One of the main reasons we chose to ski in Bansko, Bulgaria – rather than somewhere further west in Europe – was the price. Going skiing is always going to be more expensive than taking a similar trip sans winter sports – you have to buy a lift pass, and, unless you own your own gear (which carries its own transport costs), hire gear and perhaps book a few lessons to get your skills up to scratch. All of this on top of booking accommodation and buying food and all the other associated costs of being abroad. Plus travel insurance gets more expensive when you include winter sports cover. It’s not a cheap trip.
But, as with most things, there are ways to make it cheaper. One of the most effective ways to lower your costs on a ski trip is to choose a less popular location. The big resorts in France, Switzerland and Austria will have lift passes that run you hundreds of pounds to purchase, whereas Bulgaria’s prices are altogether more reasonable. Again, it’s not a fundamentally cheap trip to take – it’s no weekend in Lithuania – but if you’re looking for somewhere to ski, there are ways to make it more affordable.
My previous ‘budget breakdown’ posts are more comprehensive than this because I had all our purchases logged on my card. In Bulgaria, we had to use cash for lots of purchases so I don’t have a clear record of exactly how much we spent on food and drinks and other smaller things. I can still provide the costs of the big ticket skiing items and a picture of how much a day in Bansko would cost you. I haven’t included the cost of our final weekend in Sofia, because that is very much an optional addition to a trip to Bansko.
All the prices are my individual share. Two of us went on this trip and we split all expenses evenly. The currency in Bulgaria is the lev, denoted with BGN.
Flights – £80
If this had been a weekend trip, then £80 would be pretty expensive for flights. But as we were going for nine days and had fixed dates in mind, £80 seemed pretty reasonable. Our flights did arrive in Sofia at 3am, but the benefit of being in our early twenties is that we hightailed it to our cheap room, slept until 10am, and then got up and continued on as normal. I know not everyone would enjoy arriving the middle of the night and having to navigate a new country in the dark, especially if you were alone, but it was definitely the best option for us in terms of price and timings. In general though, flights to Sofia are common and you can find a lot for £80-£100. If you want to head to Bansko, you can also fly into Plovdiv.
Transport – ~£14
We took a bus from Sofia to Bansko which cost 16 lev, around £7, and took around three hours (and then took a similar bus back to the capital a week later). Lots of companies will instruct you to book shuttles from Sofia to Bansko that end up costing around £60 per person, each way. It’s a rip off. Catching buses in other countries can be difficult but so worth it from a price perspective. We also took a couple taxis here and there in Sofia (e.g. to get to the bus station) but, as long you’re in a metered taxi (always get in a metered taxi), it will be cheap.
Accommodation – £117
Our first night Sofia, when we arrived at our room around 4am, we stayed in a small room for £7 each. Given we were there for only seven hours, I had no desire to pay more than the bare minimum, plus we could self check-in in the middle of the night, which was all we needed.
In Bansko, we booked a small apartment for seven nights, which came to a cost of £110 each, which worked out at £16 per night for an apartment with a kitchen and living room that was only ten minutes walk from the gondola. You won’t find anything like that in Switzerland!
We knew we wanted to cook some of our own meals, so a kitchen was key. It was a nice surprise to find that the apartment also had a good sized living area, given we were there for over a week and we appreciated the extra space. The apartment was very comfortable, situated just far enough off the main street to be away from all the noise but close enough to be extremely convenient for the gondola and a number of restaurants and supermarkets. A great find. There are so many apartment blocks in Bansko that I’m sure places like this won’t be in short supply. We booked our flights and accommodation at the beginning of December for a mid-February trip, so it isn’t urgent to book well in advance (though that’s rarely a bad idea).
Lift pass – £165 for six days
Obviously, the price of the lift pass varies depending on how many days you buy it for. The more days you do, the higher the overall cost, but the cost per day reduces. For six days, it costs 380BGN (it is charged in lev, so the exact price in pounds will fluctuate a little with the exchange rate). I think you can book online but we waited until we arrived and bought our passes in person at the gondola. I would recommend purchasing your passes the day before you want to start skiing/snowboarding, as otherwise you’ll be stuck in a long queue to buy the passes before joining the long queue to go up the gondola! We queued for a short while the afternoon prior to get the pass and were then able to get up early, before the ticket office opened, and skip the mass gondola queues.
Bonus tip: the gondola apparently opens at 8.30am (by which time an hour long queue has built up) but was already running by 7.45am every day we were there. We arrived around 7.45am every day and didn’t queue for more than five minutes, apart from the one day we arrived at 8.15am and queued for forty-five minutes. That early alarm is worth it.
Gear hire – £82
This was for four days of ski hire (skis, poles and boots) and two days of snowboard hire (snowboard and boots). At under £14 per day for high-quality equipment, this is also a good deal (notice a trend here?).
Lessons – £165 (375 BGN)
This was for five private two-hour lessons and was definitely a splurge. In a more expensive place, private lessons would likely have been way too expensive, especially on top of the gear and lift pass. While the two skiing lessons were definitely an indulgence – we are both good skiers already and wanted to sharpen our technique – our three snowboarding lessons were crucial given we were absolute beginners. Yes, you can get group lessons (and they are cheaper), but as a total newbie more focused attention is so helpful. For context, five two-hour group lessons would be £85 (195 BGN), so half the price, but many groups contained around ten people. That means in two hours, or 120 minutes, you get twelve minutes of attention, approximately, compared to sixty (when there are just two of you in a private lesson), so you’d need five group lessons to receive the same amount of coaching as in one private lesson. There is an objective price consideration but value matters too. We had wonderful instructors and went from having never stood on a snowboard to ready to try a red run in two days, so I’d say it was a good decision.
However, if you are good skier or snowboarder, you can skip the lessons entirely or take the group lessons, all of which will save you a lot of money.
Food and drink
As I said above, we used cash most of the time so I don’t have any exact figures. To save money, we cooked for ourselves over half the time. We had all our breakfasts at home, half our dinners in our little apartment and took lunch and snacks up the mountain most days. If we were especially cold, we’d get a hot lunch up on the mountain at one of the restaurants, though they were definitely overpriced. Soup is a good, cheap option that warms you up, if you bring your own sandwich to (sneakily) eat with it to make sure you get enough energy.
In terms of the supermarkets, some things were really cheap – like bread. We ate a lot of bread – but actually a lot of things were either as expensive or even more expensive than at home. In Sofia, things were much cheaper, which makes sense as ski towns have such a captive audience (something that gets exacerbated even more when you’re up a mountain looking for some lunch).
We’d brought some pasta from the UK and had planned to bring more stuff, but sadly had to dump some of it at the airport after our bag was twice the allowed weight limit (oops). I managed to stuff all our underwear in my pockets to lighten the load but alas we couldn’t find space for the tins of tomatoes. We’d also planned to bring some dried fruit and nuts but forgot. That would have been a good idea. Food was definitely not cheap in Bansko supermarkets (though was not crazily expensive either) so any snacks or things you can bring with you will reduce your food costs. Also bring your own sunscreen! We forgot and had to pay a painfully high price for a tiny bottle of factor 50. Toiletries are expensive so try to bring your own.
The restaurants in Bansko were reasonably priced, not crazy cheap but not expensive either. The restaurants in Sofia were much cheaper but, as I said, ski towns have a captive audience. If you eat and drink out a lot – Bansko is a party town – it will drive up your costs significantly.
…and that’s basically it! Again, skiing holidays are never going to be cheap – hell, travel isn’t cheap – but by coming to a less popular place like Bulgaria you are almost guaranteed to find much cheaper prices. If you don’t ski these prices may look crazy to you, but if you are a skier or snowboarder you’ll see that Bansko is a great deal given the high quality runs on offer. A similar trip in the Swiss Alps would cost literally three to four times as much.
We had a great week in Bulgaria and loved our time skiing and learning to snowboard. It was made even more enjoyable knowing we hadn’t had to pay an arm and leg to do it (maybe just a hand).