Since we all work remotely from different cities across Europe we all meet once or twice a year with everyone in the company to spend a couple of days together. Last summer we camped on the Bulgarian seaside which was an amazing experience and this winter we decided to go to the Rila Mountains. Below is a journal of what happend with the seven of us this January in the mountains.
Friday, 30 January - Getting Together
Sofia’s airport is located on high altitude surrounded by mountains often resulting foggy and windy weather, so turbulence is nothing new to passengers accustomed to the runways just a couple of km outside the capital. Still the applaud the crew received when the wheels of our jet hit the ground this time was nothing I heard before. Almost theatrical. This was the sketchiest landing I’ve been through so far. The wind dragged the small passenger plane a couple of times and pushed it side-wise tilting and drifting it for long seconds resulting dead silence amongst passengers. Apparently our plane was the last one allowed landing that evening, flights after ours were redirected elsewhere. At that moment I didn't know how the elements will play their games with us over the weekend.
After collecting my luggage and skis I headed outside to find a cab. As I entered the almost empty terminal hall Avi, his girlfriend Antonia and Balázs were waving a paper banner they prepared with a welcome note. After this pleasant surprise we drove to Avi’s place where we spent the night before hitting the road again to the mountains.
Saturday, 31 January - Day 1
Next day the entire team headed to Borovets which is a good hour drive to the south. I have been here once several years ago. Since then the place became very touristic and a lot less attractive destination. After a couple of rounds I was happy to return to the parking lot so we continue our way to the Rila Lakes where our accommodation for the next couple of days awaited us.
The Seven Rila Lakes is a nature preserve that consists of a group of lakes in the Rila Mountains. The skiing infrastructure is very limited. There is only one chair lift going up to the hut which is the only building around. From there you can take another drag lift to the top and that’s it. As for the downhill there is a single slope but limitless variations if you are into riding in the woods. If you are planing on going to this resort take into consideration that the chair lift is not operational in windy weather conditions and the wind blows quite a lot out here.
We arrived to the bottom of the slopes just before dusk and realised that the lift was not running. Actually the lift was not operational throughout the entire day which was the reason why we went to Borovets in the first place. As it turned out we just postponed the inevitable. An ascent of about 550 meter vertical hight was ahead of us with our ski and snowboarding gear plus enough stuff to spend at least the first night in the hut.
I just got myself into ski touring not long ago so I had the basic equipment including a ski touring binding, climbing skins and a headlight coupled with very limited practical experience. Avi had the same gear and more or less the same level of experience, meaning that we both tried ourselves once or twice on similar terrain. The only difference was that this time we dragged five people into this without any idea how they will take going uphill for hours.
After quickly sorting what to take from the trunk of our cars we started our ascent. Just to indicate the scale of the challenge we were all facing, this was the first time of the day Ivo was silent for over a minute and to put it mildyl Ivo is very talkative most of the time.
To cut the long story short with a couple of stops the climb took us 3 hours and almost all of hour energy reserves. We all had moments of doubt on the way but seeing the first blinking lights of the hut in the snow fall was rewarding. I was proud of all of us for making it but undobtedly Zlatan was the one making the biggest effort amongst all of us. The experience was something we will all remember for a long time, I’m sure about that.
Sunday, 1 February - Day 2
After a good night sleep we all got up ready for a snow day, however the ski lifts did not run again. Instead we had a calm breakfast in the restaurant of the hut which also functions as a communal area specially in the evenings or in bad weather. What I like about this place the most is that the rough conditions work as a filter allowing mostly 'mountain people' in here. Whoever makes the effort to climb up and bare with the Spartan conditions must have some sort of an intimate relation with nature and respect for the mountain. It’s an ever changing small community temporarily stuck together but the vibe is always good, everyone says hi to each other and people exchange information about snow and weather conditions or just tell anecdotes to each aother.
Around mid day we got some good news. The lifts were running temporarily. We quickly geared up and headed out knowing that even if the lifts are currently running we might have to walk up again in case weather changes to the worse. By the time we got out it was already late in the afternoon so we had one run with the lift. The snow was good and we where happy to be out. When we all came up to the top station most of the team decided to call it a day not risking another round ending with a hike uphill once again.
With Avi we decided to go down once more. By the time we got to the bottom of the slope the lift stopped, but this was no disappointment to us. We both wanted the hike anyway. After putting on the skins we started our ascent. We had a lot less weight to carry this time, we were rested and we had enough liquid with us for the whole time of the climb unlike the previous evening. The ascent was a much nicer experience this time and I just hope that the guys will give this another shot some other time setting the bar gradually with proper gear and planning. If they give this another shot I’m sure they will love it and get hooked on it in no time.
Monday, February 2 - Day 3
This was the finest day of the entire trip. There was fresh powder all over, almost nobody on the slope and the lifts were running throughout the day. We did the first couple of runs on the slopes drawing our lines in the powder, then we went deeper and deeper in the woods with every single round. Balázs, Mirko and Sve got a real taste for this. Mirko even experimented with jumps and Balázs got comfortable with fat skis that are essential on a powder day.
This was our last day here and we originally planned on leaving early afternoon, but we had so much fun that we kept adding one last ride and another until the lift closed. Then we met Zlatan who practiced relentlessly those turns all day long at the lower section of the slope and Ivo who could not ride with us this time because of a past injury.
After freeing the cars from the snow we headed back to Sofia. On our way back we stopped for a quick karting race. Balázs and Mirko are rivals in any kind of challange and usually the teasing that comes after entertains the whole team for a while :)
The day ended with a nice meal at Raketa, a restaurant themed with the communist era.
Tuesday, February 3 - Goodbye
This was my last day in Sofia. The team met in Bethause which is a shared coworking space. We had a live streamed event which was managed by Sve and Ivo from our side. The rest of us checked our emails and did some work while waiting for the event to be over. Avi and I also had a chat with Ivo and Sve individually which is somethign we do most of the time when we meet phisically.
When the streaming was over Avi and Zlatan departed to Varna. Zlatan lives there and Avi went to see his daughter, Aleph.
The highlight of the day was visiting an escape room, called 3 Key Rooms. By resolving one mind game after the other we freed ourselves in about 45 minutes.
After this our ways departed. Balázs and I met again with Ivo for a couple of drinks in the evening where Lyubo, an old friend joind us. I had an hour left for sleeping before going to the airport.
This was probably our best team building yet. Thanks to Avi and Ivo who took care of most of the organisation and logistics!
Looking forward to the next time we all meet :)