Ski Greece: Mediterranean Mountains With Serious Snow

More famous for sand than snow, we explore the unique winter wonderlands of Greece. Though the ski resorts might struggle to compete with well-known Alpine favorites, could the country become a hotspot for backcountry ski touring?

Fresh snow at the Elatochori ski center on January 30, 2023 in Central Macedonia, Greece.
Fresh snow at the Elatochori ski center on January 30, 2023 in Central Macedonia, Greece. Photo: Athanasios Gioumpasis / Getty Images

Just like all the countries in the 3 Seas region, Greece has unexpected qualities. Long seen as a beach destination by the rest of the world, Greece’s alpine assets have been well-known to the locals for decades.

The country offers some serious altitude, with mountains just shy of 3000m. As with most other European ski areas, Greece’s ski season begins in December and lasts till March. The largest and best-known ski resort is Parnassos. Offering 700m of vertical, with slopes up to 2300m, the area has 17 lifts and Greece’s first gondola, as well as slope-side restaurants and cafes.

And because Greece is not well known for its snow, the slopes remain relatively quiet, at least on weekdays. “In this day and age, when famous ski resorts are ever more crowded…there are still locations where one can find some solitude and powder. One of my favorite such destinations is Greece.” says lifelong ski journalist Jimmy Petterson in his book ‘Skiing Around the World Volume II’.

At Parnassos, the runs are almost entirely above the treeline, and the terrain is open, with wide bowls and largely gentle slopes. Experts won’t find much to challenge them on-piste, but it’s a popular area for beginners and intermediates.

Five-star heart and soul

In total, there are around 25 resorts in Greece. All offer great value skiing, priced far below their French or Swiss counterparts, but it’s fair to say that Greece’s ski resorts are generally not as modern as those in nations better known for snow sports. “Don’t come expecting fancy resort skiing. The lifts are generally outdated and often out of commission,” says Petterson.

But because Greek skiing is not well known outside of the country, it means few foreigners, low prices, and not many locals on weekdays. Petterson lauds the Greek life philosophy as reason enough to sample their snow: “When it comes to heart and soul, the Greek people rate five stars. Their hospitality alone is reason enough for a visit.”

Greece: A Ski Touring Paradise?

It’s unlikely that Greece ski resorts would draw skiers more used to large, highly developed ski towns, but there is one winter sport where Greece is becoming increasingly attractive: ski touring. In the short film ‘A Line in the Snow – Greece,’ Greek ski mountaineer Nikos Tsavaris explains that because the sport is not very popular with Greeks, much of the mountain terrain is empty in winter, leaving plenty of snow for those willing to hike for it.

“It’s a paradise during the winter season because we don’t have time to enjoy this beauty in the summer. Mountaineering in Greece is not very popular. So not many people come up here.” While the small scale of Greece’s lift-serviced areas might not pull in resort skiers, it’s the very lack of infrastructure in much of Greece’s mountains that’s the selling point for ski tourers. There is abundant beautiful terrain that would have been long since blighted by gondolas, chairlifts, and snow guns if it were in France or Austria but remains entirely untouched in Greece.

Giorgos Rokas – mountain guide and guardian of the Astraka Refuge in the Pinus Mountains – sheds some light on why Greek skiing is not better known outside of the country. “Everybody knows about Greece’s islands, sea, and nice beaches, but nobody knows Greece has mountains. And this is our fault. Because we never took the potential of mountain tourism seriously. Greece is a ski-touring paradise. I think it’s going to be one of the major destinations for ski touring in the future.”

Greek backcountry skiing: a growth industry?

As tastes for snow evolve and many ski resorts struggle to be profitable, Greece’s abundance of unscarred mountain terrain offers something unique to those willing to earn their turns.

Marketed well, Greece’s backcountry ski potential could be a surprising growth industry for a country long associated with sand and sea. Its unspoiled sea-view terrain, combined with its expertise in hospitality, puts it firmly on the map as a top ski touring destination.

Sam Baldwin

is the author of For Fukui’s Sake; Two years in rural Japan, and founder of BregDesign.com – Slovenia-inspired designs. He has written for The Guardian, The Times, Men's Health, and numerous guidebooks and websites. He currently lives in Austria’s Deep South.

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