Skiing in Greece, a remote and costly sport for the affluent few

Needless to say, skiing in Greece is not a big part of life, be it social or competitive. As a recreational activity, it tends to be restricted to the affluent, while, as a sport, few know anything about it. This country’s far milder weather conditions, compared to countries where skiing ranks as an established sport, has kept skiing far from accessible to most. Considering all this, Greek skier Vassilis Dimitriadis’s 27th place, among 97 competitors, in the slalom event at the recent Turin Winter Olympics ranks as quite an accomplishment. These days well-accustomed to seeing Greece among the medals at the Summer Olympics, Greek sports fans cannot imagine how difficult it would be for a national team member to do likewise at the Winter Games. «One must have tremendous talent and rich parents, or people willing to invest heavily and finance an athlete’s stay and training with major teams abroad,» explained Dimitriadis. «It’s a difficult combination to accomplish. Unless, at some stage, the federation finds itself with a considerable amount of money and invests in the athlete,» he added. Having taken part in the past three Winter Olympiads, as well as World, European and Balkan events, with some success, Dimitriadis ranks as Greece’s leading skier of more recent times. Dimitriadis was born in Belgium in 1978 and grew up in one of Greece’s coldest regions, Florina, in northern Greece, where he continues to reside. Although he will have turned 32 by the next Winter Olympics in 2010, Dimitriadis said he was planning to compete. «First of all, a skier can still perform well after the age of 30, perhaps, even up to the age of 35. Greek skiers perform better at advanced ages. In Greece, we don’t have snow year round, as is the case in most other parts of Europe, which means that young skiers cannot train extensively,» said Dimitriadis. «And it’s not an easy thing for parents to be able to send children abroad for training. By the age of 18 to 20, a Greek athlete has not clocked the kilometers of a foreign skier his age,» he added. Dimitriadis said he was first drawn to the sport after seeing it on television and deciding that he wanted to get involved. At age 8, his father began taking young Dimitriadis to the slopes. A year later, he joined the local Florina club, where he took lessons for approximately four years before making his competitive debut in 1991. Not long afterward, at junior level, Dimitriadis was a winner in both regional and national competition. In 2004, he reached the world’s top 120, which may seem far from the top, but is a feat for any Greek skier. «To gain attention in Greece, you’d have to start off by being crowned world champion,» said Dimitriadis. «Anyone wishing to get involved with skiing must sacrifice all else and have guaranteed financing. The federation is making an effort. It covers travel expenses but it’s not enough.»