|Snowsports in the Middle East ? Lebanonís Best Mountain Ski Resorts.
|When you think of snowsports like skiing and snowboarding, countries in the Middle East are probably the last places, along with African nations, that come to mind. Funnily enough though, skiing is popular in Lebanon, and the sport has been practiced in the country for almost 100 years.
It all started back in 1913, when a student who studied in Switzerland brought the sport back with him. His name was Ramez Ghazzoui, and along with some enthusiastic French expatriates he and his friends ascended the Lebanese mountains by donkey and skied down. There was no going back after that, and soon enough clubs were formed and ski schools went into business.
It is actually quite surprising that skiing didnít start in Lebanon earlier, considering the proximity of the mountains to the ancient city of Beirut. Lebanonís snow topped peaks are even referenced in the Old Testament, but unlike in Norway, skiing hasnít been a favourite pastime of the Lebanese for thousands of years. This actually has an advantage for the travelling skier or snowboarder, because the resorts donít suffer the crowds of European resorts. Lebanon has suffered from unrest and hostilities over the years, with many property owners are covering themselves with landlords insurance in case of damage, but now the country is enjoying a period of prosperity.
There are a total of six ski resorts in Lebanon, but by far the best two are the Mzaar ski resort, formerly known as the Faraya Mzaar, and the Cedars ski resort. Each has its own unique charm, and offers something different in regards to ski terrain and aprŤs-ski activities.
Mzaar ski resort
The Mzaar ski resort is the closest to Beirut, and it is an easy 75 kilometre drive to the resort in the morning for a dayís skiing. It is a popular destination for the weekend skiers of the countryís capital, but also attracts international skiers and snowboarders from all over the world. It first began being developed in the 1950ís, and has grown into a large ski area, with 42 different trials to choose from, making up the 80km of skiable terrain.
You can see far and wide from the top of Mzaar, and on a clear and sunny day you can even see the Mediterranean coast and capital city Beirut. The lifts reach a height of 2465 metres, where the snow is at its best. The lifts system consists of 18 ski lifts, mainly chairlifts, with a few T-bars as well, and all the slopes are well connected. The best thing about the lifts here are the short waiting times. It is not uncommon to be able to get straight on a lift, with no waiting, and if you do have to wait the duration is normally no longer than a minute.
There is plenty of accommodation available at Mzaar, ranging from 5-star hotels like the InterContinental Resort and Spa, to a variety of less extravagant offerings. The aprŤs ski is centred around the InterContinental resort and Le Refuge restaurant. This area becomes especially busy on the weekends, when the affluent residents of Beirut head to the mountains to relax.
Cedars ski resort
Cedars ski resort is Lebanonís oldest ski area, and the first one to have a ski lift installed. It has been used since the 1920s, but didnít get its first ski lift until 1953. It is a bit higher that Mzaar, with the resort situated at 2095 metres, and the highest accessible peak at 2870. For this reason it is generally regarded the Cedars had better snow than its lower counterpart. It also has the benefit of a new six-person gondola lift that takes passengers all the way to the highest point. There are a variety of chairlifts and T-bars connecting all the ski runs over the mountain, which range from beginner to advanced.
Cedars ski resort is around 130 kilometres from Beirut, and feels a bit more isolated. Itís perfect for those skiers that really want to get away from it all and stay amongst an ancient forest of Cedar trees, hence the name of the resort.
The best time to go
The ski resorts in Lebanon are in season at the same time as ski resorts in the European Alps. The snow is good from December, and generally becomes thin by April. To get all the information you need about booking a ski holiday in Lebanon, and any other information about the resorts in the country, go to the SKILEB website.