From Greece you might expect perfect sunsets and nice beaches with clear water where
you can hang out in your typical summer holiday. But Greece has a very different side
during the off-season winter months.
A snowboard- and surf-trip to Greece has been on my mind for a couple of years. I can’t tell
what has caught my interest exactly, but suddenly I found myself going through satellite
images and maps of the area. My family spent most of their summer holidays in Greece
when I was a little kid, but back then I was neither into snowboarding, nor surfing.
With one of the worst winters to hit the Alps in decades and a record snowfall in Greece,
the decision to leave Switzerland was easy and we set sails.
Surfing in Greece?
We knew that the coastline picks up the prevailing south swells quite good just a little bit
south of Igoumenitsa, where our ferry arrived. Rolling into Parga just after sunset, a local
spotted the boards on our van and approached us. Five minutes later, we were invited to
join him surfing “a local spot” the next morning.
Castro – the region’s most iconic point break – was expected to light up and it was just
around the corner. Even though we had to get used to the short period swell with waves
coming in every eight seconds, the quality of the waves was surprisingly well and after
checking out a beach break in Paralia the next day we knew about Greek perfection. Once
more to our surprise, we were surfing very clean lines, even though the seven second rapid
fire was a bit of a problem for me here, making me spending most of the time in the impact
Hitting the snow – Kalavryta
Stoked from surfing the Mediterranean for the first time we headed towards the
Peloponnese peninsula where we would meet Janne and Gabe to complete the group. The
road seemed endless and was closer to an assembly of potholes than to an actual street. I
was ready to hear my campervan’s chassis crack for the last time at any second.
“Greece is a very mountainous country, in fact the third most mountainous in Europe after
Norway and Albania.”
The mountains in the Peloponnese stand pretty tall and especially from Kalavryta, our resort
of choice, the highest peak offers a 360° vista where you can see straight down to the sea
almost all around you. Imagine, when you can see the ocean from the mountain, moisture
and wind can come to the mountain, too. And they do it quite often and with a staggering
speed. This led to the first two days of our expedition spent inside a gigantic cloud of fog.
Every once in a while we could sneek a peak on mountain ridges and trees helping us
assemble the terrain in front of our inner eye. But for a true Greek riding experience, we
were desperately waiting for that clear skies forecast with little wind for two to three days
that was coming up. Meanwhile we used the time to get into the Greek skiing culture which
is – compared to the one we have in the Alps – pretty mellow. Lots of first-timers wearing
only jeans (no beanie, no gloves, no goggles: pretty badass concerning howling winds and fog at -5°C) and snowboarders seem to be rebels just like we were in the Alps in the early
Once the clouds cleared up, the mountain showed his potential: numerous peaks were
waiting to be ridden. So many in fact, that we had to narrow our choice down to two
northwest facing runs close to each other where the snow- and avalanche conditions would
be pretty much the same. Checking all the terrain would have been a matter of weeks, and
we only had two or three more days left as our next adventure was already waiting for us.
250km north (beeline): a whole different story. With only a few villages scattered around,
the Mount Olympus massif, home to the ancient Greek god Zeus and his fellas, offers some
extremely remote terrain. You have to really know into which valley you drop, as you can
easily end up in one that has no roads whatsoever. This can be a life-threatening situation,
because you won’t find mobile coverage either. To sum it up in one sentence: if you go
freeriding in Greece, you are pretty much on your own.
Therefore, we opted for a guide to take us to the gods. Akis is a professional Greek
mountain guide and he showed us around for three days. Not only did he know where we
could find the best snow conditions, he also knew a good restaurant wherever we ended up.
It’s like almost anywhere, nothing beats local knowledge. The views from the Olympus
range are incredible and if you hit it right you can get runs with almost 3’000m vertical drop
as the peaks are only 17km away from the Aegean Sea.
All good things come to an end
What is really special about surfing and snowboarding in Greece: the locals are incredibly
friendly and welcoming. While in other parts of the world, you risk a stink-eye if you paddle
into a “secret” lineup or hike up a slope, the Greeks are very helpful with information and
the fact that two Swiss, a German and a Finnish guy came to explore their waves and
mountains made them exceptionally proud. To top off our adventure, we spent our last two
days in a very small resort named “Elatochori” where the locals already knew we would
come and wanted to know if we are the “Swiss crew” upon arrival.
Three lifts, two of them diesel-driven, and a handful of slopes winding down gently through
pine trees. With the spring breeze in the air, the views of Mt. Olympus on my right and the
looks into the seemingly never ending hills to the left I knew, the decision to leave
Switzerland was right.