A White Christmas In Greece

Feature by Willard Manus

The best Christmas we ever spent in Greece was when we went skiing on Mt. Parnassos, the mountain home of the ancient gods.

It was the winter of 1975 and the Greek National Tourist Organization had just opened a new ski center on Parnassos (at Fterolaka, altitude 1800 meters), just above Delphi, overlooking the Gulf of Corinth.

Mavis and I, plus our two teenaged kids, drove up to Parnassos from Athens, not knowing what to expect. What we encountered was a serendipitous delight.
Although there were no hotels on Parnassos itself, we found a cheerful pension in the nearby village of Arachova, known historically for its hand-weaving and embroideries. Now Arachova had given itself over to the winter tourist trade; its inns, coffee houses and tavernas were packed with skiers.

The best discovery of all was that Parnassos did not lack for snow. Although Greece was a southern Mediterranean country, the twin peaks of Parnassos caught snow from November to April, mostly during the night. An NTOG road crew had cleared the road up to Pterolaka, allowing us to make the climb up to the heights without chains or snow-tires.

The NTOG lodge and ski lifts were located at Kontokendro, where it was surprisingly sunny–-and warm enough to ski in shirt-sleeves. And even though there were an estimated three thousand people on the mountain, there was never a wait of longer than ten minutes on the most popular lift, a J-bar used by beginning and intermediate skiers. Reason being, most of the visitors were non-skiers, vacationing Athenians who had come up here to sunbathe, dine, gossip, or play backgammon. Occasionally, they would glance over and chuckle at the crazy people stomping around clumsily on their metal slats.

Although our kids had never been on skis before, after one lesson with the German ski instructor on the NTOG staff, they were soon able to schuss down the wide, gentle slope at full speed, howling gleefully all the while. So uncrowded was the mountain that it felt like it was our own private preserve.

That night we found a table in one of Arachova’s small, wood-heated tavernas where the ambience was relaxed and friendly, the food fresh and tasty. We dined on pheasant and partridge, served with pots of beans and green vegetables, brown bread, yogurt and big, red apples, all of which we washed down with a semi-sweet wine right out of the barrel, while in a corner a local kid serenaded us on his bouzouki.

The cost of our week-long ski trip to Mt. Parnassos? About a third of what we would have spent in Europe or America. Best of all, we could tell everyone that we had skied with the Gods.