While fresh snow was becoming scarce all over Greece – we decided to go somewhere new, into the “unknown” in search of a fluffy (or even crusty) new playgrounds.
We headed up to Mainalo midweek, only a 2 hour drive from Athens on the new road, through the fog on icy roads, and parked up in the empty parking lot. Looking around (you couldn’t see very far) the resort looked pretty small, and far from crowded. I think we all knew it was going to be an interesting night in our camp.
Before building our snow home though we noticed these empty billboard stands, or avalanche stoppers, hard to tell. Intrigued by the complex engineering of the steel frames we quickly tested the structures rigidity with a couple 50-50s and a boardslide. Good craftsmanship.
Once we felt the structures would provide the safety we needed from tumbling trees and avalanches, we found our campsite and started setting up for the night. Little did we know…
After shifting our gear into our new camp zone we decided to take a little stroll up the closed pistes to try and find some fresh pockets. We set off on our splitboards (Spiro walked as usual) and climbed the easy way up the baby piste. The snow started to become thicker as we approached the top, as did the wind, blowing our splitboard skins around like some crazy carpet flags. Spiro just laughed.
Once we had a little snack, we strapped in and began our descent down a steep slope off the side of the piste. The snow was crusty with patches of fresh every few meters, which made for a pretty bumpy ride. We were alone in the darkness, unable to hear each other over the howling wind and the sound of the crunchy snow, lighting the way only with our headlamps. Through the trees and bushes we went, along what we thought was the path back to the campsite. Of course we got our bearings all messed up, being our first time on the mountain, and ended up pretty far down the road from the parking lot.
With snow falling and the temperature dropping Billy set up his winter tent and Spiro started working on his outdoor shelter – a pine needle bedding, some snow blocks as walls and a bivvy sack as a roof. I had my trusty HUSKY sleeping bag and a summer hammock, set up nicely over the fire pit, like a lamb on the spit ready for Easter dinner.
We hustled to find dry firewood while the snow was getting thicker and the wind was picking up. Luckily Spiro’s new DMOS shovel came with a saw attachment which made it easier to cut off some bigger branches, and of course fend off zombies and orcs in the night.
It was now almost 10pm and we were finally ready to get the fire going. NOT!!!
While Billy enjoyed a nice bowl of hot noodles in the comfort of his tent, Spiro and I got to work on lighting the fire, against the elements. Of course using a lighter or candle was out of the question, rather Spiro was hell bent on using amber and dry flakes as starters, and magnesium to create the spark.
10 minutes go by, and we were still cold. He reset the amber, the flakes, some small twigs and went at it again. 20 minutes later still no fire. My fingers were now frozen solid around the camera as I hoped to film the moment it picked up. He shredded some more wood, broke off some more amber, scraped some magnesium into the pile and tried again. 10 minutes later – still no fire. Billy is still munching on noodles and snacks in the tent, laughing at every failed attempt and sporadically shouting out – “ρε Μπαντιε έλα πάρε ένα κεράκι να τελειώνετε!!!” (“Badie come get a candle for fucks sake!!!”) – Spiro refuses.
At this stage my hands felt like… well I couldn’t feel them at all, so I jumped in to help carve a new set of dry wood flakes and set up what we hoped would be the final fire nest. Like an architect he carefully placed each piece of wood on the stack, around the core, and started scraping magnesium into the center. This time he made an exception and took two pieces of toilet paper from billy, and we were ready. It was now almost 12pm. He started sparking the magnesium with the obsession of an autistic sculptor, blowing on the stack every time a little flame popped up, until we finally had a fire going.
Now we just had to get our fingers moving enough to eat dinner and we were set!
Cocooned in the sleeping bag, floating at a precise 46.7 cm above the fire in my hammock, I closed my eyes and listened to the tiny snow pellets brushing against the fabric and falling to the ground. The wind had settled to an easy breeze and the night was a notch above bearable, hoping I didn’t get woken up by a burning sensation on my back.
I dreamt of floating between palm trees with champagne and caviar canapés…
The next day we woke up with the sun beaming down on our camp. The night was cold and windy, with snow blowing through the cracks into my hammock. My nose was completely numb. But the sun warmed us up pretty quickly, and by 8 o’clock we had eaten breakfast, drank coffee and were ready for a hike. We decided to cash in and get lift passes so we could get some more riding time in. It was only the beginning of the season still and we were all feeling pretty stiff. The pistes were far from fresh but still fun to explore and ride around.
Although we weren’t staying another night, we decided to stay until sunset and set up a kicker up near the peak. We had scoped out the spot earlier in the day and knew it would still be untouched by the time we got there. So we packed our shovels, a light snack, water and gear and caught the last lift up to the top. Two hours of digging, shaping and fixing the jump, and it was ready to be tested. Spiro went first. He hiked up the gully above the run in to where he felt he could get enough speed and strapped in. Billy and I watched with anticipation. the step up we had made was designed to boost you over the hump behind the kicker. As Spiro dropped in I think we all knew what was about to happen. He bolts into the takeoff, full speed, and makes it about 2 meters off the kicker, onto the flat. FAIL. We just looked at each other and laughed. Billy and I both tried it afterwards but had the same fate. What a colossal waste of time. We couldn’t leave without getting some golden hour footage though. So Billy and I hiked the ridge to the peak, just in boots, while Spiro stayed by the jump and got the drone in the sky. The snow was crusty and in some places just icy. The wind was picking up and the temperature was dropping fast. We strapped in one last time and started down the shaded side of the hill. Crunchy is the best term to describe how it felt. Uneven, patchy and hard to navigate. We could hear Spiro cackling in the distance, laughing at every clumsy turn we made. We looked like beginners and felt like one too. Still, the view was pretty awesome.