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Greek winter tourism "in the grip of ice"

10 March 2014 / 22:03:18  GRReporter
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Seen from the two-seat chair lift the snow-covered trees below are like sugar decorations on a children’s cake. While you are approaching the 2,100 metres high peak, the clouds are thickening. Pindus Mountain is emerging in the distance. Below us, skiers are drawing their lines in the white snow. We are west of Grevena, in Vassilitsa ski resort that, due to its natural beauty, competes with European resorts. However, it does not have the necessary infrastructure to attract sportsmen and tourists from abroad on the one hand, and on the other hand the villages nearby (such as Samarina and Smiksi) are not developed tourist destinations to be able to offer organized tours.

The situation in Kaimakchalan in the Pella area is similar. There is one tourist resort 17 km away from it, namely Agios Athanasios village with its stone houses, but the ski resort is trying to build a reliable profile. In both cases, however, the regions are not sufficiently used as tourist destinations in order for the ski resorts there to support the development of the local communities and vice versa.

Until recently, the lack of a legislative framework for the operation of ski resorts in Greece and the inconsistent management were the main reasons why the country has not developed the model of winter tourism, which is successful in other countries, despite the favorable conditions in terms of natural resources.

Operating without permits

Only last August the Greek parliament undertook to address the issue of granting licences to ski centres. Until then, they had worked without the special sign of the Greek tourist organization and without approved topographical plans. In other words, no one knew the exact area of these ski centres.

The unclear legal framework previously created a whole host of problems. The municipalities of the regions, for example, were issuing permits for restaurants, which did not have a fire safety certificate and which had not been subject to inspections by health authorities. The new laws, namely 4178/2013 (Article 16) and 4179/2013 (Article 13), settle the issue of illegal construction, and finally determine the boundaries of ski resorts. Now as they have all the necessary documents required by law, they can be included in the European programmes.

Although the legislative framework helps solve a lot of problems, a number of obstacles are still "freezing" the development of ski resorts in Greece.

One of them is the lack of clarity in terms of ownership. For example, one part of Vassilitsa ski resort is owned by the municipality of Grevena, another by the municipality of Konitsa, a third part by the state and the fourth belongs to the General Secretariat for Sports, which actually controls the centre. In this situation, in order for the investment plan (masterplan) of 20,000,000 euro, which the municipality of Grevena is now drawing up along with the management board of the ski centre, to start, the ownership of the ski resort must first be clarified through a programme agreement. Of course, the illegal establishments in Konitsa municipality will continue functioning until the investment starts. "When the development plan is implemented we will upgrade our equipment, we will be supplied with artificial snow machines and we will double the ski-runs (from 17 km at present they will be almost 30 km). Then we will surely compete with the ski resorts abroad," says Yiannis Nasikas, Deputy Chairman of the Management Board and Deputy Mayor of Grevena.

The lift stops working due to the cold

It is about 11:00 am on Sunday. There are eight buses parked in the parking lot in Vassilitsa. Because of the crisis, the majority of the visitors prefer to arrive the same day and to save the quite high cost of an overnight stay (in mountain villages, the overnight stay in a double room costs 60 euro on average). On the other hand, the card for the ski runs is economical since it costs 13 euro on weekends and 8 euro on weekdays. The rule "what you pay is what you get" is particularly true here. A long queue for the three-seat chairlift has formed down there, at the beginning of the ski runs, in front of the two huts. The people usually wait as long as 10 minutes. "The lift is slow and therefore queues form. It sometimes stops working due to the cold. It must be immediately replaced with a cable one which is faster," says Kostas Vlachos, technical manager of the ski centre.

In Vassilitsa, one has the feeling that the ambition and the desire of the people fill the gaps in infrastructure. For example, Dr. Michalis Vassiliou, a specialist in traumas incurred in the mountains, has been a volunteer here for more than 20 years, since the General Secretariat for Sports (which is responsible for this) has not recruited medical staff, nor has it provided an ambulance. However, the small hospital is fully equipped to be able to provide first aid. "All the problems are arising from the instability in the government. It is impossible to change the management board every two years, and for each government to appoint its members who usually have nothing in common with ski tourism," states Gerasimos Avramidis, formerly a manager of the only legitimate hut in the mountains.

Tags: Ski resortsVassilitsaBanskoSuccessful pattern of developmentGreek tourism organization
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