Dimitri recently returned from a ski touring adventure in Greece that he booked through Explore-Share, sharing his experience with us. He enjoyed this adventure in February 2023.
"For over 6 months, whenever I mention that I had the opportunity to go skiing in Greece, I consistently hear the same reaction: "Really, skiing in Greece?" While Greece is a popular summer destination for Belgians, it holds a much deeper significance for me.
With my Greek heritage, this land has always held a special place in my heart. It was my paternal grandfather, who arrived in Belgium before the war, who Frenchified our family name to "Papageorges" from "Papageorgiou" to aid in his integration. My father and I were both born in Belgium, making me 25% Greek. Despite visiting Greece multiple times during my childhood, my father never had the opportunity to fully impart Greek values and culture to us. At over 50 years old, I began to explore this wonderful destination, and I have been a regular visitor for several years. But, I never would have imagined that one day I would be skiing there!"
My Fascination with Mount Olympus
I've been ski touring for several years, and I meet up once a year with my friend Roland, a mountain guide in Saint-Gervais. On one occasion, he mentioned ski touring expeditions in Greece, which are organized at the start of February by some of his colleagues. Greece's geographical proximity to the sea makes it a favorable environment for snowfall. The moment we discussed it, I was solely fixated on one idea: skiing to the summit of the renowned Mount Olympus, the highest peak in Greece."
We began making plans for the upcoming winter, but ultimately, Roland had to withdraw from the project. That's when I turned to Explore-Share, a Belgian startup founded by my friend Gauthier Poncelet, which provides mountaineering and ski touring experiences. It was great to see Greece being spotlighted on their platform. What better way to explore this country than with a local guide? Gauthier put me in contact with Babis Marinidis, who is associated with the IFMGA (International Union of Mountain Guides Associations). In January 2023, my project finally started taking shape.
During our first contact, Babis informed me that there had been heavy snowfall in the region. He lives in the small village of Litochoro, located at the base of Mount Olympus. Babis divides his time between Greece and Chamonix, where he guides various groups in winter on the Haute Route between Zermatt and Chamonix, and in summer around Mont-Blanc. We arranged for my visit in mid-February. Babis assured me that under normal conditions, skiing in Greece is possible until the end of April, depending on the weather. However, a week prior to my departure, the weather turned warmer, not only in Belgium but also in Greece. Ouch!
First Stop, Litochoro
On Sunday, February 19, I depart from Brussels heading towards Thessaloniki via Vienna. This city, situated in the northern part of the country, is the second largest in Greece after Athens. As I land there, childhood memories come flooding back to me. We used to pass through this city regularly to reach the small village of Nea Kalikratia where we would stay with my parents.
I also experience a peculiar sensation: I am in Greece, waiting for my luggage and skis at the airport. Fortunately, it seems that I am not the only skier; the conveyor belt is filled with several ski bags. In the arrival hall, Babis greets me, dressed in jeans and a shirt with rolled-up sleeves. It's warm and pleasant, considering we are about to embark on four days of skiing. It's quite remarkable!
Our journey from the airport to Litochoro provides the perfect opportunity for Babis and me to get to know each other. Babis laughs and tells me I'm crazy for wanting to ski in Greece, especially by myself. I explain to him that for me, it's a return to my roots, and after hesitating for a long time whether to come with someone, I ultimately decided to embark on this experience alone.
Babis had arranged a room for me with a local resident. After settling in, I take a stroll through the village and marvel at Mount Olympus, my ambitious destination, looming so close with parts of its summit adorned with snow. Situated by the sea, Litochoro is at the foot of Mount Olympus, whose highest peak reaches and astonishing 2,918 meters.
In the evening, Babis and I meet to discuss the plan for the next few days. He proposes that we dive straight into the action by attempting to conquer Mount Olympus the following morning, and then explore the possibility of skiing further north, near the border with Albania.
A Dream Come true
At six am, Babis comes pick me up along with my skis and all the necessary equipment. We make a brief stop at the bakery to stock up on provisions and grab some coffee, then we hit the road, circumnavigating Mount Olympus while steadily ascending. The road is not in the best condition, but thankfully there is very little traffic.
Finally, we arrive at a small parking lot in front of a military camp at an altitude of 1,700 meters. Another vehicle arrives, carrying a German guide and two of his clients. To access Mount Olympus, it is best to pass through this military camp, where around thirty soldiers undergo winter training for several months. Being a native of the country, Babis seems to have connections with everyone. We breeze through in just five minutes, while the three Germans have to present their documents and come out 15 minutes later.
We walk for ten minutes, carrying our skis, and a sense of thrill washes over me. Eventually, we pause to put on our skins and continue the ascent on skis. For several minutes, we ski alongside several rows of stationary chairlifts, which are designated for military training, inaccessible for us civilians.
As the day unfolds, the sun makes is showing its nose and the wind begins to pick up - the mountain is sublime. We move at a steady pace and reach the summit in under two hours. It's a dream I've been cherishing for several years, and on this Monday morning, I stand atop the second highest peak of this massif – Skolio, towering at 2,911 meters – as the first, slightly higher peak is simply inaccessible on skis.
We spend the rest of the day in a series of ascents and descents to savor the varied experiences. The snow, though crusty, still was a lot of fun to ski on. The landscapes are breathtaking, with the Aegean Sea just fifteen kilometers away.
On our return journey, we pass by a small emergency shelter, the only one still open in this massif, which Babis occasionally uses. It's basic in its amenities (bunk beds, a table, and two chairs), yet it exudes a certain charm with a large Greek flag adorning one of the walls.
As the late afternoon approaches, we descend back to Litochoro, and Babis suggests that we head to the beach for an apéritif. This is the Greek version of après-ski! We sit on a beautiful terrace, still in our ski attire, and enjoy a glass of fine white wine and some olives, all the while listening to the soothing sound of the waves. Truly surreal!
Over 20 Ski Resorts to Explore!
I have only been in Greece for 24 hours and my dream has already come true. Fortunately, Babis has more in store, as skiing in Greece extends far beyond Mount Olympus. For enthusiasts, there are around twenty ski resorts scattered across the country.
Just two hours from Athens, Parnassos (2,460 meters) stands out as a premier winter destination. Open from December to May, it is arguably the best equipped site, with 13 ski lifts and 19 ski slopes, primarily of blue and red difficulty levels.
The next closest ski resort to Athens is situated in the Peloponnese, near Kalávrita, on Mount Chelmós (2,355 meters). This complex features 13 slopes, including two black runs, along with designated areas for snowboarding. At the summit of the estate, the view is nothing short of spectacular, extending all the way to the Gulf of Corinth. The village is also known for its tourist train, which traverses the mountainous terrain to connect with the seaside town of Diakofto through the Vouraikos gorge.
It's worth noting that skiing in Crete has also experienced a surge in popularity in recent years. The Psiloritis massif, the birthplace of Zeus, located in the center of the island, and the White Mountains to the west, reach altitudes exceeding 2,450 meters and remain snow-covered for several months of the year. Snowfall can even occur at altitudes as low as 400 meters, and skiers can feast on the transformed snow.
The Sea as Far as the Eye Can See
Back to our adventure. After a night's rest, we set off at dawn towards Mount Ossa – also known as Kissavos – facing Mount Olympus. Despite its peak reaching only 1,978 meters, it offers one of the most stunning panoramas overlooking the Aegean Sea, according to Babis. We climb 600 meters and the view is breathtaking. To the left, Mount Olympus, everywhere else, the infinite blue of the sea. Babis spots a magnificent corridor, and just for the joy of it, we ski down it twice.
Following a lunch break by the roadside, we head towards the Pindus massif, located even farther north, near the Albanian border. We drive for four hours and pass by Meteora, a collection of remarkable geological formations in Thessaly, within the Peneus valley, home to Orthodox Christian monasteries. Babis takes the time to point out the numerous climbing routes within these steep, vertical cliffs, which he regularly ascends. As a professional guide, climbing – much like skiing – is one of the disciplines in which he excels.
Squid and Tarama
We arrive in the small village of Samarina, where we will be lodging for two nights in a cozy guest house. O We dine in a small typical restaurant, tasting squid, Greek salad, tarama and other lamb skewers... A thousand miles from the traditional cuisine of the Alps and this is, among other things, what makes Greece so charming: a cuisine Mediterranean with a thousand flavors.
The next morning, we venture into the forest and emerge to conquer a magnificent summit after over two hours of climbing. The sun is shining and the mountains stretch as far as the eye can see. After a brief break at the summit, we descend to the other side, zigzagging between the trees. Despite the crusty snow, we make the most of the conditions, feeling invigorated as we engage in several climbs and descents throughout the day, accumulating a total elevation gain of nearly 2,000 meters.
Upon returning to Samarina, we devour everything the restaurant has to offer.
Thursday morning arrives all too quickly, marking our final day of skiing. We drive to Vasilitsa station, which offers the longest beginner's track in the country. The resort also has Greece's first snowpark, making it a popular destination for snowboarding enthusiasts. The views are spectacular, especially of Mount Olympus. After a new ascent, we ski in a valley which takes us back to the station, where we take a series of ski lifts, the first and last of the stay. Sure, it's much smaller than the resorts we're used to in the Alps, but it's nice and quite exotic. The installations are not the most recent, but they work perfectly, to the delight of local skiers.
At the bottom of a slope we find a restaurant with a superb terrace and an ice bar. A group of young snowboarders party to the sound of techno music. We have a drink with Babis and one of his friends, a tracker from the estate. He is proud of it and quickly shows us around before returning.
I thank Babis for accompanying me during these four days and for introducing me to a new side of this country that I appreciate more and more. As long as there is snow, ski touring has a bright future in Greece. I'll be back !"