PAGHMAN, Afghanistan (AP) _ Under a blue sky in the foothills of the mighty Hindu Kush mountains, six Afghan men sip tea and share bread on a blanket of sparkling snow covering nearly everything in sight.

Winter is an unlikely season for picnics _ even in Afghanistan _ but that hasn't stopped this group of friends from lounging in the fresh mountain air northwest of the capital.

``We call it a snow picnic,'' says Ahmad Wali, a 25-year-old from Kabul. ``We haven't had this much snow for a long time, so we had to come out and enjoy.''

The heaviest snows in five years have blanketed huge tracts of Afghanistan in recent weeks, blocking roads, tunnels and mountain passes.

A 45-minute drive past Kabul, Paghman has attracted day-trippers keen to escape the capital for decades.

The town was the birthplace of King Amanullah, who ruled in the 1920s and built a monument here to commemorate Afghans who died fighting the British in 1919. The Victory Arch, however, was badly destroyed during the last two decades of war.

In the spring, summer and fall, Paghman's hillsides are packed with well-to-do Afghans who take advantage of the Friday Muslim sabbath to have a tranquil lunch outdoors amid craggy hills and cherry trees.

In the winter, only the diehard make the trip.

On a recent Friday, Wali and five other Kabulis spread a gray waterproof car-cover across the snow and unpacked supplies of bread, steak and chicken. Hot tea was served up in thermoses, and Coke cans were buried in the snow to keep them cold.

A few villagers came over, offering tea in a traditional greeting to guests.

``We said no, but invited them to sit down and eat with us,'' said Abid Abid-ul-haq, 41.

After lunch, an attempt to make a snowman quickly degenerated into a snowball fight that ended with one picnicker screaming ``Cease-fire! Cease-fire!''

The winter day attracted foreigners from the capital as well.

A few European aid workers donned snow shoes and took to the hills, walking through the snow.

A four-car convoy of armed German peacekeepers also made the trip, pausing by the road to take pictures of each other. The 4,000-strong multinational force is usually restricted to Kabul.

Despite the troubles, most Afghans consider the snow a blessing.

``We've had drought in Afghanistan for years. We need it,'' said Wali, who works at the U.S. embassy in Kabul.