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Powder on Psiloritis

George Spinthakis hiking on Psiloritis.

On the path to success there are no shortcuts, in life and on the mountain. The weather patterns in Crete this season have been extremely difficult for filming a movie with ski mountaineering scenes. Winds have been blowing consistently from the southwest. Snowfall has been less than average and sunny days with clear views of the sea have been rare. Nevertheless, we’re staying put. The plan is to make a movie in Crete and a movie in Crete we shall make. As the expression says in Greek, “Ο καλός ο καπετάνιος στη φουρτούνα φαίνεται.” In other words, a good captain appears only in a storm.

We began the hike up Psiloritis in the morning. The skies were clear, no clouds were in sight, and our hopes were high. Crete in the past four decades has become famous worldwide for its summer beach scene. Yet the geography of the island is entirely mountainous and the culture of the Cretan people is one derived from the mountain. This disconnect between reality and popular perception is fertile ground to explore in a film.

George Spinthakis and Manolis Armoutakis at Timeos Stavros, the church of the Holy Cross, on the summit of Psiloritis.

As we approached the half way point on Psiloritis, the clouds arrived. Thick, tall, cumulus clouds had developed to the south and were now swallowing the entire summit. Because of the proximity to the sea, this sort of a thing is a familiar occurrence in the Greek mountains. Unless a full high pressure system comes into place, like clockwork by mid-day the mountains become full of clouds, especially in Crete. It’s been a familiar story throughout the Frozen Ambrosia adventures, the struggle with the weather. In some instances it’s caught us off guard. This time however we had come prepared.

Truthfully, the clouds were a welcome sight. This far south, without cloud cover, the radiation from the sun can make the hiking much more difficult. Also, with a fresh layer of snow covering the upper peaks, a full day of direct sun would have certainly killed our chances of skiing powder snow. The time was 13:00 when we reached the summit. Rather than turn around we decided to wait. Behind the the small church at the summit we found cover from the wind and settled in.

Fighting a steady wind from the south, Armoutakis pilots the dronara.

Keeping warm after sweating for 1000 vertical meters is a challenge, even in Crete. Several hours passed with no change. If anything the clouds were getting thicker. Every once in a while a window would materialize and we’d catch a glimpse of the sea below us. Each time you witness it, the Aegean and Libyan seas spread out below you, it’s as impressive as the time before. The hours and minutes ticked by. At 16:00, the skies began to clear. We had seen a similar pattern the day before. Somewhere around this time, the solar energy drops below some threshold and the clouds begin to vanish. Within ten to fifteen minutes, the sky had completely opened up.

To be on Psiloritis in winter with clear skies and powder snow is brilliant. Unfortunately, trying to shoot footage under such circumstances can ruin the serenity of the moment. Because you know the potential of what you’re about to capture, and because you know there won’t be any second takes, it’s easy to forget what brought you here in the first place. It has been a problem for me many times over the years. This time however, as Manolis prepared the drone for lift off and George readied himself for the descent, I felt a sense of calm. We had played our moves with expert patience and the mountain was ready to reward us.

George Spinthakis and the Libyan sea. The second Frozen Ambrosia film is set entirely in Crete and is due in 2019.

4 thoughts on “Powder on Psiloritis

  1. Gorgeous photos!

  2. Good luck with your new movie!
    Enjoyed very much the first one and Really looking forward to the new one.

    PS. As a captain, true saying should be: Ο καλός ο καπετάνιος στην μανούβρα φαίνεται (the good captain appears only in his ability to maneuver inside a port with bad weather conditions). I’m not sure how this could relate to backcountry skiing… may be the ability for steeper slopes, poorer snow quality, narrower passages under not enjoyable weather conditions

    1. Thanks Apostolos! The relation is that trying to make this movie in Crete in a very poor winter is like a captain facing a stormy sea. A good filmmaker should be able to make a great film even in the worst conditions.

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