The Balkans; skiing the unexpected

When it comes to skiing in a different culture not too far away from home, the Balkan region offers plenty of opportunities. A wealth of culture and history can be found in the many countries that form the region, making a trip to this part of the world very interesting. However, snow coverage, the weather, finding reliable ski partners, language barriers and tough logistics can make a ski mountaineering trip difficult. So, while facing many challenges, was I able to make something happen?

From Tbilisi I flew into Sofia. At the airport in the Georgian capital I was positively surprised. My ticket clearly mentioned a maximum of 20 kg but when I arrived with my 44 kg of checked luggage, I could go straight to the gate without paying anything extra. Now that is what I call service!

After a few nights in Sofia, I would visit Kosovo and Macedonia for about a day or five before making my way to Greece. “What do you say there, Greece?!?!” Yes, in summer the beaches are popular in Greece but, as few people know, in winter the mountains have plenty of fun to offer! Finally, I would return to Bulgaria where I would explore the mountains, either for skiing or relaxing depending on the conditions.

So, the start was in Sofia where I would join a group of Bulgarians on a ski trip to Kosovo. But first I had some time to explore the capital of Bulgaria. Being a fan of architecture there is a one particular sight in Sofia I simply had to see. The Alexander Nevsky cathedral is a memorial church built with the efforts of the Bulgarian people in memory of the thousands of soldiers from several countries who lost their lives for the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire. It’s a cross-domed basilica featuring an emphasized central dome. The cathedral’s gold-plated dome is 45 meter high with the bell tower reaching 53 meters. Both are clearly visible in the picture below. The colors are quite special, especially in the low light of the late afternoon. However, in my opinion some yellow was still missing so I waited for a taxi to pass by to take the best photo…

the Alexander Nevsky cathedral in Sofia

After a day of walking around in the capital city, time had come to depart on a ski trip to Kosovo. Together with a large group of Bulgarians, I left in the morning at 6:40 am. Driving through Macedonia before crossing the border to Kosovo, we would finally arrive in Brezovica for two days of ski touring before moving on to a nearby pass for more ski adventures. At least that was the plan. Warm weather had arrived, so skiing in spring conditions was the prospect in the beginning of March. Kosovo is a partially recognized state that declared independence from Serbia in 2008 as the Republic of Kosovo. The border crossing shows an Albanian flag, their currency is the euro and on arrival many people get a message “Welcome to Monaco” because they have a contract with a telecom provider from the tiny city-state. Can you still follow?

About an hour after entering Kosovo, we arrived at the ski resort of Brezovica, which served as an alternative site for downhill skiing events of the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympic Games but hasn’t received any significant investment for the last two decades. Soon we checked in at our very basic accommodation which, as I found out later, costed only a few euros per person. We took the lift up for € 3 and skinned up to a nearby peak from where we had a great run to the road. After talking to other members of the group, I found out that hiring a guide outside Bulgaria is simply too expensive for them. However, the price I had to pay for this trip was most certainly based on rates used worldwide, especially considering the fact we were skiing in a large group. Together with the price of the single ride up the hill and the cheap accommodation, I started to become suspicious about my arrangement with one of the guides, Kancho Shipkov. During dinner he made clear he wanted my money soon which was a strange remark, if you’d ask me. Was it possible that I had to pay more than the other members of the group?

left: 6:40 am in Sofia, right: 5 hours later at the border crossing to Kosovo with the Albanian flag…

After a nice ski tour the following day, I was about to go to the ATM before I made a final check. The other guide was not answering my question and directed me to Kancho for the payment. Soon, it became clear that everybody else had to pay half of what I had to pay. I’m not sure how Sylvana (a Dutch politician who is strongly against any form of discrimination) would feel about this, but I felt, to put it mildly, being treated differently as “the rich guy from the west”. I had only one option and that was to leave the group and especially the big charlatan named Kancho Shipkov. Luckily I had not paid him in advance. Watch out if you ever plan to visit the Balkans because this crazy dude is offering hiking and skiing trips mainly in Bulgaria and also sailing trips in Greece. I booked a motel in lower Brezovica and started exploring Kosovo on my own…

left: the state-of-the-art chairlift in Brezovica, right: on top of a summit in the backcountry

The next morning my adrenaline level was almost back to normal and I arranged a taxi to Prizren but not before I had a conversation with an Albanian man who spoke fluent German. He had worked in Tirol in restaurants and bars but he had also spent a fair amount of time in the Netherlands. He was drinking schnapps with his Serbian friend at nine o’clock in the morning which was probably the reason he was so chatty. He talked about all the women he shared a bed with and proudly listed all the Dutch swear words he knew. He was friendly to say the least but at the same time I was more than happy when the taxi arrived to take me down the mountains to the second city of Kosovo.

Prizren is a beautiful little city with just under 200.000 inhabitants in the Southwest of Kosovo. From the nearly 2 million inhabitants of the country, about 95 percent are from Muslim family backgrounds, most of whom are ethnic Albanians. The pace of conversions to Islam only increased significantly in the second half of the 16th century, possibly because converts became exempt from a tax levied only on non-Muslims. The prevalence of the Islam is clearly visible in Prizren with its more than twenty mosques. The most striking one is the Sinan Pasha mosque in the center of town. Compared to mosques I have seen in Turkey and Iran, this one had a more beautiful interior. The other mosques were much more sober in terms of decoration. Besides the mosque, another popular attraction is the medieval fortress that served as the capital of the Serbian Empire in the 14th century. 

I spent most of the day on Sunday March 5 exploring the streets of Prizren. Because of the sunny weather, high temperatures and the fact it was weekend, the town was packed with people. Bars were full of men trying to blend in by all wearing a black leather jacket and reflecting sunglasses while the streets were full of women hiding behind a thick layer of makeup. The local cuisine is nothing to rave about, although I managed to get some decent bites at both the Ambient and Marashi restaurant…

Prizren by night with the Sinan Pasha mosque clearly visible

I had seen enough of Kosovo by now and decided to move on. The weather forecast for the Bulgarian mountains was pretty bad, so I decided to visit Greece first but not before I made a stopover in Skopje, Macedonia’s capital. In recent years this city has undergone a rather absurd makeover. A couple hundred million euro has been invested in a hardly necessary redesign in order to boost the national identity and stimulate tourism. The result can best be described as a weird mix of baroque, neoclassical and Las Vegas fashion. In the birthplace of Mother Theresa you’d expect people to spend their money in a better way…

Probably the most striking feature of the city is the huge number of giant statues. The smallest statue would easily be the largest one in any other city. A lot of lions, men on horses and one guy named Alexander the Great are just some of the sculptures you can find there. In between the weirdness there are some great restaurants and my accommodation was very comfortable. I had a giant apartment all to myself, a perfect way to relax. After a couple of days, however, time had come to get back on the road…

left: statues are everywhere in Skopje, right: Can I have the 3rd book from the bottom in the 5th pile from the left please?

A long bus journey brought me to the Southern tip of the Balkans. The plan in Greece was to get a good grasp of what Athens has to offer before exploring the mountains. A visit t0 the main resorts and some ski mountaineering were on the agenda. Time and weather permitting, I might squeeze a little trip to one of the many islands into the itinerary. After all, what is a trip to Greece without visiting an island?

On arrival in the capital city, I immediately noticed a different atmosphere compared to the other Balkan countries I had visited. Even though Athens is a large city with close to 4 million people in the metropolitan area, it felt organized and welcoming. Of course, that may not come as a surprise since this city is considered to be the cradle of western civilization and democracy. Shortly after my arrival I visited the Acropolis in the center of the city and checked out the landmark that represents ancient Greek in the best possible way…

the Parthenon in Athens, probably the most well-known landmark in all of the Balkans

The Parthenon is a former temple dedicated to Athena, the goddess of wisdom, craft, and war in ancient Greek religion and mythology, whom the people of Athens considered their patroness. Construction of this building began in 447 B.C. and was completed 15 years later. This is something you have to realize when wandering around because otherwise you might think it’s just a collection of old columns and rocks. Luckily I visited the sight at 8:30 am (this was a mere coincidence because my bus arrived at 7:30 am and therefore I was already awake) before the large tourist groups arrived. Surrounding the Parthenon some other fascinating ruins can be found of which I found the Odeon theatre, with the city in the background, particularly interesting.

The main objective of my visit to Greece was to go skiing. The weather forecast might have been better than the one for Bulgaria but in the few days before my arrival so much snow had fallen in the mountains that avalanche danger was 5 out of 5 (I found out later that 5 out of 5 in Greece doesn’t mean the same as in the Alps, but still…). In other words, avalanches are more or less guaranteed in the backcountry. Who could have imagined that there would be too much snow in Greece to go skiing?!?! So, I had to wait for a couple of days for the snow to settle which gave me more time to explore Athens.

Olympiacos in action in the EuroLeague basketball with their fanatic fans in the background

Down days (days when the weather prevents you from skiing) are frustrating, especially when they come in large series, but I tried to make the most of my time in the Greek capital. I became a member of Olympiacos and visited both a basketball and a soccer match in Piraeus where they are housed. Basketball is a big thing in the Balkans and fans are quite fanatic, at least in Greece. In contrast to the NBA, fans support their team by singing, insulting the opposition and by simply making a lot of noise. They even seem to have a fair amount of hooligans walking around covered in hoodies when the time is right. Just like soccer. In the evening I found some entertainment at the White Rabbit bar where the Blues Quartet gave a nice concert. Just before I started to go crazy in the city, the guy of Hotel Elikon gave me a ride to the KTEL Kifisou bus station where I jumped on a bus to Kalavrita…

Kalavrita (or Καλάβρυτα in Greek, don’t words look better in Greek?) is the second largest ski resort of the country and is located on the Peloponnese, a peninsula in southern Greece. After a few hours driving along the Gulf of Corinth and wondering where the snow can possibly be, the bus took a turn to the left and drove into the mountains. Roughly 45 minutes later I arrived in a little town with beautiful surroundings. Nightlife is non-existent and the pace of life was notably slower compared to Athens. This could actually be a great place to do some skiing!

A few weeks before I arrived in Greece I read a trip report of three Dutch freeriders about Kalavrita. They had very good conditions and explored some nice terrain. This was enough for me to give it a go. Vincent, one of the Dutch guys, gave me the contact details of a guide named Yannis Kotileas. After exchanging a few messages, I was making my first turns in the Greek mountains together with Yannis and two of his other clients. Kalavrita is a nice little resort with a few lifts and is very well suited for some side- and/or backcountry explorations. A melt-freeze cycle had reduced the avalanche danger significantly but, unfortunately, had also transformed the fresh snow that had recently fallen into variable conditions. The first run of the day went through the forest all the way down to the road in conditions ranging from “challenging” or “good practice” to downright “survival skiing”. Luckily we found some decent snow on our way to Lousi, a lovely old mountain village on the backside of Kalavrita. We had parked one car there in the morning in order to get back easily and enjoy some more skiing…

Paulos Papadopoulos descending towards Lousi, first on skis and later on foot

After a few more days of skiing and several souvlakia (yes, that’s the plural of souvlaki…) later, I made my way to Mount Parnassos. Located near the archaeologically significant town of Delphi in central Greece, this mountain with a height of 2.457 meters is home to the largest and most developed Greek ski resort but is also a great destination for ski mountaineering.

Logistically I had two options. The first was via Patras and the second was going back to Athens and take a bus to Delphi from there. I opted for the latter and decided a visit to Greece would not be complete without going to one of the many islands. Aegina is the nearest island to the capital and therefore an easy overnight trip. From Piraeus many ferries depart to this beautiful island and Friday afternoon of March 17 around 1 pm I found myself enjoying a nice lunch in 20 degrees Celsius at the seaside. That’s one of the beauty’s of skiing in Greece, one day you’re skiing and the next you’re in a t-shirt on a sunny island. Not bad if you’d ask me!

After my nice lunch I rented a bike and explored the island. From Aegina town it’s only 10 km to the South and you’ll arrive in the village of Perdika. If Aegina town is a laid-back retirement village, I’m not sure how to describe Perdika but let’s say there wasn’t much happening. On the way I checked out some remote beaches and even touched the fresh water. Once in Perdika I wandered around, biked and walked through the many little side streets and alleys. It seemed like the population of Perdika is dominated by cats, they were everywhere. Around sunset I sat down at the seaside for dinner, a beautifully prepared sea bass!

life at Perdika on the island of Aegina

The next morning I took the ferry back to the mainland of Greece and continued to Delphi by bus. This ancient town turns out to be a great base to ski Parnassos. Locals stay in Arachova which is a couple of kilometers closer to the ski area but also at least twice as expensive. Delphi is famous for its archaeological sights which I decided to visit. I always find myself in the ping pong ball in these situations. On one hand I force myself to go since these sights are of such historical significance but on the other hand I feel you need at least a few years of fulltime study to fully appreciate them. I decided to go and hope for the best. On arrival I noticed the many tour buses and large groups of tourists, mainly high school children from Italy. That was not very promising…

Groups of 30 to 40 shouting kids who are more interested in taking selfies than the actual sights don’t make it easy to understand the descriptions at the ruins. These descriptions seem to be written in challenging English anyway with many words I have never seen before. Take into account the hundreds of different kings, rulers and gods mentioned in every description … and I’m lost. Luckily I met a man from Toronto who seemed to be well informed about the history and told me some bits and pieces. Finally I was able to understand and appreciate these ruins…

left: the Temple of Apollo from where the oracle operated, right: a delicious beef stew at Taberna Vakhos

Delphi was considered the center of the world in ancient history, at least by the Greeks. The main sights, the Temple of Apollo and the Temple of Athena Pronoia, were first built in the 7th century B.C. and were dedicated to the god of light, music and poetry and to the goddess of wisdom, craft, and war (see the part about the Parthenon) respectively. The ruins of both temples visible today date back to the 4th century B.C. The combination of the historical significance and the beautiful setting (the ruins are located on the Southern slopes of Mount Parnassos) in which they can be seen, made it a nice excursion. Of course, I had to finish the day in style with a nice dinner. Taberna Vakhos offered exactly what I was looking for with a delicious beef stew! 

Delphi is probably best known for its oracle which had a seat in the Temple of Apollo and was usually represented by an older woman selected from the surrounding villages. During my visit no old ladies gave “acte de présence” to help me out but somehow the oracle told me to stay in Delphi and ski some nice couloirs in the backcountry of Parnassos…

The following day I took a bus to Arachova early in the morning and hitchhiked to Parnassos. Hitchhiking is not very common in Greece and especially from Arachova, where expensive cars are the norm, it wasn’t easy. After about half an hour though, finally a regular car arrived and took me up the mountain. The first day in Kalavrita I skied with Yannis (the guide) and two other clients. One of them was Takis who I met again in Parnassos. He introduced me to some of his friends and together we explored Fterolaka, the most interesting part of Parnassos ski resort. The other part, Kelaria, only has some beginner slopes but Fterolaka actually has really nice freeride options. It’s also pretty quiet on that side of the mountain, so a win-win situation. If you ever have the chance, go there on a weekday and you’ll be amongst a handful of people on the whole mountain! In the afternoon I had to say goodbye to my new friends because I had reserved a spot in the Defner Refuge, a mountain hut located a few hundred meters outside the resort on the Kelaria side…

the Defner Refuge has great sunsets or “magic hours” as the locals call it

The hut is usually managed by Kostis Papadakakis but today Christos Tsoutsias was the man in charge. Together with some people who competed in a ski mountaineering race, I enjoyed the beautiful sunset, or “magic hour” because of the spectacular colors, and relaxed atmosphere. The next morning though, I had to leave on time for an appointment with Kostis in order to go “couloir hunting”. Yes, skiing in Greece is not only a novelty, there is actually plenty of great terrain on offer. We took the lift to the top and started skinning in search of steep Greek terrain!

After a short skin we had a great view of the backyard of Parnassos with Liakoura (2.457 m) clearly visible. Kostis had a nice couloir in mind to start the day with. It turned out to be a bit of survival skiing with narrow sections and navigating between many rocks at the bottom. Well, we were awake now! Next on the menu was a couloir on the south face of Liakoura before we explored the east face or backside as approached from the ski resort. The east face has several couloirs and we climbed and skied two of them, including the so-called Rock & Roll couloir. In the meantime the temperature had reached serious heights so the snow had transformed into heavy spring snow at best and pure sticky slush at the lower parts. We skinned back around Liakoura to the west-facing couloirs of Tris Tsoubes which offered some nice skiing to finish the day in style.

some steep skiing in Greece

After some nice explorations in the backcountry of Parnassos, I traveled north for some more ski mountaineering. From Delphi a bus took me to Thessaloniki in roughly six hours. This city might have quite a bit to offer but for me it was a base to climb and ski Mount Olympus, with 2.918 meter the highest mountain of Greece. For a few weeks now I had been in contact with Mike Styllas, the manager of the Christos Kakalos refuge (for more information about this refuge or Mount Olympus, click here). Mike is one of the most experienced alpinists of the country. He has climbed several 8 thousanders including the highest of them all, Mount Everest. We met on a sunny afternoon in Thessaloniki to discuss plans. A full day was needed to get us to the refuge in order to attack one of the steep couloirs on the east face of the mountain early the next morning. The Mytikas couloir was number one on the list…

Mike picked me up the next morning around 7 before we drove for about an hour in order to pick up his colleague Theodoros, nicknamed Dodo. Next stop was the town of Litochoro at the base of Mount Olympus where the guys would stock up on food. Dodo was staying at the hut for a week and therefore both of them ended up with backpacks of roughly 25 kilos, carrying ski mountaineering equipment and lots of bread and vegetables. Next on the agenda was an ascent of 8 hours in high temperatures. Imagine that Mike is going up to his hut several times a week during certain periods. This guy is a machine!

skinning on Mount Olympus in Spring conditions with the Aegean sea in the background

We left the car at the parking lot at the start of the trail just above Litochoro. The first hour or so was below the snow line. With the skis attached to our backpacks we hiked through the forest, looking for some shade provided by the trees. Once we clicked into our skis and started skinning, we were more exposed to the sun at times. I was getting hot pretty soon and I was carrying a relatively light backpack, imagine how Mike and Dodo were doing…

The scenery was impressive with the Aegean sea and Thessaloniki, or at least its smog, in the background. After about 6 hours of ascending, we arrived at around 2.400 meter which is where an interesting ridge has to be conquered. With steep drops on both sides I took things slowly and tried not to look down. With blue skies and no wind, I found this traverse pretty impressive and I’m sure I don’t want to find myself there on a windy or foggy day! Once the ridge was behind us we had a short but steep climb ahead of us with a little ‘via ferrata’ at the end. For about ten meters we had to cross some exposed rocks supported by a fixed rope and finally we arrived at the Muses plateau (2.648 m) which is where the Kakalos refuge is located. This mountain hut is named after the first man who reached the highest peak of Greece, Mytikas of Mount Olympus, on the 2nd of August in 1913.

arriving at the Kakalos refuge at 2.648 meter with the Throne of Zeus in the background

Behind the plateau an impressive rock wall, named Stefani, can be seen. According to Greek mythology Mount Olympus was the home of the gods with Stefani being the Throne of Zeus and Mytikas being the meeting place of the gods. The Muses, daughters of Zeus, were the Greek goddesses of inspiration in literature, science and the arts. On arrival at the plateau I didn’t see any goddess unfortunately but if we consider skiing to be an art, who knows who was hiding over there because I definitely felt inspired to go skiing some couloirs!

The hut is small with only 16 beds which makes the atmosphere intimate. A kitchen and dining room on the first floor and some bunk beds on the second floor. The door is guarded by two dogs that do not belong to the refuge. Whom they belong to? Maybe Zeus knows. Anyway it was nice to be greeted every time I went outside. Dinner consisted of a local soup followed by spaghetti bolognese. It tasted great but I guess any food would have tasted great after a full day of hiking and skinning. The Greeks were chatty at the dining table and some of them continued to talk all the way into the night. They didn’t seem to be very interested in a good night sleep in order to start the next day fresh and energetic…

left: dinner at the refuge, right: sunrise on Mount Olympus

Needless to say I was not feeling very psyched to go skiing the next morning. After roughly three hours of sleep, thanks to my Greek roommates, I was more interested in getting back to bed. But that was not why I had produced all the sweat the previous day. So, I poured some water on my face and hit myself a couple times in order to wake up. “Com’on daddy, you can do this. Focus on skiing a beautiful couloir!”, I kept telling myself…

So, together with Mike, I skied down towards the Throne of Zeus from where we had to put on our crampons and started climbing. At the same time we noticed around 25 climbers who were all going for the Mytikas couloir. This meant we either had to slalom through many people in the couloir (best-case scenario) or, in case of a fall, take everybody down the couloir (worst-case scenario). Since even the best-case scenario was not very interesting, we decided to climb and ski another couloir. The Stryvada couloir was a great alternative. With its 150 vertical meters it’s shorter than Mytikas which wasn’t too bad considering my lack of sleep. Once in the couloir though I got more energy and could easily have climbed for another hour. Couloirs always seem to inspire me!

skiing the Stryvada couloir (photo credits: Mike Styllas)

Since the couloirs are east-facing and therefore exposed to the sun early, we had to get up there quickly before the snow would melt too much making the skiing unpleasant and possibly dangerous as well. Before 9 am Mike and I were ‘skiing with the gods’, something possible only on Mount Olympus. By the time we were skiing down the couloir the sun had turned the snow into nice spring conditions. As a result the descent down the 40 degrees Stryvada couloir was smooth and comfortable.

On the way down the mountain we made a pitstop at the refuge for a drink and some soup before continuing the journey through the forest. The final part of the descent had to be walked and around 1:30 pm we arrived, both tired and satisfied, in Prionia for a drink. Once we were cooled down, we slowly made our way back to Thessaloniki.

Climbing and skiing Mount Olympus is truly a ski mountaineering affair in my opinion, at least when approached through the Kakalos refuge. There are no easy routes up or down and a variety of gear is required in order to complete a route. In fact, all routes are hidden from the view since they are all located on the side of the Throne of Zeus. So, you’ll only find out how steep the couloirs really are once you’re in one of them. The fact that only serious routes are available and very few, if any, skiers are around, makes it feel like something special. I guess someday I’ll have to return to Mount Olympus to ski the other couloirs!

a fine example of the authentic architecture in Koprivshtitsa

I left Greece behind and returned to the country I started my trip to the Balkans, Bulgaria. The weather forecast for the mountains again looked pretty bad with some precipitation for the following days. Considering the avalanche danger was high too, I decided to leave the skis in the bag for a couple days and just relax. Bulgaria is home to many charming mountain villages and I chose Koprivshtitsa as a nice getaway from the crowds in the capital city.

This historic town is located in the center of Bulgaria and is known for its authentic architecture. The town flourished in the 19th century when its goods were heavily traded and its houses date back to those days. Hidden by high walls some beautifully decorated buildings can be found. The single-story houses were built first and were made of wood and contain only a few rooms. The true masterpieces of architecture are the two-story houses built in a later stage. Some key characteristics of these houses are bay windows, terraces and richly painted facades. Most of these houses have an additional guest room and veranda on the second floor. The town is surrounded by some nice forests and hills that easily invite you for a walk in the fresh air of the Sredna Gora mountains.

Exploring the little streets and surroundings of Koprivshtitsa was a pleasure as you can imagine. With its slow pace, old population and lack of traffic you can easily imagine how life must have been decades or even centuries ago. If you ignore the hundreds of barking dogs (not easy…), this small town is the perfect place to unwind for a few days, which is exactly what I did. In addition, I used the time here to reflect on my trip to the Balkans…

left: walking around in the 19th century… right: a meat sach (clay plate with meat and vegetables cooked at high temperature) at Chuchura restaurant

The plan was to explore the Balkans and ski in a different culture. Even though I faced many challenges I guess I have succeeded, at least partly. The skiing in both Kosovo and Greece has been great. In Kosovo it might have been only two days of skiing but it showed me the possibilities Brezovica has to offer. Staying in the village followed by a visit to Prizren showed me more of local life and its culture. Greece has amazed me in several ways. I found its people to be extremely friendly and helpful, the variety of the country to be abundant and finally the skiing was simply very good. Several nice resorts with good freeride options are complemented by some very interesting ski mountaineering objectives with Mount Olympus being the highlight of the trip!

On the other hand I would have liked to ski in Bulgaria too. In fact, that was the initial plan. However, due to weather conditions I didn’t have a chance to explore the Rila and Pirin mountains. Of course, I got to experience more in Greece in return. Unfortunately I’m the kind of person who likes to have the whole pie instead of ‘only’ a nice piece of it. I wanted to ski all the mountains, steep couloirs and experience everything local culture had to offer in at least four countries in 30 days. Yes, that’s simply not possible. In the end I have skied nice terrain in two countries and experienced local culture including the cuisine, architecture, lifestyle, sporting events and music performances all over the Balkans. Not too bad…

Ski mountaineering has been more challenging in this part of the world compared to other areas I have visited. I met no other visiting backcountry skiers in any of the countries. In Kosovo I was part of the group of Bulgarians but other than that, only locals were exploring the mountains and they had no clue about how to explore the possibilities away from the pistes. In Greece I was able to explore the backcountry thanks to a small group of local passionate skiers. The country is home to a handful of dedicated ski mountaineers and by now I have probably met the vast majority of them. Skiing with Yannis, Kostis and Mike has been a very nice experience and they have all showed me some great terrain, each one in a different part of the country. Mount Olympus is imprinted in my mind with its rough nature. I simply have to return one day to ski more of its beautiful couloirs. In case I’ll go back, I will probably combine it with some ski touring on the island of Crete. Everywhere I went in Greece, people were raving about the hospitality and possibilities for ski touring there. Wouldn’t that be a novelty?!?!

Click here to see more pictures of my trip to the Balkans!

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