When is Bansko at it’s best?

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When is Bansko at it’s best?

The simple answer is from the 20th of December to the 20th of April and then the 20th of June to the 20th of September.

The complicated answer is much longer. Bansko has huge appeal all year round. There are a few hundred foreigners who are now living here full time because there is so much more to our little mountain village than the two peak seasons. For those of us who live here the changing seasons just mean a change of activities!

When is Bansko at it's best?

When is Bansko at it’s best? Winter!

I came to Bansko to ski, Alpine, Backcountry, Touring and Telemark. Back then (2003!) I really wasn’t interested in much else. Winter meant fun and fun meant strapping on some skis and hitting the white stuff.

The Resort opens Around the middle of December and closes around the beginning of April. Some years there is enough snow for Bansko to be skiable on the 1st of December and close on the 20th of April. If you are thinking of doing a season here aim for Christmas to Easter.

During the winter season there are a fair few variations in the flow of JOY! Peak periods like New Year and the Feb half term holidays can be just awful. We’ve seen queues that would make you weep. For those of us that live here there is always a work round, drive up to Chalin and ski there, ski tour into the Backcountry or even just take a few days off to rest the bones.

The other side of the coin is the moments that mass tourism forgot. The back end of Feb? Not a soul! March? What, March, when it snows and snows and snows and no one is here. Yes March!! In a good year April can be epic, this year May was Epic. This year I was even skiing in June!

If you are here for the winter, Stay a little longer, go touring , go to Dobrinishtay earn some turns and ski some great spring lines. When is Bansko at it’s best? If I was coming to visit I’d be here from  Mid December to the 1st of May!

When is Bansko at it's best?

When is Bansko at it’s best? Summer

A bit like the winter the summer months have their moments. Some years Spring hangs around in Greece for way to long. This year winter refused to leave. Normally Summer  proper starts around the middle of June and rolls on and on well into October with warm dry days back to back. The only real exception to that rule is the middle of the Jazz fest. For some reasone there is normally one massive storm in the second week of August!.

there are some events in the summer that you really shouldn’t miss. The jazz fest, Opera fest and a few other musical and cinematic wonders. Unlike the winter the resort really can handel these crowds and no matter how busy Bansko gets it is always a joy in the summer.

When is Bansko at it’s best? In the Summer it is probably best for most people to be here between the 15th of June and the 1st of October.

When is Bansko at it's best?

When is Bansko at it’s best? All the time!

So why do we all live here? Why the hell do we live here all the time? Bansko has something to offer , something awesome, every month of the year.

My year is an ebb and flow of what gear am I using now. The basic quiver of gear matches this ebb and flow beautifully! There are alpine skis, there are Telemark skis, Big Bad Powder skis and Touring skis. The CycloCross Bike, The Mountain Bike. The Big Boy Mountain boots, The Mountain Boots, The Approach Shoes and  those hellishly tight tools of torture called climbing shoes.

At the start of the winter when the piste is ideal for  Alpine skis and the Telemarks. When it properly snows the powder skis come out then it’s back to the Telemarks and Alpines until the next dump.

Once the season starts to wind down and the tourists are heading home. We head into the hills with the Touring gear. Pirin is amazing for touring. With few people in the hill, we have access to face after face of creamy spring goodness.

Spring means one of three things, sunny days are for touring or rock climbing. Cloudy days are for Biking. The trails around Bansko are ideal for Enduro, Mountain Biking and Cyclocross. From the middle of April to the middle of June we just mix it up.

From Mid June it is unlikely that the skis are coming out again so the mix is now full summer mix. Hiking, Climbing and Biking. The flow is from big watherproof mountain boots that you can attach a crampon to super lightweight hiking trainers back to big boots! June and July you can still expect some patches of snow in the hills. ByJuly and August you are unliekly to get your feet wet, September and October it is getting cold again so the big boots come out again. All the while we just mix it up on the bikes and the climbing crags!

By November and December the climbing is over, and it is getting too cold for biking. I tend to spend these months doing less than the rest of the year. Fully geared up it is still a joy to go into the hills but it is harder when you have to carry so much gear. There is a bills like no other to be found in the high mountains at this time of year. The world is holding it’s breath.The silence is almost deafening compared to the clamour of Spring. The gods are close and the soul soars over the empty valleys and barren peaks.

The wheel turns and the seasons come and go. Every one of them has it’s own joy and so we stay.

When is Bansko at it’s best? Bansko is always at it’s best!

 

 

 

Freeride Backpack. Kit you need when you are off into the Backcountry

Freeride Backpack

Freeride Backpack. Kit you need!

I LOVE POW! We all love pow! To be honest Pow is what it is all about. Sick lines in fresh snow are just flipping awesome. There is a long learning curve you need to nail to really enjoy baccountry skiing/boarding. There are skills to be honed, fitness to be built up. Don’t forget the whole KBYG thing, safety, risk assesment, avalananche awareness courses blah blah blah. There is a butt load of info to be aquired before you head out into the POW!

To save you some time, effort and lessons here is what I should normally take as a Freeride Backpack.  I say should and normally a little shamefully. I have been know to go out with no bateries in my transciever, an empty water bottle, no gloves no food , even an empty backpack. None of us are perfect and I am less perfect than most. The list is what I would take if I remembered and what you should take as a minimum.

26 years I’ve been at this so hopefully by now I’ve got it about right.There is other stuff, like parapet rope, crampons and axes that I sometimes take but only for special reasons. This is my everyday carry for a day freeriding. I hope it helps!

Clothing

A few choice items of spare clothing are a must in every Freeride Backpack. The weather can turn quickly in the mountains. We often go from a long hard run, to standing around waiting and having some spare layers makes a lovely difference.

Ortovox Swisswool Piz Cartas Vest

O.K. this really isn’t cheap, well north of a hundred euros for a vest is a little bit silly. But we have to do out bit. Mountain sports wear is environmentally a disaster, the whole industry is shamefully polluting so I try to do my bit. Ortovox, Picture and Patagonia are all pretty green so I buy from them and pay the price.

This vest is awesome, lined with the wool of some special, happy, loved, European sheep. It keeps you warm and wicks away moisture beautifully!

York Beanie and Buff

The weather can change, you can end up hanging around whatever the reason it is always nice to have a beanie and a spare BUFF in your bag! BUFF are versatile, warm and have some cool patterns. Picture are eco-friendly and painfully cooooool!

Hestra Gloves

You will think me mad now but experience has really taught me that you need 4 pairs of gloves! Hands can suffer really fast in low winter temps and fingers fall off easily. Spare gloves are an essential: –

1) The gloves on your hands that you are skiing in

2) A spare pair of similar gloves to your everyday ones in case you drop one, rip one, get yours wet or a friend needs a pair.

3) Thick glove liners if it suddenly gets windy or cold thick wind stopper liners are brilliant, also can be used as reserve gloves if someone n your group has a problem.

4) Silk gloves. I am obsessed with these little beauties. So thin you don’t even know you are wearing them and increase you finger warmth by 100%. I promise you if you buy a pair, you will thank me for ever.

Hestra are a company beyond any other, I LOVE THEM! Gear that lasts for years and looks cool and does the job better than you hoped for. GO HESTRA!

Glacier Sunglasses

Opinion is divided on these. Are we going for the cool bearded explorer look or are we just a wally? I’m on the bearded explorer side of the debate but I fear I might be in the minority.

Fashion debates aside Category 4 lens glacier glasses are a must. If you are hiking for an extended period in the snow goggles just don’t work. They are hot and fog up in seconds. Glacier glasses on the other hand are perfectly designed for the job. With lenses that are so dark you aren’t allowed to drive in them, they protect your eyes from glare beautifully. Those silly/awesome little leather blinkers also keep the glare from the sides of your eyes.

Hardware

There are some basic bits you will need in your Freeride BackPack. If anyone doesn’t have this minimum amount of kit do not ride with them. They are either stupid, ignorant, suicidal or an egotistical psychopath. Whatever the reason for them to be without this BASIC level of safety equipment don’t ride with them.

  • A Backpack,
  • Shovel and Probe
  • Transceiver

Deuter Freerider Lite 25 Backpack

I’ve tried a lot of brands at a lot of different prices and this little beauty is just right. Not too expensice, not too cheap, loads of space and really well designed. It has a huge top pocket for easy access for snacks , cigarettes and maps. inside appears to be way bigger than the 25l advertised and it carries skis perfectly

Ortovox probe and Shovel.

Good quality gear not made in china. Up to the job and somewhere in the middle of the price range. I use K2 at the moment as you can see in the picture. I got them for a stupidly low price as part of a set with the bag included. If I had to replace them now, I would go Ortovox.

BCA Tracker2 Avalanche Transceiver

This is probably your most important piece of hardware. I wont bang on about transceivers and mortality rates as it’s boring. Simply put this 300 euro bit of kit could, will and very often does save lives. Learn how to use it, practice a few times a year.

It also has the added bonus that wearing one instantly makes you the sexiest guy in the room. Babes will throw themselves at you if they catch a glimpse of one so for the sake of modesty wear it under your jacket!

Hardware II

Optional extras in the metalwork category really depend on what you are up to. I keep the below in my Freeride BackPack  because, well why not! The touring crampons are super light and take up no space, a head torch just in case, water because I am fat and sweaty and the finest sun creams on earth because I’m ginger!

Sigg Aluminium traveller water bottle 1L.

I have had my Sigg water bottle since 1995. It has been on thousands of days of adventures and even though it is battered and bruised it is still in perfect working order.

Piz Buin sun cream.

Basically, I am allergic to the sun. Like a vampire I catch fire as soon as the clouds clear. I am ginger but I do have a soul so I use the blue Piz Buin. Mountain sun cream and it actually works. Great for the lips and skin it’s a little bit expensive but well worth the money.

Dynafit speed crampon

Lightweight and as grippy a a honey badger’s claw. A great little back up when you are touring and encounter ice.

Black Diamond Icon 700

It looks like over kill but when you are coming home late or going out early a head torch is a god send. On the heavy side but still not so heavy that you notice, the Black Diamond icon has a ridiculous 700 lumins that basically turns night into day!

Medical kit

I have played with what goes into the medical kit for years and I am still not 100% sure what I need to I have 3 layers in there. :-

  • A basic medical kit
  • Survival Kit

Basic Medical Kit

Buy one from any out door shop these little packs have pretty much everything you might need. Don’t think too much just grab one off the shelf and chuck it in your bag.

Survival Kit

This is what I have collected over the years as much as this is apropriate for a Freeride BackPack it is also useful for summer treking. Many adventures/disasters have taught me the vital importance of these little extras. The whole of the list below only weighs a few hundred grams but can make a massive difference when you are in a pickle.

A small piece of bicycle tyre stuffed with cotton wool that has been rubbed in Vaseline. With this you can start a fire out of anything. Fire means warmth and smoke so you can be warm and cosy while the smoke leads help to you.

Serious pain killers. The strongest you can get your hands on. A hefty does of poppies really helps when you are hurt.

Some Prussik cord. Thin heavy duty climbing cord has a million and one uses in a pinch.

A knife, something tough and sharp. I love an Opinel knife or something similar. Spend a bit extra if you want but Opinel are spot on.

Flint and steel, with a bit of practice you can start a fire easily with one of these and they don’t mind getting wet.

Compass and a Map….

Iodine, yes it stings and dyes your skin brown but it kills everything, it even works on drinking water if you can stomach the taste!

Tampax are wonderfully absorbent and expand. They make great wound dressings especially if it is a puncture wound.

Zink oxide tape is great for making splints, fixing kit and covering blisters. It’s the gaffa tape of the medical world. If you are damaged zinc oxide tape will probably be able to fix it for a while.

Space blanket. Looks like tin foil keeps you warm as toast and weighs nothing. A total no brainer. Every medical kit should have one.

Freeride Backpack

Ponderosa, Mountian biking Bansko

 Mountain biking Bansko

Ponderosa trail map, Mountian biking Bansko

Ponderosa, Mountian biking Bansko

For the first day of The Road to Nowhere MTB rally I decided to use a totally different part of our region. Traditionally for events concerning Mountain biking Bansko I have worked variations of established trails on the north side of Pirin. Some sort of mix between Perfect day  and Dead Dog  on day one and then laps sprinting around Foxy Lady  for day two.

This year I decided to go into the Rila and use one of our less used tracks, Ponderosa. Normally Ponderosa starts from Predel. The border between our little valley and the outside world. The trail is a long slow climb up into the Rila followed by a  fast and furious descent back to the valley floor. For the race we started at Bansko Royal Towers hotel and followed some of Perfect day out to the golf course and then on and up to Predel I love this route past the golf course, the views both north and south are fantastic.The youthful alpine peaks of Pirin rise up almost vertically above you while the more gentle, venerable curves of  Rila roll off into the north.

The Profile of the trail looks intimidating with it’s great big hump, in reality it is not too bad. It is a long slow climb, I get off and walk a couple of the steeper sections and have the odd rest but all in all it is worth it as once you get to the top the trail rolls along nicely for a few miles and then plunges down towards the valley for 10 miles on a wide well maintained forest road.  Pay back time, all the slow sweaty work getting to the top now becomes and heart thumping blood boiling charge!

Mountain biking Bansko doesn’t have to be all about Bansko! I’d suggest stopping in the centre of Razlog on your way back to sip a cold one in the park! Razlog town hall has done a great job making the centre a little haven of green tranquillity.

The Road to Nowhere VI, Mountain Biking in Bansko

The Road to Nowhere VI, Mountain Biking in Bansko

The Road to Nowhere VI, Mountain Biking in Bansko

 

What a weekend, highs, lows stress and happiness a whole world of emotion! The Road to Nowhere VI,  mountain biking rally in Bansko is now over! The gods were kind! Not too hot not too wet just enough mud to make it fun and a record number of entrants. I took part in Day II and loved it, 120 happy people charging around our beautiful mountains for two days. This is what Bansko is all about!

There is some info on the Facebook Page  there is more info on the website Bansko-mtb 

It just goes to show Bansko is so much more than a little ski resort, Bansko could be a world class summer destination the cross country mountain biking is great, the downhill mountain biking could be great, hiking and climbing are fantastic….  the possibilities are endless.

A huge thank you to all the volunteers who helped me make the rally happen! 2015 I will be racing so whatch out anyone in the over 110kg category!

 

 

Bansko Mountain Biking, Perfect Day

Bansko Mountain Biking:-

MTB Bansko

Mountain biking trail in Bansko

Bansko is a great place fro mountain biking. Here at the hotel Avalon we have been making and promoting Mountain biking trails for nearly 10 years. The official mountain biking trails are limited to 176km of trails accessible from Bansko town but this is nowhere near the total extent of available riding. Not even the tip of the iceberg! For a better idea of the mission click here :- Bansko-MTB.com

Weirdly the trails are a bit organic. They evolve and change as people use them. Bad marking, exploration and feedback all work towards making each trail perfect. In the case of Perfect Day this evolution has been pretty extreme. The direction, length and nearly 1/2 of the route  have all changed over the years. It is one of the most popular and well used mountain biking trails in the region. Just under 20km and with only 2 or 3 hundred meters of climbing it is not a killer route but it is tough enough to keep most people entertained.

Last week I went out with a couple of locals to ride the whole route in one go exactly as it is mapped. Considering I can claim to have created all the official trails in the valley it might sound weird that I have only ridden 2 of them all the way round. In the case of Perfect Day  I have ridden sections of it over and over and over again painting the route but riding the whole trail just for fun? Never!

None of us were in particularly good shape so it took a couple of sweaty hours  but riding it just for fun was a real eye opener for me. There are some fantastic long easy sections of rolling terrain and a couple of challenging  but easy climbs up into the woods and then some great fast but easy single track.  There are two technical climbs in the woods and 3 or 4 fast technical descents on single track all of which I had to walk as they were way beyond me! No biggie really but great fun for the better riders. The last 1/4 of the route up and out of the forest and then back down the ski road is an easy and fun way to loosen off the legs.

All in all it is a great trail for almost any level of rider, a pro could probably sprint it in an hour and love the variations and a total beginner could spend a day with a picnic pottering round and take 5 hours over it and never break into a sweat!

N.B. The route is marked starting at the Bansko Army base and goes along the main dirt road out to the golf course. It finishes at the caves on the ski road. On some older maps it is marked the other way round, follow the new direction (anti clockwise) for the best experience.

 

The Scotsman. Mountain biking in Bansko

The scotsman

Mountain Biking in Bansko, Bulgaria. It’s strange how myths of mountains get under your skin. There is no rhyme or reason to it  but one morning you wake up and something has stuck in your head about a particular pass or peak. I’ve spent 10 years now wandering around the Pirin mountains trying to itch various urges. Djangal, Yalovarnika, The North face of Vihren, Jumgiev rub,  Suhodol.. they have all held their sway over me at some point. I would love to describe it as a raging fire, a passion, some sort of all consuming glory filled  Shakelton-esque force that drives me on. The reality is more of an itch.

Yesterday I scratched one of those itches. And what a scratch! If you can imagine Baloo in the jungle book scratching up against a palm tree you will get an idea of how good an itch it was! I have been mildly inclined to ride The Flying Scotsman since its inception. The trail looks amazing on paper. A long rolling descent from the Dobrinishtay ski area back to Bansko. The graph shows things just as you want to see them 25kms of top left to bottom right. There might be the odd moment when you’ll need to pedal a bit but really only if you can be bothered. Otherwise just free wheel home baby, whoop whoop, la di da yeah ha!…..BLAH….BLAH….BLAH.

The reality is, you need to get to the top to those miles and miles of down hill. Getting to the top wasn’t tooo bad, maybe only 20 kilometers of up hill, a 1000 vertical meters of up hill, 20 kilometers of hauling 107 kilos of fat up a 1000 vertical meters of mid day sun baked, up hill. You’re getting the idea.

Pretty early on in the forest my urges kicked in and a trail I have not been down before looked like a promising alternative and so started an hour or so of following ancient trails to see if they would link up. Interesting if you are into scrambling lost in the woods carrying your bike through stream and thicket but ultimately futile. We eventually got back on the proper trail and climbed up through some fantastic country.  Barely used logging trail running up through beautiful mixed forest, cool shade provided by old growth trees all in a cloud of butterflies attracted to the salt on our shirts.   One of the best views down into the valley from near the summit (the photo at the top) gave a glimpse of Dobrinishtay and the extent of our climb.

Eventually after quiet a few sweaty hours we got pay back and off we rolled down the endless descent to Bansko.  Wide, hard packed forest roads, little wiggly bits of single track, long straight runs, swooping linked banked turns miles and miles of fun!

On the map I’ve got they call it Trionska Livada but I have always known it as Trionska Polyana. The name is irrelevant the myth of this scruffy little meadow halfway back to Bansko has been a constant theme in my struggles with the national park. This 1/4 acre of shrub and wild flowers has been debated at ministerial level and has been a thorn in the side of 3 directors of National Park Pirin. The problem comes from the fact that even with all the will in the world not everyone who works in the mighty bureaucratic  machine  that is the Bulgarian National Parks Authority can know every square meter of land in the parks. Allowances have to be made, accommodations and vaguenesses . However Bureaucracy in Bulgaria is  BUREAUCRACY and if a jobs worth feels the need to thrust out his chest and write to the boss and if that letter gets all the way to the top  all those accommodations, allowances and vaguenesses have to be ignored and the letter of the LAW must be applied.

The details are dull in the extreme but have been a constant theme of my summers. Trionska polyana lies within the general area of the National Park however the route into it passes through 150m of Reserve.  Reserve where no man may set foot, reserve so special, dam it, so sacred that it is the raison d’etre of  the entire National Park.  Well finally this winter some sanity has descended and a compromise reached, the minister in charge has agreed that mountain bikers can walk the 150m along the road that runs through the Reserve and the trail can now be officially be used.

So yesterday, at about 4 in the afternoon our hero sat. On a wobbly bench in a scruffy meadow. Sweaty, muddy and tired. Listening, to the birds, the little silences, the wind in the trees. He sat in Trionska Polyana and for a few moments that scruffy little meadow took on a whole new beauty.

Here is a link to a video of the downhill section of the trail!

Djangal

Mountain biking on the Flying Scostman MTB Trail in Bansko Bulgaria. Written by James Hughes from The Hotel Avalon, Bansko,  Bulgaria. With many thanks to Rich Walker for support with the MTB Trail finding and guiding.

The Road to Nowhere

bansko-mtb-logo

 

The Road to Nowhere, what is it all about? For most people it is a mountain bike rally that takes place at the end of July every year, for some it is a community of mountain bikers in Bansko but for me it has been/is a bit of a journey. I started out in 2004 trying to find reasons for people to come to Bansko in the summer and to keep myself entertained trough those long lazy days between winter seasons.

I started off by wandering around the mountains close to Bansko trying to find routes that might be interesting to bikers  but on foot things take a really really long time. The dogs were good company the weather wasn’t. Being fat and ginger in 30 degree heat without water took it’s toll, the trail names tell a story in themselves, “Dead Dog” almost killed Krishna, “Perfect Day” almost killed me and “The Road to Nowhere”  drove Mick mad with its long long long circular section!

After a couple of summers I decided to call in the big guns and invited mountain bikers to come and stay for free in exchange for trail finding and marking, the offer still stands but no one really believes it’s true. We did get one group who found the “Flying Scotsman”  and Mick Lever who found The Road to Nowhere and “Pondorossa”  but the pottering around was the main source of new trails.

In 2006 there was some saga in Czech about mountain biking and lots of trails in Czech got banned from use so even though we still had almost no interest in mountain biking in Bansko I decided to try and get everything legal and above board. What a mission that has been, 3 of the trails are in the National Park, we have trails in the Municipalities of  Bachevo, Razlog, Banya, Dobrinishtay and Bansko. Half of these guys don’t talk to the other half, the National park didn’t talk to the town hall for many years the National Park is not allowed to do anything without a ton of paperwork and permission signed in triplicat from a notary on Mars. Nightmare is not the word.

Some things went well Mayor Kravarov was very supportive and gave me money to help mark the trails the old director of the National Park Grancharov was very supportive with huge amounts of time and advice .  Nasko from Iskar Tours made us some great maps.  But the crux of the matter is and was always the trails and how to maintain and mark them. In a good year with me really focusing on the job I could keep 3 trails open and marked but not all seven. Finally last year a group of the ex pats got involved and totally changed the game, working like slaves with rakes and spades they attacked the worst parts of Dead Dog and what had once been a tough trail now became an awesome trail. I hope they keep up their good work!

So why this post? Well today is the 7th of April 2014 it’s probably 9 or 10 years since I started this journey and part of the routine of trying to get everything done is to drop in on the Driector of National Park Pirin on a monthly basis and poke things a bit. Well today my routine chat was stopped halfway through as Rossen (the director) suddenly remembered something, so telling me to stay where I was he trotted off and came back with one of the girls and told her to break the news to me. Sveti (the girl) has been involved in the MTB saga for probably 4 years now and has been working very hard trying to get the trails legalised and as the chat explained finally, FINALLY! The Flying Scotsman has received its permission from Sofia. o.k. there are a couple of caveats for one small section but the trail is now legal!

It’s a small victory and there is probably only one other person who really knows how much it has taken but it is a victory. There wont be any medals or cheering crowds there wont be any glory or recognition. But there is a little warm glow in me and weirdly as I type this a tear in my eye.