Greek Trip — Louie’s take

Post by blogger | February 18, 2016      

When I first heard of Greek ski touring, I didn’t even realize there were high mountains in Greece, or skiable snow. Turns out, there’s both. When I had the opportunity to head over there this winter, I jumped at the chance.

The Parthenon lit up at night and the Aegean Sea.

The Parthenon lit up and the Aegean Sea.

Although we didn’t find the best snow, it was still a fun trip. We got a few days of good skiing in (and a few days of bad skiing). The days where skiing wasn’t in store, we were shown around by a crew of enthusiastic Greeks. Greece is incredibly rugged and mountainous, something I didn’t realize at all. We toured through deep mountain valleys on precipitous shelf roads. Much of the Greek population lives in the cities, so much of the countryside is rural and sparsely populated. Ancient villages of stone houses dot the hillsides. An idyllic place, that’s for sure. Tourism is the biggest business in Greece, but it’s mostly confined to the beaches and coastline, and mostly during the summer. Wintertime in the mountains isn’t touristy. It’s quiet and I liked it.

We started out the trip by meeting with folks from Dynafit, as well as several other journalists, for the 2016 Dynafit Press event. We went to the tiny village of Samarina, and spent several days there. Our first ski day was spent in a miserable storm, which luckily dropped some snow, that we harvested on Mt. Smolikas. We spent the rest of the trip driving around with Constantine Papanicolaou (C.P.). Constantine is Greek-American skier and filmmaker, and has spent the last few winters in Greece, exploring the mountains and making a film about them. Check out the preview for the film from its kickstarter a few months ago:

Constantine Papanicolaou on Vimeo.

Constantine Papanicolaou has been making a ski film about Greek ski touring. He showed us around Greece during our trip.

Constantine Papanicolaou has been making a ski film about Greek ski touring. He showed us around Greece during our trip.

C.P. has a ton of knowledge about skiing in Greece, enabling us to make the most of our relatively short trip. The next few days we drove through several different regions and villages. Wet, warm weather prevailed (made me feel right at home), so we didn’t get much skiing. We checked out several areas, but the snow was thin, and apparently at unusually high elevations for January. We drove up several roads and passes that are normally closed by snow all winter. We also saw a few ski areas that were thousands of feet below the current meager snowline. We made the most of our visit, and checked out other stuff instead. Greek Orthodox monasteries are everywhere, many of which have stood for centuries. There is an old monastery built right on the edge of Vikos gorge, which is one of the deepest in the world. The old bathroom just hangs over a 100 meter drop. Greek food is absolutely awesome, and we indulged.

Eventually we saw a break in the weather forecast down south. We headed toward Mt. Parnassos, a large peak situated right on the Gulf of Corinth. There we also failed to find much snow. However, we utilized the lifts that go up one flank to access the upper bowls and slopes, which had the white stuff. Skiing right above the Mediterranean was a truly beautiful experience.

For the final few days of our trip, we stayed in Athens. We walked around and checked out the ancient history of the area. Athens is a great city to explore, with tons of awesome cafes and eateries, not to mention the ruins and monuments scattered about. A unique way to end a ski trip!

A beautiful old mountain church on Parnassos.

A beautiful old mountain church on Parnassos.

Unfortunately many of our ski days looked like this.

Unfortunately many of our ski days looked like this.

Skiing down a nice little shot off the summit plateau

We did find some nice stuff, though. Here on Mt. Smolikas.

I’m looking forward to heading back to Greece at some point, hopefully next season if they have a good snowpack. Surprisingly, it seems to have the combination of elements that make for a good ski trip. Over the course of our trip, we checked out quite a bit of potential ski terrain. The peaks aren’t high, but they have lots of relief. In some areas 2,000 meter runs would be possible.

Access is an issue with most ski touring destinations, especially outside of Europe. There just aren’t that many plowed roads that go into mountainous areas. In Greece, people have been living in the mountainous areas for thousands of years, and so there’s quite the road network. Even with the high snow levels we experienced, we were able to drive up to snow in several areas. A combination of locals and government keep roads plowed, although it might not be on the quickest schedule.

In contrast to the rest of Europe, there are very few people in the mountains. Of course it’s still much more populated than North America. Some of the alpine villages we passed through had dozens of houses, but only one or two families. This is largely due to the tradition of shepherd families moving with their sheep down to the lowlands in the winter, but also due to the increased urbanization of the population. On top of that, there are very few locals who backcountry ski. This all makes for completely uncrowded backcountry (my favorite type).

Much of Greece is incredibly rugged.

Checking out the edge of the deep Vikos gorge.

One of the many steep valleys of the Greek mountains. This incredible village is often very near snow.

One of the many steep valleys of the Greek mountains. I’ve never seen a town or village built on such a steep hillside.

As a dirtbag, the incredibly low cost is a major draw of a Greek ski trip. Of course, this is largely due to the unfortunate economic situation in Greece right now. It was an interesting aspect of the trip to see firsthand the effects of the crisis. I’m an occasional financial news geek, and read quite a bit about the Greek debt crisis, even before I thought about a ski trip. It’s evident that it has hit many citizens hard. However, it seems to be slowly improving (albeit with the occasional setback). Nonetheless, everyone we met was incredibly hospitable; offering places to stay, and eager to show us around. I sincerely hope their situation improves quickly, but for now, the prices are a definite plus, at least for foreigners. Even with the crisis, the country still feels very much like a western European nation in the sense that it’s safe, clean, and easy to travel in.

Of course, there’s some disadvantages as well. The major one is the lack of a formal mountain rescue service. Similar to the U.S., they have a variety of volunteer mountain rescue groups. In the event of a helicopter rescue, it’s the Helenic navy that sends the birds. Unfortunately, their helicopters and pilots are focused on maritime use, so they aren’t set up for mountain flying or rescue. For one body recovery several years ago, a pilot and helicopter had to be brought all the way from the Alps to do the job. I’d expect the situation is better than in mountain ranges in South America or Asia, but definitely not as good as the Alps.

So there you have it — terrain, access, minimal crowds, low costs, hospitality, and a developed European country that combine as perfect ingredients for a ski destination. On top of that the history and culture is incredible. Plus, there are beaches.

New friends, and awesome food.

New friends and awesome food.

Fried feta cheese! Greek food is pretty awesome. Lots of feta, tomatoes, and lemon.

Fried feta cheese! Greek food is delicious. Lots of feta, tomatoes, and lemon.

Lots of fresh meat too.

Lots of fresh meat too.

Hanging out on our last day in Greece, enjoying a beautiful sunset over Athens.

Hanging out on our last day in Greece, enjoying a beautiful sunset over Athens.

For information and help with Greek ski touring travel, contact Way Out Adventures.


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6 Responses to “Greek Trip — Louie’s take”

  1. Rod February 19th, 2016 9:12 am

    I went to Greece twice, parnassos and mt.Olympus, but in the summer. Olympus looks incredible, lots of steep colours.
    I might head over there in April, since I’m in the French Pyrenees for the year.

    And the terrain here is cherub.

  2. aCanadianInNorway February 19th, 2016 9:22 am

    Well I’m sold. No crowds, 2000m runs and gastronomic paradise?? take my money now!!

  3. Morroi February 19th, 2016 9:58 am

    Never been to Greece (yet) but from what i’ve been seeing on the net in the last few winters it looks very appealing. Example:

    Skiing in the Alps and the Scandi mountains casts a huge shadow over the rest of Europe, specially southern Europe (I live and ski in Spain), that maybe is not so bad. Sure our conditions are not as good as in the Alps, but on the other hand I suspect we have fewer crowds and a much more intimate relationship with the mountains and backcountry skiing, as the sport is much less popular than in other parts of the continent.

    So maybe after all life is not so bad away from the Alps… sometimes!

  4. Lou Dawson 2 February 19th, 2016 11:35 am

    I keep thinking of last part of April, ski spring snow up high then head down to sun-sand and other pursuits, could very well happen, depends on air fares for us and how the Colorado spring ski season pans out. Lou

  5. Vinny March 11th, 2016 1:13 pm

    Lou, what would be the best month to ski in Greece? Are you required to hire a guide? Thanks, Vinny

  6. Lou Dawson 2 March 11th, 2016 3:51 pm

    Vinny, no guide required, best season they told me: last two weeks of April into early May, depending on warmth and snowpack. Lou

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