The Nomadic Ski Bum
Like any good Scandinavian, Greece always existed in my mind as a sunny, seaside, summer-only destination replete with moussaka, tzatziki, and ouzo. The same held true for fellow Swede athlete Cody Bramwell. Cody spent his childhood summers on the island of Ios, surrounded by the Aegean Sea, where his parents founded and operated a water sports center featuring windsurfing and guiding. But despite a career as a professional snowboarder (and much nagging from close Greek friends) Cody had never experienced Greece in the winter. Finally, last season, to quiet the critics and satisfy his own curiosity, he suggested a sail-to-ski adventure — a bold idea as none of us knew much about sailing. Nevertheless, a few months later, Cody, Canadian skier Jordy Kidner, local friend Nick Fakinos, myself, and our local skipper, Alex Nikoletopoulos, gathered aboard a 56-foot sloop — in search of fair winds and deep snow.
Our team of skiers and snowboarders quickly learned that we interpreted the forecast through a very different lens from our ship’s captain. And yet, we were all observing the same factors: wind, precipitation, low and high pressure fronts. For the peculiar requirements of this trip, Alex’s sailing expertise was a perfect complement to our team’s mountain experience— while we looked at avalanche activity and snowpack stability, Alex used the same weather reports to predict favorable winds and align our powder dreams with navigable sea routes and Greece’s mercurial microclimates.
While a thousand meters or more separates the azure Aegean from the snowy peaks of the Pindus Mountains that rise above, life on the boat wasn’t that far removed from the nights we’ve spent in mountain refuges. Whether serenaded to sleep by wind coming down the stove pipe of an alpine hut or waves lapping the hull, sea and mountain folk both pursue a way of life intimately connected to the elements.
Led by Alex, we skillfully followed fortuitous storm cycles to a variety of destinations: Parnassus, Pelion, and Vasilitsa. We scored on every occasion, finding blower powder, untracked lines as far as we could see, and engaging terrain beyond our wildest expectations. While every turn and cliff drop in Greece was novel, undiscovered terrain to us, it was equally delightful to discover a proud mountain culture imbued with depth and humility. The ski scene was a bit more lycra and skinny skis than freeride, but Greece’s deeply rooted windsurf culture translated directly across board sports to an amazing surfy, free-spirited snowboard culture. (Craig Kelly visited Parnassus in the ‘90s — the locals still speak about his influence with stoke and reverence.)
From skiing among 1200-year-old pines to staying in a hut operated by the local alpine club to riding my first single chair (and I’ve been skiing for two decades, and despite being in Japan many times, never been on one there either!), the small ski areas surpassed all our expectations. Every day we were greeted with perfect snow and technical yet flowy terrain, and unlimited potential for creative freeriding; yet, it was the generosity and openness of the community we relished most. The tight-knit Greek snow community shares the warmth and kindness of a small mountain town —everyone knows everyone, and they’re quick to make connections, offer help and suggestions, and welcome you into the fold.
Fittingly, our sailboat was named Ithaka, after the Greek island where Odysseus lived in Homer’s The Odyssey — a symbol of home at the end of a long journey — yet the appeal of the epic poem is its emphasis on the journey rather than the destination. The same was true for us. While we sought powder and new lines — and found them in abundance — the journey, and the community and friendships forged during the journey, will last far longer than Greece’s blanket of white. It can be hard to see those lessons when conditions don’t align, but our trip couldn’t have played out any better. Thankfully, we had it much better than Odysseus, who was constantly spited by the gods. In our case, the famous deities of Greek mythology — perhaps in comradeship with Ullr — were very much in our favor.
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