Mount Hermon, Golan Heights, Jan. 7 (AP by Laurie Copans)--When Yossi Elazar reached this pinnacle as a soldier in June, 1967, the view was green hills dappled with sunshine, Damascus shimmering in the distance _ not the snow that now makes his living as a ski shop owner.
``I just love it,'' Elazar said Thursday, after the Golan Heights' first heavy snowfall this season. ``When the snow starts, everyone's adrenaline starts to rush and up we go.''
Mount Hermon is Israel's only ski resort, and for many Israelis contemplating the Golan's handover as part of a peace deal, its delights rank almost as high as more solemn considerations, such as security and the fate of Jewish settlers.
Its slopes provide stunning mountain vistas and snow -- qualities otherwise lacking in their cramped, flat, dry land. As Israeli and Syrian negotiators meet near Washington to work out a peace agreement--possibly as soon as year's end -- many rushed to revel in the strategic plateau's winter wonderlands.
Liron Parsay, 24, took the day off from her computer job at a communal farm and was the first Israeli--besides soldiers and snow plow drivers--to venture up the mount.
``Suddenly winter is here,'' Parsay said as she pulled her sleeves over her hands. ``We hadn't seen winter in so long. We had planned to come up ever since we heard the weather forecast three days ago.''
The overnight storm dropped more than 32 inches of snow on the slopes, and the fir trees dipped low with the weight.
Elazar, the ski shop owner, was so entranced by what he saw as one of the first Israeli soldiers to ascend the 5,280-foot mountain in 1967, when Israel captured the heights, that soon he moved his young family from Tel Aviv to the rustic conditions of the tiny settlement of Neve Ativ.
He planted an apple orchard and helped expand the tiny ski resort that was founded in 1970. Nearly 30 years later, the mountain sports nine ski lifts and 45 trails, Elazar has become a fixture _ and the idea of leaving rankles.
``I will take as much money as possible and will go to the Rocky mountains,'' if the Golan goes back, swore the 52-year old, sitting in a cafeteria crowded with ski instructors in red, yellow and orange ski parkas. ``I will be ashamed to stay in Israel.''
Other settlers are equally as emphatic, and have launched a blitz to win the referendum Barak says he will bring to the Israeli people when he has a deal in hand.
Baruch plans to distribute ``The nation is with the Golan'' stickers at the ski resort in a bid to get pleasure seekers to think seriously about the consequences of a return.
``We will let people feel the connection between the Hermon site and the Golan Heights,'' he said.
It is unclear what will happen to the homes of the more than 15,000 Israeli settlers if the land is returned to Syria. The ski resort may seem frivolous to negotiators discussing weightier issues like security arrangements and water rights.
Parsay said she trusts Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to bring back security and peace in exchange for territory _ but she will miss Mount Hermon.
``I don't think about it even. It's sad to think about the bad possibilities,'' Parsay said. ``If there will be peace, I imagine I will be able to come here to visit, perhaps with a passport. I want to see Damascus.''
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press