Regular week long guests are part of the family, part of the team.
Yesterday I took team “A” out for their annual powder day, and they did really well, mummy is probably the best of the bunch, but the boys are doing well. I’ve know these guys for 5 years now and every year they get better and better, we did the “boobies” a steep forested run with no real danger of avalanche and lots of space to practice. They were turning fine in the 15cm of fluff but tumbling in the deeper sections but little by little they were all getting it. Laughter and frustration mixed with lots of banter. Then lower down where the trees are tight and the turns more demanding. The constant call of “you’llright? ” which normally recieves a “yeah yeah, great” was suddenly answered with a “no”…………… Ok so how much of a “no” is this one? Is it “no, I’ve lost a ski”? Or are we talking “No, I need helivac” I wait, I worry, I start to walk back up. I hear “knee” mentioned, I start to scramble faster, eventually I get to mum, tied in a knot in some bushes, knee twisted skies off and not in a good way. The rest of the run down to the road is like a luge run so we can slide down to the bottom and from there we should be able to call for help.
Slowly slowly we inch our way down to the road, it’s clear Mrs “A” is not in a good way but she’s a tough cookie, I help her down over the steeper sections but there is no way she’s going to be able to walk when we get to the flat. Once down I ring mountain rescue for some help, “No chance James, the whole team is off with the chopper pulling some Brits out of Damianitsa”. O.K. so here we are, stuck, well I’ve seen it in the movies and I reckon I’m pretty strong so I decide to carry Mrs “A” out, once on the piste I can get a mate with a skidoo to come and collect us. 500m is a long way with a bod on your back, we stop every 100m for a breather and then plod on, I’m trying to keep the mood chatty and happy but I can feel the boys are nervous and mum is in pain. It’s amazing how remote you feel 500m from civilisation, how exposed and defenceless and how safe you feel once back on piste. It was a long walk and physically very tough but we made it. Within an hour we had Mrs “A” in the medical centre and now she’s happily ensconced on the sofa in front of the fire.
I feel a strong bond with our guests, even those who are with us for just a week or even two weeks a year, are only here for a brief moment. Those that keep coming back year after year to eat in the restaurant should not be able to create the bond that they do but they do. It’s a strange thing having a hotel in Bansko. These guys are more then guests, it’s hard to articulate but they are part of the team, part of what the Avalon is, part of what Bansko is and it is painful when I see them hurt on the mountain.