Athenian Ski Touring at Parnassos, Greece

Post by blogger | January 18, 2016      
Louie at Parnassos.  You can access a large area of ski touring terrain by riding a modern gondola.

Louie at Parnassos. You can access a large area of ski touring terrain by riding a modern gondola, one-ride ticket is 8 euros. Keeping it real is easy, just stay at an authentic alpine club refuge you can ski to from the resort, or eschew the cable and tour under 100% human power. Your choice.

The Defner Refuge at Parnassos

The Defner Refuge at Parnassos. First built in 1923, with several remodels and additions since then. This time of year (January) you’d usually find a meter or more of snowpack. Interestingly, we were told that the snow does arrive in large dumps and the dry conditions can change to a fairly normal snowpack in a couple of days given a big storm coming off the surrounding water.

We didn’t exactly have a view of the Parthenon from our ski location at Parnassos (ski resort near Athens, Greece, see map below). Yet I couldn’t complain. Greece has a lack of snow at the moment, so getting up in elevation is key. Today, we rode the cable at Parnassos ski center for a quick hit of white vertical, where we climbed for turns above the lift termini (is that Greek?) and checked out sublime views: Gulf of Corinth to the south and Euboean Gulf to the northeast. I like places where you can ski above the sea, Greece does not disappoint in that regard.

Defner Refuge meal.

Defner Refuge meal.

Adding to the fun at Parnassos, while Greece does not have the thousands of mountain huts as those of the Alps, a few classic “refugio” are owned by the Greek Alpine Club. The M. Defner refuge is located off to the side of Parnassos Ski Center, in a backcountry area that’s as yet untouched by mechanized skiing. You can traverse into the refuge from the resort, or hike up from parking at snow-line (usually an hour maximum walk). Begun in 1923 as a small stone hut, Defner now sleeps a few dozen people, replete with solar and generator electricity, and wood heat (worth also noting that during winter, all supplies are carried in under human power, making this a truly ‘off the grid’ experience.)

Defner refuge prices vary according to your meal requirements and length of stay, but you should be able to get a bed and three squares a day for about $25/person/day. Warning, Hellenic hut food is addictive — the baked feta cheese alone will have you swooning — then they break out the bean and sausage “mountain soup.” We spent two nights. Hut operator and ski guide Kostis Papadakakis along with cook Demitri kept us joyful as we communed with Zeus on the heights. We should mention here that film maker Constantine Papanicolaou was kind enough to haul Louie and I around for a week and show us Greece without the wrong turns and false starts we’d have done on our own. Adventure travel without a guide can be fun, but we didn’t have many days to see things so it was nice to have Constantine help us focus.

If you want to combine a visit to Athens along with skiing, I do recommend utilizing Dafner refuge as well as the Parnossos lift access. This especially if you don’t have a lot of time to travel around the country. You can contact refuge operator and guide Kostis Papadakakis via his Facebook. He’ll get you all set up for a stay. Anyone doing ski travel in Greece should also contact Way Out Adventures for general advice as well as arranging guides, accommodations and transport.

Note: Despite the Greek marketing juggernaut that would have you believe the country is all about blue water, white sand and ancient statues, Greece is actually a mountain country with hundreds of options for ski touring. Apparently, some of the peaks are even waiting for first ski descents! Various guides and smart adventure travelers have known about this for years so I’m not raging about anything newly discovered, but it’s worth emphasizing that these ski opportunities exist and are way under utilized.

From the feta cheese to the potatoes, you'll get our fill anywhere in Greece you sit down for a meal.

From the feta cheese to the potatoes, you’ll get our fill anywhere in Greece you sit down for a meal.

Hiking a ridgeline of Parnassos, high above the Gulf of Corinth

Hiking a ridgeline of Parnassos, high above the Gulf of Corinth

The first day we found icy snow and wind,  foggy weather.

The first day at Parnassos we found icy snow, wind a and fog. We got out for a tour anyway but never caught the legendary views. Weather reports said that next day would clear, so instead of our planned extra day in Athens we hung at the refuge in anticipation of actually skiing above the Mediterranean seas.

A delicious Greek breakfast on a gorgeous bluebird morning.

A delicious Greek breakfast on a gorgeous bluebird morning.

Enjoying the views of Ionic sea and the Peleponese

Enjoying the views of the Ionic sea and the lands of the Peleponese.

Kostis had this Matsouka poster on his wall at home, it shows the northerly side of Parnassos.

Kostis had this Matsouka poster on his wall at home, it shows the northerly side of Parnassos, arrows indicating high points reached during our second day of ski touring. Apparently Penelope Matsouka is a prolific author of Greek tourist maps and guides. Check out all her stuff on Amazon.

Constantine skiing on Mt. Parnassos.

Constantine skiing on Mt. Parnassos.

Kostis skiing.

Costas skiing.

The cool old Prophet Elias Church, located at the top of the ski lifts.

The cool old Prophet Elias Church, located at the top of the ski lifts. One thing you notice is the Greeks build stuff with a lot of stone, inspirational for our own projects back in Colorado.

Lou skiing

Lou skiing



Defner is fronted by a large sunroom looking out to this view of  the Gulf of Corinth.

Defner is fronted by a large sunroom looking out to this view of the Gulf of Corinth. It might be one of the more aesthetic mountain huts you’ll ever experience.


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5 Responses to “Athenian Ski Touring at Parnassos, Greece”

  1. Lisa Dawson January 18th, 2016 7:00 pm

    Stunning vistas! I bet Greece will be a lovely place to ski spring corn, or do they call it feta schnee?

  2. Tore Meirik January 18th, 2016 11:48 pm

    Now thats a decent amount of fried cheese Louie!

  3. Wookie January 19th, 2016 3:00 am

    Thanks for the beta Lou! Its on my short list!

  4. Dimitris Blanas January 19th, 2016 4:09 am

    welcome to greek ski community,

    what a surprise to have you around. It sounds funny but actually we are quite many hanging around and skiing lonely couloirs, and reading your blog.

    next time you visit us, give a notice to your blog and we will try to organize a true sea to summit adventure and hut to hut (poor ski bum haute route alternative) mountain ski-climbing experience. Lamb chops, feta , soup and guiding from us, scenery is free, snow and good friends welcome .

  5. Lisa Dawson January 19th, 2016 6:41 pm

    Dimitris, that sounds wonderful. I’m coming along on the next trip for sure!

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