Ski touring in Crete06 Jan 2021, Posted by Hiking in
Ski touring in Crete? Really?
It was my reaction when my friends invited me to spend a ski holiday on the southernmost snow in all of Europe. We will remember it for the snow, the sun, the food and, at return, the quarantine of March and April 2020. Now the situation is critical again, however the positive news on vaccines allow us to resume dreaming and, above all, to plan other holidays!
Ski touring in Crete
Top 7 things not to miss
We went to Crete to ski, therefore the first point can only be dedicated to the snow. The Dolomites are at 46 ° north latitude, Crete 35 °, this implies that the solar radiation is far greater, the snow transforms quickly and the layer is compact until late in the day. I generally ski cautiously and slowly, but the firn we found was amazing, even a shabby skier like me could do really fast corners.
2. Mount Ida
Zeus was raised in a cave on this mountain, so the snow is better here. Perhaps it is only my inference and the two facts are not connected, however Mount Ida, or Mount Psiloritis (in Greek: Ψηλορείτης, “the highest”) is the most comfortable mountain for skiing. The two accesses we used allowed us to put the skis on almost immediately, there are several possibilities to go up and down, long and wide slopes to indulge yourself.
And, finally, it is the highest peak on the island, which is always cool to tell.
3. Lasithi plateau
Zeus was born in a cave on this mountain, so the environment here is epic. It is probably my inference again, however this huge natural amphitheatre dotted with mills to drain the plain is a unique sight. We liked the mountains south of the plateau (Mount Dikti, sometimes referred to as Spathi) for their primordial aspect, for the skiing, for the view of the two seas, the Aegean and the Libyan ones, the griffins and the goats (semi- ) wild, perhaps it was the kri-kri, an endemic specie of Crete.
4. Venetian towns
The island was for 465 years under the dominion of the Republic of Venice, the largest urban centres have majestic buildings built in that period, sumptuous palaces, mighty walls, churches for different professions and of course the ports, they were the fulcrum of the power of the Serenissima. Wandering around the towns allows you to see 4000 years of history, and perhaps to rest between one ski day and the next one.
5. Balos beach
Try to dream of a beach, retouch the colours, add a lagoon and little more. You certainly did not manage to dream of Balos beach. To reach it, take an unprotected road in the Gramvoussa peninsula, then with a 15-20 min walk you go down to the beach. Although the beaches are not so popular in winter, they are still worth a visit. To the southwest of the island host an another idyllic beach, the name is Elafonisi, which is wider, and perhaps more touristy. In Balos there is also a colony of cats, some shy, others much more enterprising.
There are many restaurants that allow you to eat even at non-canonical times, or taste some snacks (mezetas). Crete is not an island dedicated only to the tourism industry, there are many farms or livestock farms. The South East of the island is home to many greenhouses that allow you to have fruit and vegetables in every season, and for about 4000 years there have been olive trees, vines, hives and goats. Choosing from the menu you can have local and seasonal products.
PS: No, it is not a spelling mistake, it is the sign that means trattoria, written in the uppercase Greek alphabet (in lowercase Latin characters it is taberna, a word that is found in all Latin vocabularies).
7. Cypress woods
It was the first time I saw a cypress forest, it reminded me that I was not at home. Perhaps it is not such an aspect to be remembered in such a list of ski touring in Crete, as the cypress forest is nothing particular to behold, it is similar to a fir forest or a pine forest, however the round strobili and the branches remind us that we are a a very different climate from what we are used to.
Top 4 things to be careful
1. Hard and iced snow
Crete is an island, one of the largest in the Mediterranean, the air is humid and during the nights it sticks to the snow. Night freezing, invigorated by atmospheric humidity, sometimes creates a thin icy layer on the snow, it can be so hard that it prevents the ski-crampons from penetrating, therefore you should always have boot-crampons in your backpack. The hard layer is very dangerous even downhill, sometimes you can hear the edges scratching, screeching and howling; if you lose your balance and fall, it would become difficult to stop the slide even on gentle slopes.
Crete is an island, one of the largest in the Mediterranean, so winds and breezes are never lacking; there can be gusts that make it difficult to stay upright, the skis on the backpack can act as a sail and while skiing you can be unbalanced. And even the snack can be carried away by a puff of air.
Raki or tsikoudia is a spirit that is offered at the end of a meal. It is sweet, in the sense that it can be easily drunk, so it is better not to refill the glass too many times, otherwise your knees bend when you get up from the table.
4. Narrow streets and lanes
The phones have good coverage and Google Map is up-to-date, we must have abused it in all transfers. However, the big G sometimes considers in the same way the sheep tracks and the narrow streets that arrive right up there where there is the first strip of snow. Sometimes you have to ignore the voice and try to take the next route.
How to organize the holiday
We have done DIY tourists, knowing how many mountains are on the island and the time to go from one to the other, we decided how many days to spend on vacation, then we looked for a plane and car rental, accommodation, hiking maps, descriptions and gps tracks of ski mountaineering.
We initially stayed in a small apartment on the outskirts of Heraklion (where the international airport is) and from there we moved daily to the Psiloritis and Laithi massifs. Then a few days in another apartment near Xantia (Chania) to ski on Lefka Ori and visit the beaches.
Finding out the details about where to ski, how and how many hours to get there, and where to stay involves a considerable amount of time, especially if you don’t have friends who do everything their own (I’m lucky).
And for those who don’t ski?
For those who do not intend to do ski touring in Crete, there are numerous other outdoor activities to do, you can go on day trips to all the massifs, walk along the longest gorges in Europe, visit beaches and coves. For those with greater ambitions, you can go on a trek that crosses the whole island (about a month’s walk) or one that runs along the entire south coast. Even for bicycle lovers there are countless possibilities, both for MTB, for road bikes and for gravel bikes. Do you want some more information? Contact us!
The island of Crete
Some informations, the “Wikipedia” section!
Crete is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean, boasts a history of over 6,000 years, beaches of all kinds, three mountain groups and an economy based on services and tourism, however livestock and agriculture are also important. Oil and wine have been produced for several thousand years, as well as the breeding of goats and therefore of cheeses. The climate also allows a profitable production of fruit and vegetables. As far as skiing is concerned, practising ski touring in Crete is a bit unusual, however we weren’t alone!
Crete is an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, it is an almost obligatory transit for trade, therefore all the populations that have dominated the eastern Mediterranean have succeeded in the dominion of Crete.
In Crete, myth merges with history, starting with the Minoan civilization, therefore we are talking about 4500 years ago, in the middle of the Bronze Age. A prosperous society based on trade, we remember it because they leapt bulls and built buildings so vast that they looked like labyrinths (in which to lock up the minotaurs). Then came the Mycenaeans, those of the heroes sung by Homer in the Iliad.
Where mythology ends,
boredom history begins. The Dorians invaded the island, taking iron with them. Then came the period of classical Greece, the Roman invasion, the Byzantine and Arab domination and that of the Serenissima Republic of Venice.
In the mid-seventeenth century the Ottoman Empire conquered the island, at the beginning of the twentieth century several popular uprisings made it a Greek island. In the early stages of World War II, the German army obtained a “disastrous victory” in Crete, and indeed managed to conquer the island in a very short time, but at the cost of great losses of means and specialized soldiers.
After the Second World War, the island of Crete followed the same fate as Greece, with kings, dictatorships and republics, the European Union, a great expansion of tourism and various economic crises.
Crete and the surrounding islands are also important for more advanced space research, as explained in this ESA video.
Crete is a long and narrow island, separating the Aegean Sea from the Libyan Sea; the whole island is covered by hills and mountains, there are three main mountain groups:
It is the mountain group in the centre of the island, home to the highest peak of the island (2456 m) and has easy access from the north side.
- Lefka Ori:
The White Mountains is the western group, the largest, most varied and most complex. There are many peaks, few points of support and access. The mountain range is home to the Samaria Gorge, a 16km canyon deservedly popular among the hikers.
In the eastern part of the island there is a smaller mountain group, however it still hosts several peaks of over 2000 m a.s.l., the highest point is Spathi (or Dikti). The most particular aspect is the circular basin of the Laihti plateau.
Start studying maps and perturbations, ski mountaineering in Crete awaits you!