Skiing at Balea Lake

Skiing at Balea Lac, Fagaras mountains,February 2008. Neither my boyfriend nor I had ever used a guide before, so we didn’t really know what to expect, but if I had been asked to imagine what a perfect guide would be like, then Iulian would be it. Our relationship began a week before we met, via email, where Iulian responded quickly to my last minute request, patiently answered all my questions, and instantly solved all the problems I’d been worrying about. He made everything seem easy for us, because he was already doing all the hard work at his end. Even via email, it was easy to tell that Iulian was a trustworthy, honest guy, with a great sense of humour. We were only hiring him for a couple of days, but he was full of advice and helpful tips for the rest of our ten day holiday too. We first met Iulian in Brasov a few days before our trip to Balea. It was nice of him to give up his time to meet us, to finalise arrangements for the trip, but also to give us advice on how to spend our time in Brasov, including great knowledge of the ski resorts in the area. I was surprised when I asked him what he was doing over the next couple of days before our trip, and he replied “getting married tomorrow!” – I felt rather guilty to be dragging him away from his new wife to take us on our mountain trip, but he didn’t appear to mind! As we’ve never used a guide before, my boyfriend and I are quite used to travelling alone and getting by with very limited knowledge of the local language, and are very capable of doing this. However, it was really nice for a change to have someone to sort everything out for us, so all we had to do was relax and enjoy ourselves. At the start of our trip, we picked Iulian up in our very tiny, very noisy rental car in Brasov early in the morning, and travelled to the cable car which would take us up to Balea Lac. Iulian was a total gentleman from the start, carrying my skis for me (and anything else that he could manage), and waiting in the queue for the cable car, demanding that we sit down and relax! On arrival at the Balea Lac Cabana, Iulian set up a tab for us, sorted out our room, and ordered drinks – all stuff we could have done ourselves, but not as quickly, easily or as well, given that the staff there spoke limited English – it added to the relaxing experience. Iulian seemed to know everyone at the Cabana, and they were all pleased to see him – he’s obviously very well liked and respected. It was great having him with us at mealtimes, as the staff couldn’t do enough for him, so the service was excellent. Ariving at Balea Lac was amazing, it took my breath away. I was so overwhelmed by the beautiful landscape, it felt like we’d got out of the cable car in a different world! It really was stunning. Just being there is an unforgettable experience. After admiring the view over a cup of coffee, Iulian suggested we get ready to go out and practice skiing (boarding for my boyfriend). This was a bonus, as we’d only asked for one day skiing. We got ready and strapped the skis on to our backpacks, and set off across the frozen lake, and began the walk up the mountain opposite the cabana. Walking in the snow was really hard work, as the powder is 10-20cm deep, so it was quite an achievement to get to the point from which we would ski down. Walking up a mountain in the middle of this otherworldly winter wonderland was spectacular and exhilirating, we really loved it. Then it was time to ski back down – I’ve never skiied in powder before, and didn’t know what to expect. It was crazy! I was like a total beginner all over again, I couldn’t stay on my feet for more than thirty seconds that first day. The good thing is that at least it doesn’t hurt when you fall in 20 cm of powder! Iulian was fantastic – so kind, patient and encouraging despite my rubbish skiing. He never went far without turning around to check on me (I was generally on the ground!), and kept believing in me even when I didn’t believe in my own ability. When I finally made it to the bottom, we went straight back up for another go – when you have to walk back up the hill, it makes you appreciate coming back down even more! Despite my performance, It was a really enjoyable afternoon, and skiing off-piste was fantastic. The next morning, we set off on the 10km run down to the cable car station. I was quite apprehensive after my disasterous efforts the previous day, but Iulian was great at reassuring me. The first 5 km involved skiing down the valley, and was amazing. Iulian picked out the easiest routes to take me down, but pointed out more adventerous ways for my boyfriend to go. The weather was great, the valley was beautiful, and it was amazing to look back and see your own ski tracks on an otherwise blank canvas. There were some bits of the route that were too steep for me, and I walked/slid down, but that was fine, I’d expected it. I have a terrible fear of steep things, and my technique just goes out of the window when confronted with anything ‘too steep’ – maybe skiing’s not really for me, we joked that I should maybe take up sledging instead! The last half of the route we took was on the road. I really enjoyed this part, as it was a really gentle slope, which involved pushing along with the poles at some points, great exercise. However, it’s not recommended for boarders – my boyfriend had to walk for most of the time on the road, as the incline wasn’t enough in powder for the board to slide down. Not only was Iulian endlessly patient and professional out on the slopes, his service continued whenever we were in his company. We thought he went above and beyond what we expected a mountain guide to provide. All we had to do was turn up, Iulian did everything else for us! Not only is he great at his job, but he’s also brilliant company. His almost faultless English meant we could have proper conversations, and laugh and joke with him without any misunderstandings. He has a great sense of humour, and we had some interesting chats over dinner. He’s full of information about Romanian history and culture, and I found his stories about growing up under a communist regime particularly fascinating. If you’re looking for a mountain guide, you couldn’t find anyone better than Iulian. He plans things well, is very knowledgable about the mountains, and we felt very safe with him. He’s also great company, a really nice, easy-going guy (quite important if you’re going to spend a few days with someone). He provides a fantastic, personalised service, which I would recommend to anyone. Thanks Iulian for an unforgettable weekend, and a fantastic end to our holiday in Romania.

Natalie and Andy, Glasgow, Scotland, February 2008