It’s been a very good year’s skiing. Loads of snow and plenty of sunshine in both Romania and Italy. Son of Bucharest Life is now skiing at a level where he can keep up with his old man; next year he will leave us in his wake. We suffered our most spectacular fall in years this winter, when we went tumbling head first down the Ruia piste at Poiana Brasov. We fortunately got up laughing but may revise our no helmet policy ahead of next season.
Having put our ski gear away at the end of March (we skied Poiana Brasov on March 22nd and on our last run down the slopes looked like this) last week’s cold snap gave us the opportunity for a last, bonus day on the slopes. Son of Bucharest Life had been on at us for months to ski in Sinaia, and, tempted by the prospect of great snow, warm sunshine and the sheer thrill of skiing in Romania as late as April 22nd, we caved in. We will not do so again.
Regular readers will know that we have long had a less than coruscating opinion of Sinaia. The resort/town itself is an incongruous place, a bit of a mess if truth be told where every minute spent is a minute wasted. It’s accessible though, not 90 minutes by car or train from Bucharest.
Then there’s the skiing. At least ten years ago we wrote the following:
In good weather, with good snow, Sinaia offers Romania’s best skiing.
It’s true. The routes down the front face of the Bucegi range from 2000m to 1400m are tough but great fun – if you know the way: signposting is almost non-existent and they are not pisted – although there is rarely enough snow to enjoy them. The backside slopes of the Valea Dorului and Valea Soarelui are easy, and while rather short offer cruisey, choosy, sunshine skiing. On Saturday they were in amazing shape, glistening in the spring sunshine.
That’s the good news. The bad news? Just about everything else.
Sinaia ski resort is something of an almighty fuck up. While on paper it looks reasonably decent by Romanian standards, the map below does not tell the whole truth (click for the full-size version).
As we have written about in the past, Sinaia is not a single resort. It is two: one built on top of another. As such, two different companies operate the lifts, and while it is just about possible to ski most of the slopes with just one lift pass, most people choose the more useful gondola/Valea Soarelui lift pass, which means queues at those lifts on which it can be used (F, C, I and H on the above map) are long.
And note that there are queues not just for the lifts themselves. Even buying a lift pass last Saturday took one hour and 20 minutes.
Yep, we were at the gondola station at 1000m at 09:00 precisely. So were hundreds of others. And yet at the ticket office just one person was selling lift passes (even at full complement there would only be three). We had originally planned on buying the 09:00-13:00 lift pass. Given that we had already lost so much time we had to buy a more expensive four-hour ‘anytime’ ticket (still cheaper than the full-day pass though).
By the time we had ridden the two gondolas up to 2000m it was almost 11:00. We managed one run down the Valea Soarelui while the chairlift queue was manageable. Second time down queuing time was already a good ten minutes. Meantime, from what we could see there was no queue for the other, Valea Dorului chairlift (which is on the other lift pass).
We skied down to 1400m (there was enough snow): same thing. The queue for the gondola back up to 2000m was long (by this time of day skiers had been joined by hundreds of pantofari). And yet not ten metres from the gondola was a perfectly good chairlift back up to 2000m being used by nobody. Why? Because it is on the other lift pass. The cable car (also on the other lift pass) was likewise relatively queue free.
The gondola and the Valea Soarelui chairlift are owned and operated by Sinaia City Council. They have, to be fair, done a good job of trying to improve Sinaia as a ski resort (the hopelessness of the ticket office and location of the gondola base station – in the middle of nowhere – aside). The Valea Soarelui chairlift in particular has opened up a number of new pistes and they communicate via social media very well (as they need to: wind often closes the lifts. It is good to know the situation before setting off).
The cable cars and both the 1400m-2000m and Valea Dorului chairlifts are owned and operated by Teleferic SA, as are two drag lifts at the top of the resort (one of which is still shown on the piste map) which have not been used for decades.
We have asked Sinaia City Council if they have made efforts to come to an arrangement with Teleferic SA in order to offer skiers a combined lift pass valid throughout the resort, but they have so far not responded.
Sinaia’s predicament is a shame, for the place does have great potential: it always has. There is huge scope for expansion of the ski area across the snow-sure Bucegi plateau. Alas we will not be going back anytime soon, at least not at the weekend. Perhaps midweek Sinaia – like Poiana Brasov – is a queue-free paradise?
In the absence of some seriously unseasonal weather, it will now be next winter before we find out.