I stand on a snow-capped mountain in Bulgaria, nervously gazing at the misty drop in front of me.
Above me, avid skiers and snowboarders leap onto the icy slope.
Below, my ever-patient instructor, Krassimir, waves his arms in the air, bellowing the instructions: “Remember, go down, stick, go up and turn.”
I take a deep breath and count to three. One, two, two and a half. . . now!
I launch forward and my skis slide down the slope before pulling them around a turn, repeating my desperate routine over and over again until, finally, I made it, out of breath, safe at the bottom .
I am here in Borovets, Bulgaria’s number one ski resort, for a week of skiing – an activity not the second, not even the third, kind to my trembling Australian knees.
Bulgaria might not be the first country that comes to mind when you think of winter wonderland. But I can tell you this: it’s breathtaking.
Now a hot spot for ski fanatics, Bulgaria’s winter slopes are a cheaper alternative to the more traditional French Alps – and it’s a great place to learn, with plenty of beginner slopes.
Thanks to my expert instructor, I soon join the dozens of people rolling down the scenic mountain.
Even when you’re not skiing, the views alone are reason enough to visit.
Snow-capped pines stretch over a mass of mountains which, on a sunny day, sparkle with snowflakes in profusion.
Just when I thought I had seen it all, we board a gondola and slowly ascend to the top of Musala.
Rising 2,925m above the mountains and Rila National Park, swathes of countryside stretch beneath its countless slopes.
A scenic ten-kilometer stretch through mighty Bulgarian fir trees brings us back to the newly renovated Rila Hotel, a modern all-inclusive spot in the heart of the action.
Rooms are cozy with brightly patterned rugs and wood decor that give it a cottage feel, while the spa is airy with rows of indoor lounge chairs overlooking the green forest.
In the lobby, families soothe their muscles by an open fire, sipping cups of hot chocolate as the hotel’s five bars and restaurants prepare for an aprÃ¨s-ski night.
With excellent snow, affordable hotels and stunning scenery, it’s no wonder Bulgaria has become a prime location for ski holidays.
In recent years, some of its stations have also been given a facelift with new elevators and quality restaurants.
But it’s not all about leads.
FLAME NIGHT WALK
Take a trip to Kotvata Hot Springs or go for a nighttime torchlight walk through snow-capped forests, where you’ll hear local tales, including the story of a gypsy who became queen.
Children are in their element, alternating between ski school on the slopes and evening activities and craft sessions at the hotel.
One afternoon, we even hopped on roaring Ski-Doo snowmobiles to haul ourselves up into the mountains to scenic Black Rock before descending in time for dinner.
Bulgarian cuisine is not what you would call fine dining, but the local restaurants serve hearty dishes that will keep you full for a tiring day on the slopes.
If you like fine dining, Hotel Rila’s restaurant should do the trick, serving gourmet dishes of slowly cooked mountain trout with dill and butter potatoes and sous vide pork knuckles with sautÃ©ed root vegetables.
Make sure to book for a massage while you’re here too. Your tense muscles will thank you for it after a week of skiing.
Back on the peaks, I gaze at the still mountains, the sun reflecting off the untouched snow.
Despite my nervous turns and yapping as I hurtle down the mountain, this is the most fun I’ve had in a long time.
GO TO: BULGARIA
STAY / ARRIVE: Seven night half board at the 4H Rila Hotel in Borovets starts at Â£ 531 per person, including flights from Gatwick in January and March.
The package includes ski passes and discounted ski passes for seven-night stays, departing January 7 and 14 as well as March 11, 18 and 25. See balkanholidays.co.uk.