Off-track snow in Greece

18th May 2010, by Chris Gill

Shall it be snow or seaside? [Kalavrita resort, Greece]

Shall it be snow or seaside? [Kalavrita resort, Greece]

Greece: land of the Gods, ancient monuments, sun-kissed beaches, islands and er … ski resorts? Well, yes, actually. There is skiing to be done in the Greek mountains. Combine it with a dip in the sea afterwards and a laid-back meal in a taverna, sipping ouzo Shirley Valentine style, and you have a rather novel beach-and-mountain winter holiday. Sound appealing?

With the help of two Greek readers (aka Caveman Athens and Fenizol ) enthusiastic about their local mountains, we have put together the best of Greece.

It’s all Greek to me …

While the winter season is generally shorter in Greece than in the Alps, the main areas usually open from January to March; in 2010 Parnassos closed in April. There are about 20 main ski areas, found in the Athens region, just south on the Peloponnese and around Thessaloniki – much further north.

The resorts are small and their lift systems outdated apart from one or two modern installations, but the slopes can be varied and uncrowded. And when the snow is good, there are decent off-piste opportunities. What’s more, lift passes and rental equipment are very cheap!

Greek skiing though is, we’re told, about the whole cultural experience. If it’s fast lifts, big mileage and top-notch infrastructure you want, look elsewhere.

Take a typical day

A typical day may start with a drive up to the mountains from Athens, says Caveman Athens (although there are plenty of villages nearer the resorts). Most locals are day visitors though, so lodging is usually not at the base – but a few miles out. And unless you fancy the laid-back Greek bus services, a car is most handy.

Go skiing, then perhaps visit the archaelogical site of Delphi – only 10 minutes or so from one of the country’s main ski areas at Parnassos. ‘You visit the most important oracle of the ancient world in your ski suit.’ And the views from there are stunning too. It is then a short drive to the coast, to the village of Galaxidi. Here, you can enjoy a bracing swim in the sea followed by a seafood meal.

‘To finish the day, drive back into the mountains to the traditional village of Arahova, where you can stay in one of the hotels and visit the bars and clubs.’

The ski resorts

Parnassos

We mention Parnassos first: this is the main resort nearest to Athens and one that can be visited on a day trip from there in a couple of hours driving. The resort dates back to the 1970s and now covers two main sectors: Fterolakka and Kelaria. The ski area also benefits from Greece’s first quad chairlift.

There are 18 runs between 1600m and 2260m, amounting to about 30km piste in all. These have 13 lifts to serve them, including a gondola and six chairs. Most slopes are classified blue, but perhaps surprisingly there are eight ski routes and a handful of red runs too.

Being close to Athens, Parnassos also has a fairly well-developed base station with cafes, a restaurant and a rental shop.

Kalavrita

This is a pretty little ski area on the stunning Peloponnese peninsula, a region full of ancient history and wonderful coastal scenery. The resort is quite high, between 1700m and 2340m. Smaller than Parnassos, it has about 12 or so runs – but they are of varying difficulty, including two black runs and a mogul slope. There is a terrain park too.

The base station has free parking, cafe, ski shop and First Aid station, and the town of Kalavrita is about 14km away. You can stay there and visit various beaches 32km away!

Skiing with the Gods in Kalavrita resort.

The others

There are a handful of small resorts accessible from Thessaloniki. You’ll need a car to make the most of them.

Pisoderi / Vigla (1400-2000m): is 180km from Thessalonika and 18km from the small town of Florina. Access is fairly straightforward as the main road is always kept open in winter. The ski centre enjoyed the most days open in 2010 in Greece, at 127 days. A couple of double chairs and some draglifts serve the slopes, some of which meet FIS standards so offer some challenge to more experienced skiers. But there are a couple of long blue runs from the top of the mountain to the base lodge. And a new red run opened for 2008/09.

Seli: Fans of the single seat chairlift should visit Seli! There are at least four of them. But the resort offers unspoilt slopes close to a typically Greek village, with a few small guest houses and tavernas.

3-5 Pigadia: is 17km from the village of Naoussa, from where a bus serves the ski area and its 10 slopes. It has snowmaking and a terrain park. You can go snowmobiling too. The slopes have a top altitude of 2005m and are mainly intermediate runs through the trees to the parking area, where there is a nursery slope.

Karpenisi: is more remote, nearest the town of the same name and about equi-distanct from Athens and Thessaloniki (200-300km away).



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