The Adventure Journals

A Line in the Snow

‘Mythical’ was the adjective that sprang to mind when we first considered a ski trip to Greece. A land of gods, legends of the sea, sirens and cyclopses. A sport climbing venue, a beach holiday destination and a cultural utopia. But a ski mountaineering destination? Surely not!

The Alps desperately lacked in snow; Arctic Norway wasn’t much better, our thoughts wandered from Scandinavia to Morocco and even Nepal in search of more favourable conditions, nothing seemed ideal. Finally, we decided on Greece. Surprisingly, enormous quantities of snow had been falling across the Balkans and Greece over the previous weeks.

Arriving in Athens laden with ski gear, we spent a day eating our way across the city. Excited to get into the mountains we moved on quickly, heading first for the Vardousia and Giona range. The weather hampered our efforts, and after making it to the refuge, we decided on a hasty retreat rather than battle hurricane winds and a dicey snowpack. The mountains here are suited to ski touring and mountaineering. There are endless couloirs, basins, ridges and other features to descend. Unfortunately, these features would have to wait for another trip. We retreated to lower altitudes and drove north.

We had a meeting the following morning at the trailhead of Mount Olympus (2918m) with Nikos and Lazaros, the two guardians of the Apostolidis refuge (2697m) and their friends Giannis and Giorgios. The refuge is closed for most of the winter season, but they planned to head up for a couple of days under the pretence of needing to clear off the snow from the solar panels, an excellent excuse for a day's skiing if you ask me!

Though I had never heard of Greece having high mountains before this trip, it turns out nearly 80% or the country is covered in mountains. It seems that both politics and culture in Greece have primarily ignored this great gift of nature, favouring the easy pleasures and tourist economy of the coastline and islands. Nikos explains to us that in his country people have not developed the taste for the risk and commitment of mountaineering, after all, it is so much easier to go to the beach.

Products used in this Adventure Journal

Alpine Ascent ND 38:48
Colour(s):

Alpine Ascent ND 38:48

38:48lt | 65 x 30 x 26cm | 1.01kg

The Alpine Ascent ND 38:48 is clean and lightweight, the ideal companion on high alpine peaks, winter climbs and summer rock routes.

Descent 35
Colour(s):

Descent 35

35lt | 51 x 30 x 29cm | 1.00kg

The Descent is the perfect pack for winter pursuits, from Ski touring to freeride and Snowboarding.

From the car park at 1100m we made our way up through dense forest following the summer path, first on patchy snow, then into deep, wet snow which gradually became firmer and drier as we gained height. At 1900m we passed the Petrostrouga refuge, from here the pine trees thinned, and the skiing looked sublime. Shortly afterwards as dense clouds rolled in we traversed the 'Lemos' ridge and were left imagining the 1000m drops at either side.  A short passage on rocks took us up onto the “Muses Plateau” and finally to our home for the evening - The Apostolidis Refuge.

There is a legal restriction on flying civilian helicopters in Greece so most mountain refuges are supplied with food and fuel by teams of mules. In summer as many as eight per day make the journey. Of course with deep snow in winter this is not possible. Guests staying during the winter must rely on dry and frozen supplies supplemented with whatever fresh produce can be carried the 1700m of ascent from the roadside!

The descent back to the valley the next day was, as we had hoped – mythic – the best powder we had skied all season. We started high above a sea of clouds and then plunged into them at the tree line, skiing spaced pine trees and light snow all the way down. That evening we walked along the beach and watched a pod dolphins leaping across the water's edge, a perfect if not an unconventional end to a day of skiing.

With another spell of heavy snowfall, high winds and low visibility forecast we headed north west to the Pindus Mountains. While the storm passed, we spent two days in a tiny village called Samarina. Here we skied in the pine-laden forests that lined the slopes above. We had a hard time extracting ourselves from those powder laden glades, both mentally and physically. We had taken the wrong size snow chains for the hire car, so try as we might, we only made it to the small resort of Vasilitsa the following morning. We spent a day ski touring off the side of the resort until the sun finally burnt through the clouds in the afternoon and we drove the spectacular mountain road down to Pades.

We stayed in a charming and rustic guesthouse “Munti Smolikas” and set out the next morning with Kostas (the guesthouse helper) and his troop of three dogs. We left Kostas as we hit the snow line, Valentine and I made quicker progress on skis. Nevertheless, the dogs kept up, and soon we made it to the summit with the troop in tow. The snow conditions on the western side were markedly different. Most of the storm fronts this winter had come from the northeast, and so here instead of the fresh knee deep powder, there was a thinner, crunchy spring snow: Two sides of the same mountain, one still enveloped in winter, the other in spring, another first!

For our final tour of the trip we'd meet up with Giorgos, another enthusiastic proponent of Greek ski touring. He is a mountain guide and the manager of the Astraka refuge, a large hut in the beautiful Timfi massif. The drive to the trailhead was breath-taking, the road passing high above the northern end of the Vikos gorge, one of the deepest in Europe. We met Giorgos at Mikro Papago. Like so many of the people we met on the trip, he was laid back, friendly and excited to share his playground with us. After half an hours hiking we put skis on and toured up on the crispy spring snow up to the hut. The refuge is perched on a magnificent col with views of the foothills to the west and the significant peaks to the east. The summit of Gamila, the highest peak in the area was only a 600m climb away from the hut. Beyond that, the north face drops steeply 1800m down into the gorge separating it from Smolikas. It was with regret that we didn’t have the time to go further into the massif, but we turned heels and skied the softened westerly slopes back to the village as the sunset.

In just 12 days we managed to ski on all types of snow from knee-deep powder, smooth spring snow and everything in between. The itinerary we followed landed us on some of the most beautiful and highest terrain, though we barely scratched the surface of where you could go. As we drove back south via Meteora down the spine of the Pindus, we were spotting to left and right an endless sea of peaks to come back and explore.

Many thanks to Ben Tibbetts for this latest Adventure Journal. If you been inspired by Ben's adventures then be sure to check out his website or follow him on Facebook, Instagram, Vimeo and Twitter.

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