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It has to rate as one of the strangest places to find a ski run, but Mt Olympos1, the highest point on Cyprus, boasts not one but four pistes, along with three T-bar ski lifts, a ski school, a shop hiring out skis and boots, a restaurant, and even its very own club, the Cyprus Ski Federation. Nobody comes to Cyprus specifically to ski, but if you're here at the right time of year and fancy a quick slalom in between the island's more traditional sights, it's certainly a unique place in which to strap on the skis.
Comparing Mt Olympos with the Alps is a bit like comparing Manchester United with the Sunday League team from the Fox and Hounds, but because of this there's no room for ski snobbery on the gentle slopes of Cyprus; this means it's a great place for people like me who haven't been brought up in a country where learning to ski by the age of five is seen as normal (along with learning to drink sensibly by the age of ten, something the English also fail to grasp). I doubt anyone in the Alpine skiing circuit boasts about the time they conquered the daredevil slopes of Cyprus, but this isn't the point; skiing on Cyprus is a hoot, not a lifestyle for the rich, famous and expensively clad.
By the time we finally got to the Cyprus Ski Federation hut – after the effects of the previous two days' snow storms had been cleared away and cars were again able to claw their way up the access road – it appeared that we weren't the only ones planning to slide down the Olympic slopes. After the Shining-esque isolation of our stay in Troodos it was a considerable relief to see other human beings braving the snow line, and although this meant the only skis available to rent were prehistoric straight behemoths that looked like they hadn't been waxed since the Byzantine era, it made queuing for the Sun Valley ski lift much more sociable. People come to Mt Olympos for one thing – fun – and that's what makes it much less daunting to those of us for whom being on the piste is strictly a Saturday night event.
It makes it highly cost-effective too. For your C£7 half-day ski pass you get access to all four runs, though when we visited one of the lifts wasn't running, restricting us to three pistes, and as two of those were on the other side of the summit to the ski hut, we didn't venture off the beginners' slope of Sun Valley. Then again, I was perfectly happy to spend the afternoon falling on my face on the easy run, and from the top of the Sun Valley T-bar I had the perfect opportunity to survey the British Sovereign Base on the top of Mt Olympos.
The Mt Olympos on Cyprus isn't the home of the gods of Greek mythology – that's Mt Olympos in Greece, after which Cyprus's peak is named – but it is home to an all-seeing, all-hearing golf ball that does whatever it is that oversized golf balls do at 1952m above sea level (I believe it's an RAF radar dome, but as the peak of Mt Olympos is out of bounds to anyone not conditioned to react to someone screaming 'Shee-un!' at the top of their voice, I can't confirm that). The peak of Mt Olympos is home to one of three corners of Cyprus that are forever England – the others being the Akrotiri and Dhekelia Sovereign Bases – and from the top of the ski run it looks like the result of a particularly perverted ice cream fantasy. As ski settings go, it's all rather fun.
We only had a couple of hours in which to admire the British Army's balls before the clouds descended and the wind picked up, forcing us to retreat into the cosy little restaurant next to the Ski Federation hut, but by that stage the novelty of a single 200m piste was beginning to wear off, and the thought of hauling ourselves over to the runs on the other side of the mountain was just a little too much. There was absolutely no way I could complain, though; with the total cost for half a day's skiing and equipment hire coming to less than C£25, it was amazing value for money, and to top it all, the snow was surprisingly good, with lightly compacted powder covering the pistes, and some pleasant off-piste skiing to the side of the main run.
As a totally bizarre thing to do, skiing on a Mediterranean island, especially one so close to Africa, is hard to beat. If you happen to be in Cyprus between January and March and the snowfall is good enough, I can't recommend it enough as a fun diversion for a day or two. I wouldn't come specially to Cyprus for a skiing holiday, though; it isn't the Alps, which of course is all part of the charm.