Ontario's Mark Chmil and Mark Goodall found themselves in one of snowboarding's most unlikely places last winter: The heart of Bulgaria. This is their story.
It was early fall of last year that Mark Goodall brought up going snowboarding in Bulgaria to visit the guys from Stinky Socks, an idea that sounded cool but it didn’t really seem realistic. Not only because Europe is on the other side of the world but I had only heard of Bulgaria a couple of times, and definitely not because of snowboarding. However, after convincing our parents we weren’t going to be sold to the underground sex trade, January came around and we were on a flight to Munich and then to Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria.
We arrived in Sofia to what we were told were a couple of the nicest days of the year. 20°C (68°F) weather and sunshine. Not the most promising when you’re there to snowboard. The first days we spent exploring the city with Hristo Petkov, the owner of Stinky Socks. He was an awesome guide, showing us all of the essential historic sites along with his own opinions and facts you wouldn’t normally get being a tourist.
Eventually we packed up the car and headed up to Pamporovo Ski Resort, one of the biggest resorts in Bulgaria.
This place was wild. 95% skiers, police officers checking passes, ski in and out food joints. It was crazy. The first day we cruised the mountain and met all of the Pamporovo park guys. They were extremely nice people and really down to help us set up whatever we could think of on the hill, in the park or not. Shout out to them!
I hate to use the term soul shredder but thats exactly what these people were, the current trends in North America hadn’t quite started influencing snowboarding in Bulgaria and they definitely weren’t following the newest videos coming out. Boarders boarding. It was a really nice change. The first few days were spent riding the minimal snow they had kept from previous snow falls. But a few nights in we lucked out and it snowed harder and longer then I had ever seen before. The next morning we woke up and the Ninja Squad dudes showed us what the mountain really had to offer. That was the first and last powder day of my season, one of the best days ever.
A common occurrence in Bulgaria is taking money from the government to build commercial buildings and cop out as construction gets going to take the money and get out of there. But for us this meant a ton of abandoned structures that we could snowboard on without any problems.
These spots were all over the place—every third building would be completely abandoned. If you ever do find yourself in Eastern Europe, go to Pamporovo, there is a lot more then just the ski runs. It’s the best. A week was spent exploring the whole area and then it was time to hit the road and head north.
One of the most exciting spots we hit was the Buzludzha Monument, a symbolic home for Bulgarian Socialists in the mid-20th century. Its main use was a secret meeting place for Communists. But it is more commonly referred to as a UFO or the Spaceship.
Being able to visit this place—let alone snowboard inside of it— was definitely one of the coolest things I have ever done in my life. There was incredible art around the entire central meeting room. All created with broken tile, it was really interesting not really knowing what everything meant.
There was a history lesson everywhere we looked and our Bulgarian friends were happy to enlighten us.
After spending hours exploring the Spaceship it was time to head out to Gabrovo, the hometown of Hristo and Dimo from Stinky Socks. The huge amount of snow that fell up in the mountains at Pamporovo also made its way to Gabrovo. This is when we really started to notice the differences between filming in Bulgaria and Ontario. We were all snowboarding on a drop at the central square of Gabrovo, right infront of a very important building. Equivalent to snowboarding at Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
No one was upset by what we were doing, not one time were we discouraged to continue, it was a crazy feeling to be welcome there. As our trip was coming to an end we headed back to Sofia, Risto was told that some of the snow made it all the way back to the city. It wasn’t much but it we still got to get all the Bulgarian Stinky and Ninja Squad guys together and have a really good time in one of the parks downtown Sofia.
All in all Mark and I had an amazing time snowboarding in Bulgaria, we really lucked out with the snow. Apparently it was the only couple weeks of the winter when there was any. Thanks to all the people who made our stay a really great one, Hristo, Dimo, Mihail, Ivo, Nikolay and everyone else!