Azuga & Romanian skiing

Azuga-Romania-1

Start the year as you mean to go on: with a rant.

The Bucharest Life New Year’s Eve destination of choice this year was Azuga, best known to most people as one of those places through which traffic crawls on the way to or from Brasov.

There has been skiing at Azuga since 2002, when a chair-lift was installed, replaced by a gondola in 2009. A couple of short poma lifts compliment the gondola. The skiing follows the well-worn Romanian pattern: one run either side of the gondola and a couple of nursery slopes served by poma lifts at the bottom. There is an easy but wide and rather fun piste at the very top (served by another poma lift), but it only appears to open when there is no snow lower down, if at all.

Very much closed.
Very much closed

Prices for this rather modest ensemble are – as we have now come to expect of Romanian ski resorts – extortionate. A ticket for ten rides up in the gondola (good for about half a day’s skiing) costs a whopping 180 lei. A huge amount of money for which you get one gondola lift, a couple of pomas and three pistes (one closed). Compare that with what is often considered the world’s most expensive ski resort, Courchevel, where a day’s lift pass costs €36.70. In exchange you get more than 150kms of piste served by 58 lifts.

The two runs from the top of the gondola at Azuga are relatively long (by Romanian standards) and in decent weather and with good snow cover (as we enjoyed on New Year’s Day, when the slopes had the added bonus of being empty) you can have fun here: it’s not all bad.

New Year's Day, when the slopes were empty. It certainly isn't all bad news at Azuga
New Year’s Day, when the slopes were empty. It certainly isn’t all bad news at Azuga

Both runs are far from easy and not really accessible to beginners. This does not stop dickheads in jeans who have clearly never skied before from strapping on a pair of skis (or a snowboard) and having a go, often with a couple of fufe in tow.

Being a vaguely responsible parent however (and we do emphasise the word vaguely) we were keen to see how Son of Bucharest Life handled the lower part of one of the runs (accessible via a poma lift) before we let him loose from the top. Off we went then, with our newly purchased lift passes, to the poma.

And that’s when the problems started.

As we tried to insert our lift passes into the drag lift’s electronic turnstile, it became immediately apparent that they didn’t fit. An operative came over to see what was going on.

He politely explained to us that the lift pass we had bought at the gondola was not in fact valid on this particular lift. When we tried to explain that this was absurd, he shrugged and said ‘this isn’t Austria.’

Clearly not.

One map, two lift passes
One map, two lift passes

Remarkably, this situation is not unique to Azuga – Sinaia, Paltinis, Straja and Vatra Dornei all have a similar problem – but it is, we think, unique to Romania. We have skied in more countries than we care to remember yet only in Romania have we had to buy two different lift-passes to ski in one resort. It’s ridiculous, and a perfect example of what’s wrong with Romanian tourism: a total lack of joined-up thinking.

As a group of seventeen, we chose Azuga because we were able to find a villa big enough to accommodate all of us. We shan’t be returning. A proper ski holiday awaits at the end of January (in Ischgl, where just one lift-pass is required).

Romania meantime needs to do a lot more to ensure it does not get left behind. We have written about all this before, many times. The country has mountains, snow and could be home to at least two or three half-decent ski resorts if the political will existed. Alas, Ministers of Tourism of all stripes have taken a piecemeal attitude to the development of Romania’s skiing infrastructure. A lift and a piste have been built here, another there. In some cases the location has been chosen on purely political criteria (the local mayor or county prefect usually being a loyal servant of the ruling party at the time) with little regard for details such as access or reliable supplies of snow. This graphic from Business Magazine plots most of them. Note the pattern: lots of tiny, one-lift resorts of little interest to anyone except locals.

The only real exception is Poiana Brasov, where government money was recently spent wisely, although even here you feel that a lot more could be done. If Romania is to ever have a mega ski resort, then Poiana is currently the likeliest candidate. We still think, however, that an entirely different location could be found. It would need to be easily accessible, snow-sure and offer a range of accommodation. We remain convinced that Sinaia has such potential (although the old cable car which closes in anything stronger than a stiff breeze would have to be the first lift replaced). Yet given Sinaia’s organisational problems (no fewer than three companies operate the lifts), we can’t see much progress here any time soon. That’s why finding an entirely new site is preferable. Voineasa/Transalpina/Vidra is not it, by the way: it is more than 30km from the nearest accommodation and in bad weather is accessible only by the most nimble of four-wheel drives. Another waste of money.

If per chance you do know of a possible location for Romania’s first proper ski resort, let the Ministry of Tourism know. Possibly on the back of a postcard from France, Switzerland or Austria.

Azuga Gondola

  • Mr Rearguard

    Does anyone here like to play ice hookey or did play in their younger days?

  • Crae

    Bulgaria has good skiing. Bankso and Pamporovo are a good value and well-developed. Pity Romania can’t get it together yet.

  • In Ischgl you have a single skipass for 2 freakin’ countries.

    • 🙂 If the Samnaun link is open… often isn’t.

  • Radu

    The other poma (for Cazacu) also has its own pass. This is because there are three cable operators; the local council operates the poma and magic carpet on Sorica, Romenergo (which you may have heard about thanks to Dragos Bilteanu), while the Cazacu facilities are operated by a former mayor in Azuga.

    It’s all an amazing mishmash that has tremendous potential, but cannot go further thanks to politics (until recently, snow cannons were places only as high as the Sorica poma so it only helped the poma and not the chairlift/gondolo).

    Still, a four-hour pass is the best deal. Despite queues and getting there around 11, one ca manage around 10 runs 🙂

    • It gets worse! I am no great fan of the state (any state) but this is a perfect example of cowboy capitalism where the state needs to step in to create a little order. You will not find more than one lift operator in US ski resorts – state legislation sees to that, ensuring that consumers get the best deal.

      • Mr Rearguard

        I don’t know why you bother. It will never change, ever. All you are doing is setting yourself up for a big disappointment. Now you wrote somewhere that you have lived in Romania for almost 20 years so you should in all honesty know better. Now allow me to tell you how I manage to get around being, how can I put it…? royally ripped off. Firstly, if I want efficiency, I go to Germany. If I want subtlety, I go to Italy. If I wish to bathe in the sea I go to Greece and I if to want to drink real ale with peasants I go to England. As for the rest, I can find that all here in Romania.

        • Roger

          100% agree with rearguard … You moan a lot and yet if you have lived in Romania you should know what things can be like by now! Things may change, but not at a fast rate and you could probably write 10 articles a day on your frustrations with Romania or ANY countries deficiencies … A mix of liberal leftie and your desire for state control on things you want smacks of EUssr communism !

      • anon

        I don’t think the transport infrastructure is in place yet to accommodate a large influx of overseas tourists that may be attracted by a new resort.
        As for the slopes, it simple seems that the operators are happy to chase well off Romanian’s and residents of Romania with little thought to future operations. Better to get 180 lei from half a day’s pass now instead of thousands of lei from repeat business over the years.
        With Romania I’m afraid we will just have to wait maybe a decade or so for the market to work it’s way since no-one can be expected to step in an regulate.

        • Mr Rearguard

          Remember Beverly Hills Cop when Eddie Murphy was staying at a top notch hotel and he ordered room service to be delivered to a car out in the street? That’s what I do, sleep in my motor and have room service come out to me.

        • Roger

          @anon of course their is enough transport infrastructure to enable a reasonable influx of tourists … direct trains from GDN, International Airport, taxi, auto gara, hire cars, highway from buc to bras region etc etc ……. You clearly have a lack of respect for Romania with your crass comments.

          • anon

            Sorry Roger, where exactly is the highway from Bucharest to Brasov? Last time I drove from Bucharest to Brasov it was a 3.5 hour drive along twisty mountain roads and traffic jams at Sinia. This is without a major influx of tourists which would just make congestion worst.
            I’ve said for YEARS that a proper highway to Brasov is essential for development of that region and for greater accessibility for tourists. Thankfully, due to EU funding Romania may finally get this road.
            As for trains, they are not much faster.

            You clearly have a lack of respect for education given the crap that comes out of your brain.

          • Roger

            @anon I make a counter opinion and you resort to childish abuse as usual? You really are an unpleasant individual who can’t accept others have valid opinions too ………. The highway from buc to bras region was more than acceptable last time I drove on it, also many mountain and resorts are a challenge to get too, surely anyone well traveled or a basic grasp of geography would realise that?

            Train was fine and actually one of the best/fastest and frequent services from GDN as it happens and the airport at Otopeni is fine, so not sure why such a scathing attack on Romania, you unplesant racist homophobe.

          • Roger

            @anon …. Romania CAN improve it’s own roads without the help of the EUssr …… surely a democratic Romanian government elected by the Romanian people is best to help it’s own country and hopefully in iohnnis and this new found desire for more democracy and free of corruption – can see change but I realise it will take decades to change significantly … Countries do not need the EUssr to dictate and rule, Romania and UK can cope just fine thanks.

          • anon

            *shakes head and walks away*
            You’re a joke. Seriously.
            Go back to school.

          • Roger

            @anon …… You have abused and called me a joke etc etc for some time now, and yet you continue to engage, so what does that make you? 🙂

            You are not always right and your beloved EUssr has faults …… Your knowledge on Romanian infrastructure is poor and you seem either not very well traveled or naive in relation to mountain areas and ease of access …… not all non man made tourist attractions have a motorway, tren or metro right to the heart, but most normal people already knew that anyway:)

          • Mr Rearguard

            ” Last time I drove from Bucharest to Brasov it was a 3.5 hour drive along twisty mountain roads and traffic jams at Sinia. This is without a major influx of tourists which would just make congestion worst.”………….No tourists? You mean to say that you drove the short distance from Bucharest to Brasov in a ridiculous time of 3.5 hours and you didn’t share the road with any other tourists??? Who were these other motorists then eh? Locals nipping out for a pint of milk, all happy to spend 3 hours driving 1 km for a pint of milk from their local paki shop?

          • anon

            Woger, you’re amusement when I’m bored for 5 min on the tram; nothing more, nothing less. It’s funny to watch the monkey dance.

          • Roger

            @anon, if you were telling the truth (which you’re not) you’d practically have to live on a tram 🙂

            Claim it’s nothing, but then why the abuse, insults, anger, spamming links etc etc …… You don’t half go to a lot of trouble for a bloke who’s a ‘monkey’ and poorly educated and basically thick!

            Seems you constantly undermine your OWN argument 🙂 How well educated did you say you were lol

          • Roger

            @anon … So you said the ‘twisty mountain roads’ … Generally roads in a mountain region ARE twisty lol … You also claim there WAS traffic, but you asked EVERY vehicle and they were all locals? You really are not as bright as you try and make out, are you?

            The fact remains Brasov is hardly like getting to the moon … regular and quick (for Rom) trains, a highway (with twisty bits 🙂 and we also have an international airport in Romania now anon, it’s really not as backwards as you make out … Sure any country can improve, but why so many so called British people whingeing when surely IF you were experienced in Romanian life, it can be as frustrating as the next countries faults …….. Hardly as bad as some make out, at times!

          • anon

            Keep on dancing little monkey boy.

          • Roger

            @anon ……. if all you have left is to call me a childish name like a monkey then you really have lost any argument you ever thought you add … you are a typical throw toys out of the pram liberal leftie who clearly doesn’t understand politics or other points of view – and you’re a homophobe, and yet so called liberal?