I know the feeling when placed in charge of arranging a group ski / snowboarding trip for friends. I used to organise the annual “lad’s trip” for around ten years. I picked various ski resorts in Europe. It was when someone asked me me, “Why Bansko?”.
It got me thinking back to the time before I decided to try Bansko back in 2005 and to last season when I helped out a number of group leaders organise successful trips to Bansko. But much of what I talk about here is applicable to wherever you may be visiting to ski.
The first thing is that if you are the organiser, I know the pressure on making sure everything turns out right. You do the research, but I think there are five things that will ensure that you have a trip that caters for everyone in the group. Read on to how make your trip to Bansko satisfy everyone in the resort.
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1. The Seven P’s
Proper, prior, planning, prevents, piss, poor, performance. Like when I discussed ski safety, making a check check list is my best tip. Include all the elements of the trip.
This can be written on a spreadsheet or form (excel is great, but try Quip which is an easy to use mobile app. This military style list organisation comes in handy when collecting money owed per person in the group
2. Everybody loves a great deal (but will blame you if it’s rubbish quality)
So if you know your friends ability well, and you have in mind a budget that you believe will be acceptable to most, then you, as organiser, have the right to picking the actual resort and accommodation.
The big name Swiss and French resorts like Verbier, Chamonix, Avoriaz and so on have their merits. However after a while, I then I moved on to less well known resorts, at the time like Baqueira Beret (Spanish Pyrenees).
Then there are Italian resorts… then there’s Bulgaria.
I found Bansko as being the best of Bulgaria’s skiing for as wide range of abilities. Plenty of night life that puts most resorts to shame. But most of all our overall spend, including ski hire, lift passes, big long nights out, lunch, piste drinks, dinner, lessons and absolutely everything, on a five day trip worked out 50% less.
Assuming you have now chosen to come to Bansko, then the next piece is to look out for convenience once in resort and location to enjoy the restaurants and nightlife. Other considerations, but secondary for us, but possibly essential if there are non skiers are, a Spa, swimming pool.
Level of comfort was compromised to save money in the expensive big name resorts. But I realised that really nice and comfortable accommodation elevates the ski trip enjoyment factor.
An much more that expected.
Obviously, if you have students in the group then more spacious and comfortable accommodation is probably much less important.
3. Hack a flight for price and convenience
Time to review flights; Skyscanner and Kayak are my favourite starting points when flight hacking. Kayak is especially good for mixing up airlines for out and return journeys.
The skill here is to choose flight time that you like. For example if you have super keen skiers who don’t mind getting up early for the 06:15 flight From Gatwick to Sofia then you could (assuming you;re just taking hand luggage) take advantage of Bansko Blog’s free afternoon ski offer.
But remember airlines (like hotels) are fighting back with some of the best deals booked direct. In particular checking Bulgaria Air and British Airways own web sites has uncovered some of the best deals.
Ryanair flights (landing in much less convenient Plovdiv airport are usually excluded) Let’s assume that you’re decided on Bansko.
You have a number of scheduled airlines to consider from many airports all around Europe and the Middle East. For example, if most of your friends live in the London area you have a choice of the following airports and schedules airlines.
- London Heathrow (Terminal 5 British Airways and Terminal 4 Bulgarian Air);
- London Gatwick (Easy Jet);
- Luton Stansted (Easy Jet, Ryanair);
- London Luton (Wizz Air)
Booking flights requires a whole article, but the best advice is to book online on a Wednesday. Book at least 6 weeks before departure and in some cases six months before departure is the most sensible option — especially for holiday periods.
Due to Bulgaria’s location there are many visitors from Russia and this extends the holiday season over the New Year because Russians have a 10 day New Year break starting December 30th and ending the day after the Russian Orthodox Christmas Day, on January 8th.
Be mindful of everyone’s budget is easy in Bansko. But also if you are doing a larger group, then give people two options. Maybe apartments and 4 or 5 star, but make then close together for ease of meet up. If there are total beginners in the group its worth making sure they understand the need to buy ski gear for the first time.
The whole cost needs to be considered.
From Flight, transfers, accommodation, lift pass, ski and snowboard hire, food, beer/wine/drink and after ski entertainment.
Because Bansko has such a huge range of places to eat out covering traditional Bulgarian, to Greek, Italian, Indian and so on. (see Bansko App see iOS link; Android link for most places), it is fun to go out and eat most evenings. But accommodation options range from studios, one to three bedroom apartments, apart hotels with spas, small family two and three star hotels, all inclusive chalets and four and five star hotels.
It is this huge range in varying locations that makes the choice hard to make, especially as price differences are not always that large, so staying near the gondola lift and the main Pirin street strip is affordable.
4. Book rooms
Bansko room rates vary. Cheaper periods from 12th January to 6th February and from 26th February (approx). Consider grabbing a spot of five star luxury, The Kempinski Grand Arena and Premier Mountain Resort and Regnum are favourites.
So typically you would start at booking.com. Which is once of the easiest site to use. Try skibooking.com too.
But often best the deals are by registering direct on hotel websites (or Apps… Bansko Royal Towers and Saint George Palace have great apps (well I would say that they are developed by App Factory).
5. Book transfer ski and snowboard hire, lessons and lift passes
This is the part where I felt was always a lot of trouble and the area I have spent many years specialising in here in Bansko.
I received this email from Stuart W, a client from last season