The “best spring skiing anywhere”? Try Crete

“Here, now,” said our local guide, Nikos Kalatzakis, “we have found the Holy Spirit. “

It looked heavenly, but we hadn’t fully tested the snow yet, at least not for skiing. Spring conditions had looked promising on the way up, but it was now mid-afternoon and the sun had been on the snow for hours. Surely, I thought, that would be non-skiable porridge.

Then came a Cretan revelation: the snow was a perfect “corn” and it would stay that way almost every day, all day, for the duration of our stay.

A delight for skiers, ‘corn snow’ is usually a fleeting phenomenon, occurring for a few hours on hot spring days, when the sun melts the top few inches on the frozen slopes, creating a thin layer of crystals. the size of a nucleus. Almost always, after a certain time of day, the snow melts to such an extent that it collapses under the weight of a skier, and the fun is over. This is not the case in Crete. As Mr. Papanicolaou explained after his years of skiing and filming here, “Due to the mountains’ proximity to the sea, the new snowfall is so wet that it quickly consolidates into a dense layer that holds often all day in spring ”.

After several hours of climbing and two spectacular descents, we settled into the Katsiveli hut at the Chania Mountaineering Club. The rustic stone structure at the base of Crete’s second highest peak (just a few meters away), Pachnes, was fitted with blankets and mattresses, as well as a small heating and cooking system.

A basic dinner of rice and lentils barely seemed enough, but we all fell apart after a cup of lightly spiced Cretan tea, la malotira, made from a flowering plant that grows at the highest elevations of Ridge. Cretans have been consuming it since ancient times for its medicinal qualities known as an antioxidant and immune booster. We slept soundly.

The next day we skinned up to the top of Pachnes for a long descent, the last part of which was a cruise through a stunted forest of cedars, junipers and oaks. We emerged on a plateau above the small fishing village of Sfakia on the south coast of Crete, sliding down a road until we had no more snow. There we were greeted by a taxi, arranged the day before.

It was early evening and the return journey passed through the small village of Anopolis where the villagers sat outside in the last light of the sun fading over the Libyan Sea. Many were dressed in black, with the men wearing beards – a common sight in the mountains, traditions of mourning that many observe for much of their lives to honor family and ancestors who died and died in the bitter struggle of the Crete against the invaders.