On Saturday, Ryan and I finally got a taste of skiing in Bulgaria. Kat drove us out to the Simeonovo-Aleko gondola lift in her SUV, which was nice; if we really wanted to be ghetto, we could have used the city bus service that runs out there for all of 0.40 lev. With our new (used) ski equipment in hand, we stood in a 45-minute-long line, not for the lift itself—they were letting every other gondola go up empty—but just to buy the ticket. [Sarcasm alert] Due to our keen insight and extensive education in business processes, we noted that they could easily double the utilization of this expensive high-speed gondola lift by simply employing a second cashier. The day was filled with similar observation, but as this company is not our client, we made no recommendations.
The gondolas took us over fields and meadows, up and down hills (mostly up, of course), through two mid-stations (which I’ve never seen on a high-speed lift), and eventually to the base of the ski resort on Cherni Vrah. Here we found a jumble of (mostly broken down) lifts. No chair lifts were running; only a few Poma lifts, and T-bars. For the ones that were running, there were lines snaking down 20-30 minutes. I say “down” because the line actually crept uphill to the lift. On the t-bar that takes you up to (nearly) the top of the mountain, we would notice 2 or even 3 positions go by because the actual t-bar was missing. On the remaining “good” ones, the rope that the t-bar is attached to was noticeably frayed; it seems like when the rope breaks on one of these, they just continue with the remaining positions—no maintenance! Again, we determined the problem is they don’t charge enough (14 leva/day.) They can’t charge more because it is a crummy, run-down resort—hence the vicious cycle. Never the less, we got a couple of good runs in, and—despite what I just said—it is a beautiful mountain that towers above the grimy city below (the smog is very noticeable from above.)
What we saw on the slopes was the funniest though. One guy brought his German Shepard with him. This was a big, healthy, strong dog that was obviously enjoying the experience; he would run up behind his owner when he was being pulled up the hill, and the run back down as he skied back down. Waiting in line at the lift, the dog would romp around and root in the snow; I couldn’t believe how fit this dog was! We also saw kids on sleds, people without skis walking around, and even some mountain bikers riding down the slopes!
One refreshing thing to see was a lack of pretentiousness that you find on US slopes where everyone has to have the newest/coolest equipment, clothes, and accessories regardless of their abilities. I have never seen so much outdated ski equipment. If you wonder where all the old skis went when the “shaped ski” revolution took over in the early 90’s, I think I found your answer: Eastern Europe.
Ryan went skiing in Borovets on Sunday (about 40 miles away.) he said it was a much nicer resort; I’ll have to check it out next.
[UPDATE] I take back all the “ghetto” references; my experience was state-of-the-art compared to my fellow Corps member, Lorenz Wild. I just read his blog about his first time skiing in Kyrgyzstan (click here and scroll down to January 23rd; the part about skiing is about a third of the way into the post—Lorenz can be a little long-winded.) It’s amazing how relative our experiences are when compared across the globe! If nothing else, I am learning just how blessed I really am.