Where? Bukovel, Ukraine.
When? February 2019.
With whom? Martin, Rhys, and Dan.
Why did we decide on the Ukraine? During half term, the Alps are so rammed with people and beginner children snowploughing down the red and black runs that we want to ski. There’s so many people that you can hardly move on the pistes and it never feels like you get much skiing in. Ask the seasonnaires, they never ski during half term because it’s unpleasant.
Being restricted by these holidays, we looked at alternatives such as Bulgaria, which used to be the cheap area in Europe to ski but flights were so expensive! We searched until we found a combination of decent-looking resort (sufficient number of red and black runs) and affordable flights until we found Bukovel in the Ukraine, and here’s why you should consider it:
1) It’s very very cheap
This point comes threefold.
First, the essentials of a ski trip: lift passes for the week were 100GBP and ski hire of last season’s gear was £16 for the week. Insanely cheap! When you go to ski hire, you will need some form of ID which acts as a deposit.
Accommodation was also very cheap. We stayed in Gans Hotel which is basically a wooden castle. It had a boot room, a shower with many exciting nozzles, and was less than a five minute walk to the lift.
The second is the food was inexpensive. Picture yourself at the top of a glacier with panoramic views of the mountain, having a six inch juicy pulled pork wrap, dripping bbq sauce out of the side of the toasted tortilla. It cost £3.
The third is drink. Hot wine (they call it this) is consistently 60 UKR across the mountain – less than £2, but more importantly, vodka goes for about £1 a shot, sometimes less.
2) The standard shot measure is 50ml, not 25ml.
This was wonderfully dangerous. Each shot we bought in Ukraine was double the liquid of what we would receive in London and a sixth of the price. This had us inspired to fine everyone a shot each time they fell over.
We asked for 25ml shots instead but Ukrainians are sticklers for the rules so did not oblige. We quickly adapted our rules: if we fell twice in one run, we would be fined a (double) shot of spirit, usually vodka. This was more fair on Rhys who was a beginner snowboarder on his first ever trip. This did not stop us from taking him down red and black runs on his first day on a mountain.
The alternative spirit we used was homebrewed by each establishment. We could never get an exact strength percentage for that reason but we knew it ranged from 45-55%, and definitely warmed us up!
I am sure you can imagine that this game made for a few slipsy runs. Slipsy = slightly tipsy.
For breakfast each morning, we headed to Flivarok which has a 30% discount before 11am. We had a routine: first lift of the day at 8.30am followed by black run after black run after black run until 10.30am, when we would head for breakfast. By this point, the boys already owed shots. We bought 16 shots between us (remember these are 50ml each), a main meal and a beer each, which came to the equivalent of £7.50 each.
3) There’s not an audible groan when people hear the British accent.
This is probably because there haven’t been enough Brits visiting to ruin it for the Ukrainians yet. For us, people were excited to hear that we were from the UK because it’s apparently so rare. Most locals were gagging for a chance to practise their English that they learned in school, which worked very well for us and our limited knowledge of Ukrainian.
Also, the Ukrainians focus their hatred on the Romanians, Bulgarians, and Polish, so we were okay with not being the most hated nationality for once. It allowed us to make friends with the locals much more easily!
We met a girl called Anastasya, who found our shots endearing so came out for drinks with us on Thursday and Friday evening.
4) It’s not full of tourists.
It’s always nice to venture off the beaten track a little but this was extreme. Everyone here seemed to be a local or Ukrainians from further afield on a day trip. This gave us a much more authentic feel to our trip.
5) Evening ski.
The lift pass includes evening ski, where some of the runs are lit up with floodlights until 7.30pm. I have unofficially evening skied in the Alps after drinking the sunset away at a bar on the piste then having to make my way down a red in complete darkness, and it was a lot easier in the Ukraine with floodlights. It gets cold once the sun sets so remember extra layers.
6) There are no green runs.
No green runs means that beginners are few and far between. This is not a steadfast rule, as we did come across some people haphazardly snowploughing their way down a couple of blues and even our favourite black run occasionally (we were not impressed). This made for a few entertaining wipeouts. We also came across a small child who had been dragged down a red and given by her screaming tantrum, she clearly didn’t want to be there.
Rhys handled the runs much more graciously, eye rolling when we told him we were going down another black run as we continued his baptism of fire. The words “It’s not *that* steep” came out of our mouths a lot in a bid to reassure him, but it really was.
7) Ukrainian cuisine.
Yum. Make sure you try salo, which is garlic and herb paste to spread on your bread. We found the garlic too strong but our Ukrainian friend assured us that it was normal. Borscht is a Ukrainian soup made mostly from beetroots with bits of fatty meat floating around.
We also had dumplings for breakfast containing a number of different delicious fillings such as mushroom and onion, cottage cheese and sour cream, or pork meatballs! We came back for more.
8) Asian Cuisine
Also delicious like the Ukrainian cuisine. I have no idea why but there is a big Asian influence in Bukovel, and the food is so delicious. Most places we looked at had some sort of sushi on the menu, but for the best food go the Lucky Bull. Here, we had a pad thai that actually tasted like pad thai rather than noodles in soy sauce, and ramen that similarly actually tasted like ramen as opposed to soy sauce soup. We were happy.
Whilst we mostly drank vodka shots and homemade spirits, we occasionally chased it with a beer or cocktail. Cocktails were very well made and shots in the Ukraine are 50ml, so they are very very strong. It helped with the cold temperatures and gave the boys a bit of Dutch courage.
10) The views.
There’s no doubt that the views in the Alps are absolutely stunning, but these views had a different kind of beauty. Each mountainside is clothed in green alpine trees that would occasionally have a light dusting of snow to give that extra Christmassy feel.
Having the trees line each run gave us an extra layer of protection from the brutally cold mountain winds that you usually find when skiing in bad weather.
11) The sexy bum cushions.
People everywhere were wearing a bum cushion that has two uses. The first is to keep you warm on the chair lifts, and the second is that it acts as padding if you fall. They’re very cheap too.
12) The activities.
Aside from skiing and boarding all day and into the evening, there are other activities available too. You can husky sledge, zip line, ice skate, and do a bicycle zip. We think this involves cycling across a wire over a valley. Each of these activities cost less than £10 and there is even a night market open for when the pistes close.
BONUS: They don’t care about Brexit.
Possibly because they don’t really know about it. Understandably, they’re far more interested in the state of Donbass and who has occupation in the war. It was nice to get away from the impending doom that is Brexit, and although we did get the occasional reminder of the whole embarrassing shambles through social media, it was definitely less in your face than when we are at home.
There are, of course, things that the Alps do better. The runs in the Alps are longer and there are many toilets available rather than one cubicle per bar. Once we were so desperate that we couldn’t bare the queue so we ditched our skis to find a hidden pee spot in the trees away from the run. There was a 4-5metre steep drop off the edge of the piste and at this point I envied the boarders’ shoes. Rhys went first, turning around to say “it’s fine!” as he slipped down the slope and accidentally somersaulted before faceplanting a tree. Laughing so hard did not help the wee situation.
In summary, we had a wonderful week. The people were fantastic, the food was lethal, the pistes were fantastic, and the vodka was dangerous. The four of us have already agreed that we want to come back over and over again, although next year we might try skiing in Georgia. Let me know if you’re interested!
– Tipping culture is between 10 and 15% and is not included on the bill.
– Tap water is chemically drinkable but it is safer to boil first or buy bottled water.
– Ukrainian language is in cyrillic alphabet and it is worth learning a little before you go so that you can read road signs or menu items.
– “Spaciba” is thank you, “peevo” is beer and “boodgmoor” is cheers.