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
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
we found a table in one of Arachovas 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.