I’m riding on the lift watching him speed down the big slope below me. He seems to be dancing, bending his body left and right in a continuous zig-zag motion. The only music accompanying his “dance” is the distinctive sound made by skis cutting through snow. He makes it look so easy, almost natural. Before I reach the top, I see hundreds of skiers glide gently and gracefully down the snowy slopes of Parnassos, making me eager to don my own skis and get out on the piste.
Two hours later, I’ve managed to move about two meters from my starting point, and that’s only with plenty of pushing and assistance. There’s nothing easy and natural about learning to ski, even less so if you don’t have anyone to show you how. The real skiers out there were very keen to lend a hand, but there’s no getting away from the fact that a beginner needs professional instruction – to learn the correct body posture, how to start and to stop, to name a few basics.
There are a few other things you also need to know when you set off for Mt Parnassos. Those who come here often for the skiing and snowboarding, the community that lives for the weekends and waits impatiently for the first snowfall, has its own rhythms and its own secrets. It lives in its own white universe, which is defined by the ski center, the nearby tavernas, the equipment rental shops and the après-ski hangouts.
The regulars, however, are not snobbish about it. Most of them will smile understandingly when you fall in the middle of the slope, even if you can’t always make out their smile behind the goggles and scarves. The small talk with fellow passengers on the lift will include helpful tips on equipment and accommodation. To get to feeling at home, though, you’ll need to explore the ski center, get to know its geography, and check out the slopes. Arriving at Vlaholakka, and after a stop for a hot chocolate at the kiosk outside the chalet at Fterolakka where the lifts start, you find out the first fact of ski life: the lifts don’t stop to pick up or set down passengers – you need to be ready to hop on or off as it passes. Soon enough, you’ll learn more secrets of this white domain, and you’ll almost certainly develop a yearning to return.
Dolly Kallitsi, a ski instructor at the Pappos-Baldoumis ski school, which has been operating on Parnassos since 1977, explains the first principles that every novice skier should get to know. “The first thing a novice skier should master is body posture. Knees must always be bent, with the weight falling forward. This is why we often tell learners to place their hands on their knees, to get used to this position. The torso should be upright and the skier must look straight forward, not down or to the left or right. The pelvis must always be centered between the skis, and the weight must be equally distributed between both feet. To stop, we push heels outward, to push the backs of the skis apart.”
Before setting off
Is the weather suitable? Before setting off for the ski center, check out the weather forecast for the area. There are special websites such as snowreport.gr that report on the weather and the snow cover for ski slopes across Greece. If the weather on Parnassos is particularly bad, the center may not open, or it may only open certain slopes or sections. Conditions are best when there’s been a lot of snowfall on previous days, and the weather is sunny and calm.
How to get around. If you are not wearing skis or a snowboard you can only use the gondolas to move between different sections of the ski center, not the open lifts. The gondolas cover the basic routes: from the car park at Kelaria to the location known as Vakhos, from Kelaria to Vlaholakkas and Fterolakkas, and from the Fterolakkas parking lot to the chalet.
Hiring equipment. It’s best to hire skiing or snowboarding equipment in Livadi or Arachova. As a rule, the further you are from the slopes, the lower the prices. There are also rental shops in the chalets, but expect long lines, especially on weekends. Rental prices (including boots, bindings, skis and poles for skiing, or boots, bindings and a board for snowboarding) start at €15 for skis and €20 for snowboards.
Which chalet to choose? Fterolakkas usually has fewer people and is quieter. Parking is easier, too, and you’ll be able to rent equipment quickly, and enjoy a hot beverage without waiting too long in line. You can use it as a base for your explorations. To access the slopes on the Kelari side, hop on a gondola.
What if I am a complete novice? The beginners’ slopes are clearly marked and are located exactly in front of both chalets, at Kelaria and Fterolakkas. Make the most of your equipment rental by getting an early start. Book an early-morning lesson at one of the schools so that you’ve got time during the day to practice what you’ve learned. Lessons cost from €50 an hour for one person, and get cheaper if you add more hours or more people.
Parnassos for families
Even children who don’t ski will enjoy playing in the snow at Mt Parnassos. You can rent small sleds, which can be used safely on gentle slopes, for €15. You can also book children’s lessons at all ski schools on Mt Parnassos. If, however, you’re serious about your children learning to ski, it’s better value to enrol them in an academy. Ski academies are operated both by private schools and by mountaineering associations such as EOS Acharnon and EOS Athninon. Enrollment starts in December and you can pick from 5-day, 10-day and 20-day lesson packages, with lessons taking place on Mt Parnassos between January and February. Academies are suitable for children aged 5 and over, and prices start at €200-€300, depending on age level and number of lessons.
Two villages to visit
On the northern tree-covered slopes of Mt Parnassos is Agoriani (also known as Eptalofos), 22 kilometers from the Parnassos Ski Center. This village of a few hundred inhabitants began in recent years to cater to skiers. All the cafés and tavernas are located on the central square, and nearly every spot in the village enjoys an uninterrupted view across the Plain of Lilaia. Agoriani’s most famous landmark is its waterfall, which is a few minutes’ walk from the square. The waters of the brook known as Agorianitiko cascade from a height of 20 meters before flowing towards the square.
Further up the road is the village of Vargiani, 43 kilometers from the Ski Center. Perched at an elevation of 900 meters on the northwestern slopes of the mountain, Vargiani has been designated a protected traditional village of architectural interest. The stone-built houses overlook the Bralos-Amfissa rural road and the old metal mines. Look for the Bourboulas stream, where water flows under the plane trees from seven stone spouts, then continues its course downhill. At the central square, be sure to try the tasty home-style food at Zervas taverna (Tel. (+30) 6936.999.380), with menu items that include chicken soup with trahanas, a fermented mix of grain and yogurt; pork knuckle; excellent fire-roasted meat; and traditional savory pies.