How I Learned to Splitboard in Rhodope Mountains, Bulgaria

Off Piste Slope in Pamporovo

Split, Eat, Sleep, Repeat… And don’t forget to soak your tired muscles in wild hot springs afterwards! International travel in 2020 / 2021 has been beyond difficult and quite limited and the majority of ski resorts in Europe didn’t even open making ski season 2020-2021 almost non-existent. However local adventure is definitely possible and we can indulge in things we have always wanted to do but never had the time for! Splitboarding, ski touring and backcountry riding in Bulgaria have been on my list to try for the last two winters since I returned from the US. (Oh wait, I haven’t been in Bulgaria last two winters – exactly my point!!!) So following the motto “If not now, then when” I indulged myself in a split boarding weekend deep into the Rhodope Mountains of Bulgaria with one of my favorite mountain guides and badass photographers (Also PC – @yarekchepurnoy @dronche)

I don’t splitboard (or least I didn’t until last month), I don’t own ski touring gear and I live 3 hours away from the Rhodope Mountains in a different ski resort… How could I make it to Restart Zona 82 Pamporovo by 6am for a sunrise split boarding mission? How could I go to Perelik for off piste riding all weekend? Those were the questions going through my mind all winter while my friends kept asking – “What is so special about that other ski resort? You already live in the biggest and highest ski area on the Balkans (Bansko). Why make the extra effort?”

Well, if you are still asking, it means you haven’t seen the Rhodope Mountains in winter and you haven’t met the local people. “Родопата, тя не е просто планина, чедо, тя е майка, тя е магия, и лете и зима. Да я обхождаш и изследваш е като да се учиш да обичаш. А Родопчаните, чедо, са най-гостоприемните хора с широка душа необятна като майката планина!” Thank you for guiding us into the deep corners of the Rhodope and letting us explore the hidden folds of its soul.

What life has taught me during many years of nomad living and traveling around the world is that gear you can rent, car you can borrow, new skills you can learn, but time you don’t get back. So if you really want something, chase your dreams like you mean it – you will never forget the people you met along the way and the experienceс you lived through together! And you bet I will never forget my first weekend split boarding in the Rhodope Mountains, doing 3 uphill missions a day sunrise to sunset, riding fresh pow up to my knees and still smiling at the end!

That weekend in Perelik, British Columbia (oh wait I meant Perelik, Rhodope Mountains) Mother Nature delivered sun, snow and stunning views over the Rhodope Mountains Sea all the way to Greece to the south and to Botev Peak some 200kms to the north. I don’t know which weather Gods our guides from are praying to but after that weekend forecast I might as well turn religious! The adventure was incredible, even though we were complete beginners. We would hike up for 40min, learn about the terrain and the area, practice new skills such as kick turns and zig zagging when hiking steep slopes, then switch to ride more on top, assemble our splitboards, enjoy the incredible views and then ride down.
Split, rest, ride, repeat – now do that 3 times a day every day!

What is split boarding?

Last but not least, for all of you getting acquainted with the term for the first time – split boarding is the miracle child of ski touring and snowboarding 🙂 Your snowboard is split in half by “manufacturing defect” enabling you to use it as touring skis on the way up (with skins glued to the bottom so it doesn’t slide backwards) and enjoy the (sweaty) benefits of uphill travel then reassemble it into a proper backcountry snowboard and ride it down fresh snow floating with gusto and enjoying the natural terrain 🙂 Once you experience the beauty of off piste riding and the peace and quiet of the backcountry, you are hooked for life – split, ride, rest, repeat!

At least I was hooked and after that first weekend in the Rhodope Mountains “beginner no more” I signed up for split boarding missions every week in Rila and Pirin! Little did I know what I would get myself into very next weekend when “all the gear no idea me” happened to do 25km on split board following international route E4 along the ridges of Rila National Park (which ended with no blood but plenty of sweat and tears). Many missions later, I can assemble a split board in record time, know my uphill limits and don’t drop terrain with more than 30 degrees angle if I want to smile till the end!

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