Monday, January 31, 2011

Банско (Bansko)

Several years ago, I went skiing for the first time (sort of). My then girlfriend and I made the short drive from Las Vegas to the ski resort of Brian Head, Utah. Since it was my first time and her first time in a long time, we signed up for ski school.

After three hours or so of lessons, everyone in our group was declared fit to go skiing – everyone except me, two young girls, and six Chinese women who seemed to understand almost no English whatsoever. In any event, my girlfriend and the rest of the group went off with one of the instructors and headed up on one of the lifts. The young girls, the Chinese women, and I stayed behind for extra help.

One by one, my girlfriend and the others came skiing down the hill. While most of the others went back up the lift for more, the girl’s parents and my girlfriend came down to the bunny slope to check on our progress. At that point, the girls were deemed fit to go skiing, but the Chinese women and I were told we still needed some more work.

Once again, my girlfriend went up the lift and then came back down a short time later. When she returned the second time, the Chinese women were let loose on the slopes. I, on the other hand, was told I was too big and dangerous to go skiing. I had no problem keeping my balance and turning. I just couldn’t stop using the wedge method. And until I could demonstrate an ability to stop by using that method, they weren’t going to permit me leave the bunny slope. They feared I might crash into and seriously hurt someone. Fair enough.

Despite some one-on-one lessons, I couldn’t get the wedge method down to the instructor’s satisfaction. So, when my girlfriend returned from a third run down the slopes, we called it a day and headed back to the warmth of our cabin.

Until this past weekend, I hadn’t attempted to go skiing since. But some friends invited me to join them in Банско (Bansko), and I decided to give it another try. This time, I never even made it to the bunny slope. Unable to stop properly, I snapped off my skis and called it a day after bailing several times to avoid slamming into innocent bystanders on the hill at the base of the bunny slope. The folks in Utah were right: I am a menace on skis. I wasn’t concerned with my own safety, but I was worried I might seriously injure another skier.

Everyone else in the group seemed to enjoy the skiing and had favorable things to say about Bansko as a ski resort. From my perspective, the town is extremely touristy and overpriced – at least in comparison to other Bulgarian towns. The setting is beautiful and the surrounding mountains spectacular. But construction and ambition (and perhaps corruption) seem to have outpaced reality, and many buildings remain unfinished and the restaurants and clubs appeared desperate to attract customers. It’s worth visiting at least once, even if you aren’t a skier, but there is very little authenticity to the place. It’s a version of Bulgaria that probably appeals to most foreign tourists, but it doesn’t do much for me.

Here are some photos from the base of the slopes and from the gondola ride up.

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