Prophets and Powder

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Travel
Traveler, March 2005

The reaction is invariably the same when the

topic of schussing in the land of ouzo and olive groves comes up: "You can ski in Greece?" After all, Greece brings to mind sun, islands and ruins, not snowy mountains, 18 ski hills and the Hellenic Skiing Federation.

Well, it's not the Alps, but skiing in Greece holds a cachet all its own. The biggest resort, Mount Parnassos, sits on the slopes of its namesake mountain 125 miles from Athens. Though it's a place where the skiing comes second to just about everything else, Parnassos nonetheless boasts a vertical drop of more than 2,000 feet, a summit elevation of 7,400 feet, 13 lifts and 20 trails.

A challenge for experts, Parnassos rates 50 percent of its slopes black-diamonds. The remainder are mild, short and full of Athenians who can't ski to save their lives. And the skiing, while surprisingly substantial, comes with a couple of drawbacks: The chairs are molasses-slow, the workers are rude and the snow can be iffy. But it's Greece. Which is to say that from almost anywhere on the slopes, you can see the steely-blue Gulf of Corinth and endless groves of cypress trees below. And you've got a couple of gods and the world's most famous oracle on your side.

Right next door to Mount Parnassos is the famed temple of Delphi, where the Delphic Oracle guided generations of rulers. Will it be a powder day? Visit for a prophecy or two before you hit the runs. Then head down to Arachova, Parnassos's village, where skiers congregate at sidewalk cafes to smoke cigarettes and get sloshed on ouzo, the famously lethal Greek concoction of pressed grapes, berries and herbs.

Throughout town life buzzes, and rumor has it that some of this energy comes from two mythical inhabitants of Parnassos: Pan, god of fertility, and Dionysus, god of wine. With a combo like that, every night's a party. Streets are full of honking cars and trendy Athenians showing off for each other. Loud and well-dressed, they're quick to admit that skiing is not always about the skiing.

For non-Greeks, though, Parnassos's lure is skiing in sight of the sea-and maybe detouring to Mykonos or Santorini to thaw out afterward. Still others come for the food. Between runs, skiers sit down to grilled lamb chops with a dash of oregano and lemon. Everyone eats with their hands, dipping into garlicky tzatziki (a yogurt-based dip). Bolstered by a few glasses of retsina, the heady resinated wine, you may consider doing like the Athenians. On second thought, you just might have the slopes all to yourself.

MARCH/APRIL 2005