Backcountry skiing on Mount Sannine

March 2001 – A story by Marc Harik, A Lebanese adventurer.

Sannine BackcountryBeirut. An early Sunday morning in March. Four sleepy friends, backpacks, skis, food, and a car. Let’s go!

The sky is still pale, and the road wet because of snow melting. The coast, Antelias with its deserted streets, Bikfaya hidden by mist, and sleeping Khenchara. You rush down towards the torrent and suddenly, from the bridge, and capping the narrow cleft of the valley, its summit crested with the rising sun, its corridors blue with ice and shadows, the proud ramparts of Sannine rouse the dozing skiers. It’s a glorious vision of the heights.

The road winds upwards, there are pines; Baskinta awakes in the midst of fragrant morning smoke, oak trees, a few streams, and finally the Khan Sannine Bridge, altitude 1,500 meters. Every one leaves the car. It’s barely an hour since they left Beirut, and here our friends are at the foot of Sannine’s Western face.

What a rampart! A sloping bank with a 1,000 meters drop in altitude, without a fold and ever steep with a forty-degree slope near the summit. Enough to upset one in hard snow, and provoke avalanches, which the excellent stability of Lebanese snow renders exceptionally rare.

Sannine Backcountry Photo: Jean-Baptiste Lecqlerq and Marc Harik. Altitude    2100m.

Then the climb starts without much enthusiasm, for the body is still chilled and benumbed. What a questionable philosophical joke the “joy of effort” then seems. The slope to be climbed is very long. Creeping up inch by inch, one ski before the other, with seal-skins, which bite more or less into the frozen snow, you must pole vigorously for two hours to reach the upper part of the corridor. Two long hours during which each one meditates on the unknown charms of long Sunday mornings in bed.

Jean-Baptiste Lecqlerq (top), Marc Harik (bottom).
Altitude: 2200m.

Sannine BackcountryFrom the pass, you spend a few minutes on the cornices and here is the summit, or rather one of them, for there are three.  The other facing it is Mzaar, a very ancient “high place”; the ruins of a pagan temple bear witness to an ancient cult of the gods of wind and snow.

These are glorious summits drenched in sunlight. On one side, at the very foot of the mountain, lies Beirut and its great bay; on the other, the benevolent Bekaa with its villages and paths. In the background is the Biblical Hermon, white and impassible.

Marc Harik on the 55-degree slope near the summit

Sannine BackcoutryThen comes the joy of doing nothing, drinking wine, relaxation, gazing at the breathtaking view. The sense of freedom that one experiences in that location instills an extraordinary feeling and an overwhelming emotion in one, and, perhaps for a moment, a greater awareness of himself.

Then, gloves, glasses, ski boots: we put on our skis and prepare to descend. With a pang, the skiers feel the snow prudently, make a turn or two; the snow quivers gently under the caress of the ski tips. It’s already spring snow; it will do. And now comes the wild descent when the skier feels like a bird; he masters and makes light of gravity. Photo: Catherine Perret

Sannine BackcountryThroughout the corridor, “like an intelligent marble that chooses place to strike, he is going to throw himself lightly from one extremity to the other. He dances the snow ballet to the ternary rhythm of the skier: swing, rotation and hop! A plunge into space, and then a straightening up for a new plunge. He waltzes to the rhythm of the terrain, goes down into the hollows, goes up on to the humps, and with the line of trajectory draws the hidden profile of the earth”. On the first cultivated terraces the descent ends. The intoxication is over. Car, shoelaces, road, Beirut. A wonderful Sunday.

Skiers: Marc Harik, Jean-Baptiste Lecqlerc, Catherine Perret, Philippe Perret. All photos were taken by Philippe Perret.

One thought on “Backcountry skiing on Mount Sannine

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