“We’re going to Bulgaria, are you in?”
Now, we don’t know if these were the exact words that came out of Burton CEO Donna Carpenter’s mouth, but this is the gist of what she asked fifteen women involved in the snowboarding industry. And when Donna asks you to go on a snowboarding trip, you say yes.
Thrilling? Yes. Once in a lifetime? For sure. But visiting Bulgaria wouldn’t be like a trip to Disney World. When people talk about snowboarding in Europe, a location that usually slips under the radar is Bansko, one of Bulgaria's wintertime playgrounds. Home to bears, wolves, and more, the wild mountains of Bansko are untamed… which happens to make them an amazing place to go backcountry snowboarding. Countless turns, hours of dancing, and one (briefly) missing person later, we can confirm it was the trip of a lifetime. (More on that missing person later.)
The women who joined Donna were from all over the world, and every member of the crew brought their own story to the table: Sofia grew up in Kenya and is now addicted to snowboarding. Lucie, from Czech Republic, fought her way to the top as one of the very few female reps in the industry. Alexandra is a legendary snowboarder in Bulgaria and, because of her spirit and personality, is a role-model for women of all ages in Eastern Europe. Anna, a Burton Team rider from Austria, started snowboarding 10 years ago and has made history progressing women's riding. Despite many of them meeting for the first time, the whole crew instantly got along. Snowboarding and a shared passion for the outdoors tend to bond people together like that.
On their first day of the trip, they were surprised by being offered snowmobiles instead of the customary snow cats. Instead of cruising slowly up the slope in an enclosed and fully tracked vehicle, small groups of girls were whizzed up the rural mountains in the open air. Exhilarated, they arrived in the middle of nowhere, hiked some smaller peaks, and finally cruised through the tree-spiked snowscapes of Bansko.
Home to bears, wolves, and more, the wild mountains of Bansko are untamed… which happens to make them an amazing place to go backcountry snowboarding.
The unexpected twists didn’t stop there. Later in the trip, Sofia misunderstood the guide’s direction and took a wrong turn in the backcountry, ending up far from the rest of the crew. With the resort closed, no clear signage, and no one around, she had to find her own way back to the group. As a relatively new snowboarder without backcountry experience, you could say this was a true adventure.
“I had no phone, wallet, or ID, and anxiety threatened to overshadow my survival instincts. When it came down to it, I knew I had to stay calm,” says Sofia. “I got tired, I started talking to myself. When I got thirsty, I ate snow. I shouted and made noise to scare away any animals as I made my way back up the mountain.” After hours of hiking, circling back, more hiking, and gallons of adrenaline, Sofia finally found the crew.
“The thrill of being found at last was exquisite,” she said. “No matter how drastically we lose our line, we can always trace our way back.”
“I had no phone, wallet, or ID, and anxiety threatened to overshadow my survival instincts. When it came down to it, I knew I had to stay calm.”
When celebrating at dinner in a historical, local restaurant that night, a Bulgarian band accompanied by four traditionally-dressed singers entertained the group – another surprise. Our photographer, Jesse, shed tears because the whole experience was "so joyful and unreal." When Donna was asked to dance, all the women joined in. The restaurant was immediately turned into the most fun night club in Bulgaria. Everyone danced like there was no tomorrow, celebrating life, new friends, and taking turns together.
On the last day, the crew hoped for a change of scenery, but the resorts were already closed to the public. After talking with (ahem, bribing) the right locals, they were allowed into the actual resort of Bansko, where the national Bulgarian ski team practice. This was a match made in heaven, as the skiers stuck to one single slope, and the 16 women had all the runs on the entire mountain to themselves. Did we mention there was a solid foot of fresh pow?
They shredded every possible run until everything was tracked. It was a full day of perfect snowboarding conditions. Alexandra told us that “sharing these powerful elements with such inspiring women was pure joy.” All in all, the trip served as a reminder of how great it is to leave your home resort to discover new paths and new friends. And as Sofia said, “It is our choice how we deal with the unexpected. I made the most of it, and it was unforgettable.”