Despite many Lebanese having returned to work after the holiday break, dozens of skiers and snowboarders were already dotting the slopes of Faraya’s Mzaar resort at 8 a.m. when NOW arrived last Thursday, just the fifth day of the new season for the country’s best-known winter sport.
As the morning progressed, hundreds more turned up, creating moderate lines at the beginners’ slopes, though not at the more advanced ones. It was an unusually warm day for late December: Though the air temperature was a mere 5˚C, the combination of clear sky and pounding sunlight felt roasting under multiple layers, and the snow was already beginning to melt and glisten at noon. By 1:30 p.m., the more popular slopes had largely turned slushy, but it was “still decent off-piste,” according to Jonathan Ussher, a 27-year-old British tourist and seasoned skier.
Overall, Ussher told NOW he “had a blast. It’s not exactly Verbier [in the Swiss Alps] or Canada, but it’s the cheapest skiing in the world. And the weather is far milder—amazing blue skies. You’re only going to get that in Lebanon.”
Lebanese regulars were also impressed. “The snow quality was good and the weather was awesome,” said Sami Azar, a lifelong skier from Metn. “It’s a promising start compared to previous years, because usually it snows either too much or too late.”
Like most locals, however, Azar was less impressed than Ussher with the prices, which have once again increased significantly from the previous season. “It’s becoming too costly, too much of a luxury scheme. It’s not friendly anymore. It’s up around 20,000LL [$13] from last year on weekends,” he told NOW.
A standard full-day weekend ticket for an adult at Mzaar now costs $47 ($27 on weekdays). Those wishing to access the additional “Refuge” slope will have to pay $63 on weekends and $33 mid-week. Mzaar is the most expensive of the country’s six resorts, but ski enthusiasts told NOW it is also the best-maintained. Moreover, at the time of writing, it is also one of only two to have opened (the other being the Cedars resort above Bsharre).
According to Ronald Sayegh, founder of the Ski Lebanon website, the price hikes this year are largely confined to weekend rates, as part of “a strategy to encourage more skiers to visit during weekdays and reduce the crowds on Saturdays and Sundays.” He added that nearby accommodation and other service providers have kept prices stable.
Nor are higher ticket prices the only factor that may keep the slopes quieter this season. Sayegh told NOW he expects political instability to deter foreign customers. “Skiing in Lebanon for tourists, being part of the hospitality industry, was also affected by the situation in the region, especially Syria. So we expect less business than last year and more last-minute bookings.”
Nevertheless, those who do decide to make the trip up to Faraya will also find some positive changes. The main road leading up from the village of Faitroun, which can become perilously icy in the coldest weeks, has been re-paved for the first time in several years. In Kfardebian, the nearest village to Mzaar where hundreds of private chalets are located, a number of new shops and national restaurant franchises have sprung up, including a Classic Burger.
And on the slopes themselves, a new chairlift has been added and the overall infrastructure improved, according to Sayegh, who is quick to add that Ski Lebanon has recently launched new iPhone and Android mobile applications offering webcam feeds, weather forecasts, news and other services.
These, he hopes, will “reach a wider audience [in order to] ‘celebrate’ skiing in Lebanon.”
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