My Lebanese ski adventure: Enjoying a snow and city break in Beirut

17-March-2013 – Daily Mail by Neil English

After making my first turns on Lebanese snow seven years ago, I made a pledge to myself to return one day. After all, the chance to ski at the Middle East’s largest resort, Faraya-Mzaar, in the morning before swimming in the Mediterranean near Beirut in the afternoon is difficult to resist.

My second visit to this warm and friendly country was just as wonderful as the first. Despite the current troubles blighting neighbouring Syria, Lebanon is still considered a safe tourist destination by the Government.

Skier in Mzaar resort
Skier in Mzaar resort

This time around, I opted for a properly planned city/ski twin destination holiday, rather than just snatching a few hours on the coast.

Mzaar sits in a wind-protected section of Mount Lebanon, and the ski terrain altitude ranges from 6,069ft to 8,087ft.

There are nearly 50 miles of groomed pistes here, and the terrain, with far-reaching views over the Bekaa Valley, is mainly suited to beginners and intermediate skiers.

At the sushi bar inside my base, the Intercontinental Hotel at Faraya-Mzaar, I met Georges Salemeh, who has represented Lebanon at the Winter Olympics. I had first spotted him practising slalom turns on a steep pitch just behind the hotel.

‘You’re welcome to come and train with me if you’d like but my own track is hard and icy so you might want to sharpen your edges first,’ said Georges. I politely declined and instead asked what he thought of Mzaar’s slopes for locals and tourists.

A view of Beirut's harbour from a balcony at the Phoenicia Hotel
A serving of sunshine too: A view of Beirut’s harbour from a balcony at the Phoenicia Hotel

‘They provide not just the best skiing in Lebanon, but the best in the Middle East,’ he replied.

While there are no shortage of good hotels in the Middle East, there simply cannot be many boasting private ski lift access from a sun-deck to the slopes. I would also recommend the Intercontinental for its spa and fine restaurants but, due to regular power cuts caused by fluctuating energy supplies from the government, I refused to use the hotel lifts. Anyway, using the stairs helps strengthen your ski legs.

One night I opted out of the hotel’s very good Lebanese buffet and headed to the nearby Le Montagnou restaurant, which specialises in… fondue. I suppose this must be a throwback to the days when the French occupied these parts and introduced some of their preferred mountain dishes.

Imposing: The capital's Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque
Imposing: The capital’s Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque

I have to admit the four-cheese fondue and house specialty of fried eggs on halloumi cheese were up to Alpine standard.

After three days, which is plenty of time for an experienced skier, I moved on to the second phase of my adventure. I took the Intercontinental’s shuttle bus (it costs £30 for the 75-minutes journey) along pot-holed roads to Beirut.

My destination was the handsome Phoenicia Hotel, which is also part of the Intercontinental Group. The hotel, which has recently undergone a multi-million-pound refurbishment to mark its 50th anniversary, overlooks the city’s famous boardwalk, the Beirut Corniche. The nearby harbour was full of the type of huge yachts more often seen moored in Cannes during the film festival season.

The Phoenicia’s suites and banqueting rooms have long played host to heads of state (both good and infamous), along with celebrities and discerning tourists from all corners of the globe. The opulent, ground-floor lounge is still one of Beirut’s most popular meeting places – it is always busy with locals gossiping over a late-morning coffee, businessmen cutting deals over lunch and tourists enjoying an aperitif.

I could have happily whiled away my two days and nights exploring the Phoenicia’s world-class spa, choice of superb restaurants and shops, not to mention the finest collection of rare whiskies from all over the world that I have ever seen. However, I was here to savour the whole city, so I hired a guide who organised a lightning tour.

The itinerary included visits to the National Museum of Lebanon, which houses the sarcophagus of the ancient Phoenician king Ahiram; a shopping area dubbed ‘the Greenwich Village of Beirut’ due to its wealth of chic boutiques; and places of worship, including the Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque.

At lunchtime, we headed for the superb organic restaurant Al Tawleh, where fresh mezze dishes such as white and green bean salads, houmous with cress, onion, rocket and beetroot, and sausages stuffed with de-thorned thistles from the Lebanese mountains delighted our tastebuds. All these were washed down with some heavenly Bekaa Valley wines.

Beirut is packed with romanticlooking streets adorned with enticing pavement cafes, food markets, high-end boutiques and art galleries.

At night, the city comes alive once more, as live music is played in a host of bars and clubs.

The highlight of my trip, however, was having dinner at the Al Falamanki restaurant. This is where a real cross-section of Lebanese society convenes for games of cards, and to listen to gentle music while drinking delicious Lebanese wine and eating a stream of Mediterranean delicacies. Simply brilliant. Until the mid-Seventies when Lebanon was plunged into civil war, Beirut was known as the Paris of the Middle East. I’m glad to say it has deservedly reclaimed its title.

Back to the Roots

Dania Assaly skiing in Lebanon

By Bassam & Eva Turk, Sport Evasion

Please allow us to introduce to you Dania Assaly, World Class Ski Champion discovering her Lebanese roots! We discovered Dania Assaly on Facebook through freestyle skiers friends that we have in common about a year ago; We “googled” her to find out what an amazing skier she is, and thought that it would be really interesting to invite such an athlete with Lebanese roots to ski in Lebanon, and maybe explore the idea of her representing Lebanon in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi in the Super Pipe and Slope Style.

Dania Assaly skiing in Lebanon
Dania Assaly in Lebanon – Back to the Roots

Dania Assaly was in Lebanon from the 25th of February to the 4th of March, a journey rich with new friendships, great moments on snow, breath taking sightseeing and indescribable moments in the village of her ancestors, Rachaya. You can check her blog for the day by day action on  http://daniaassaly.blogspot.co.at/ but in the next lines,  we’re going to tell you about this lovely young athlete and tell you why we invited her and try to make you grow fond of her like we did.

Signs don’t lie: The first thing she was told by the security officer at the Beirut Airport was: Ah, you’re Lebanese! Why did it take you so long to visit Lebanon?!” The man was so right! You should know that Dania is a 3rd generation Canadian, with Lebanese roots living in Edmonton- Canada; her great grandfather and great grandmother, both originally from Rachaya left Lebanon around 100 years ago; her grandmother and grandfather from her father’s side are both Lebanese, and no one from her family has visited Lebanon ever since, except her grandfather some 20 years ago. Despite that long period, you’d be as surprised as we were to find out  that she eats raw Kebbe and tebleh and ftayer and many other Lebanese specialties back home; she even calls her grandmother, “Grandma Sitti”! We say: ” That girl is Lebanese but doesn’t know how much yet”! The next coming days will tell.

Ski Lebanon Dania Assaly
Ahlwan Wa Sahlan

Anyway, let’s keep focus; Dania was invited here because she is a great skier, and because we have hopes she could represent Lebanon in Sochi in 2014, which is why we had a meeting with the President of the LSF, M. Charbel Salameh who was thrilled and very cooperative; We agreed on the next steps and things are moving forward with the best intentions.

Dania Assaly skiing in Faraya Mzaar
Riding the Mzaar slopes

At that point, and after 3 days with Dania, we had the chance to know her better, and let me tell you, fellow Lebanese, if this girl ever goes up on a podium for Lebanon, she’d be doing it from the bottom of her heart, not alike a naturalized athlete paid to represent a country! I remember her saying: “Everyone I meet here says they’re proud of me! Wow, that’s so motivating and sweet, I don’t  get that a lot”. That was mainly after her interview on MTV (http://mtv.com.lb/Workout/Dany%20Aasali%2002%20Mar%202013), she even got that compliment from the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister,  in the same day! (Thank you Minister Wael Abou Faour for setting those meeting on such short notice)

Dania Assaly in Mzaar
Mzaar ski slopes – Lebanon

You would ask how Minister Abou Faour got in the picture? Well, as I mentioned above, Dania’s ancestors are from Rachaya, and who would be better to introduce us to Rachaya than our dear friends Walid and Liliane Maalouli, who out of their love for their village, were so motivated by the idea of Dania getting back to her ancestors land, that they started an investigation campaign before Dania got there! the idea that a champion from Rachaya would represent Lebanon in the Olympics got into them; actually, it was them who  introduced us to Minister Abou Faour , and when he knew what the plan was, and that her plane was on Monday (2 days later), he took the initiative and got us a meeting with both the President and the PM who showed great cooperation to facilitate the process, especially that her roots are Lebanese and that her achievements are impressive (http://espn.go.com/action/athlete/history/_/id/50712/dania-assaly)

Dania Assaly with Sport Evasion team and officials
Dania Assaly with Sport Evasion team and officials

Let’s rewind a bit and go back to that week end in Rashaya, the emotional highlight of the trip. Tracing back the Assaly family (Abou Assaly originally) was an adventure worthy of a movie or a book; going from one house to another, asking the “Mokhtar”, checking with the old folks, making phone calls to people working at the “Serail” and have access to the old books…and taking pictures and falling in love with an authentic village under the eyes of Jabal el Sheikh still covered with snow; it was simply magical. Alike every Lebanese village, you enter a house to ask a simple and quick question, and you end up having coffee, and making a 30 minute visit. Dania was stoked; her eyes were smiling, her face was shining, she was in a trance, in a zone, not knowing what’s hitting her; actually it has been the case on daily basis since she landed. Skiing was so fun, 80’s night and Music Hall left her speechless, Harissa and Byblos knocked her out, and now Rachaya, looking for her ancestor’s house, and getting the “oh you’re an Assaly, you’re Lebanese!” from every single person she spoke to in the village, that was a lot to handle and no time to process.

Dania with Lebanese riders
Dania with Lebanese riders
Dania with Lebanese riders
Dania with Bassam Turk

Everyone she has met so far on that trip was friendly, gentle, nice and smiling to her, and she has been so nice, polite and thankful in return,  but those who made an impact on her the most were the people of Rashaya: Walid and  Liliane Maalouli, our great hosts for the week end without whom the whole Rachaya chapter wouldn’t have taken place, and all what generated from it (thank you both for doing all what you did, Rashaya is lucky to have people like you), Raydan Mahmoud who took us for an off road trip on Jabal Sheikh and sent back with Dania 10 kgs of sweets and dry fruits, and was such a great company during the whole weekend… you think this was the highlight? Think again, the peak was on the last day, when we finally found  both her great grandparents houses and were told all about the Assaly family.

We finally knocked on the right Assaly’s house, the one that knows who to talk to, in order to complete the puzzle. We taped the whole conversation, it was so surreal, and no words could describe what was going on in Dania’s head or heart, but one thing is sure, her life will never be the same after that day.  She represented 3 generations that had left and it was a sign for those who stayed here that they were no longer alone left in the village. At that moment, I saw and felt that Dania started to feel somehow, in a way, to the least… not only Canadian, and she seems to like it! If a picture can tell a thousand stories, the expression on her face could tell a million.

Dania Assaly in Rachaya
Dania Assaly in Rachaya

The man directed us to Michel Malek Abou Assaly, the guy who can give us the last pieces of the puzzle, but before we left, the Lady of the house fell in tears while taking a souvenir picture with Dania, and that was another moment of the trip!

10 minutes later, we found Michel. He handles an NGO that takes care of blind people, and owns the key of the church right in front of Dania’s ancestors house. We took pictures inside what’s left of the house, and visited the 150 year old church, and Dania learnt that her family used to take care of that Church, and that they offered many icons still present there! She was living another moment, she needed some time by herself to process, but at that point fellow citizens, I can tell you that she had adopted a Lebanon that had adopted her from Day 1.

Dania is now in Austria, for the 9 Queens event, where only 9 women are invited. We wish her good luck from the bottom of our heart and can’t wait to see her again.

Dania Assaly has now a new fan: A whole Country.

Dania Assaly looking at Mount Sannine
Dania Assaly looking at Mount Sannine

Credits:

Our sponsors: Lady Speed Stick, Clearblue, Smith Optical (Blue Mountain), Armada Skis (La Maison du ski),
Beiruting & SKILEB.com for the exposure and for supporting the snow scene
Classic Burger Joint for the great meals
Eastline Marketing for the online support and marketing

Thank you all for  making this trip happen. None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for your support.

We don’t want to forget:

All the officials who showed us support and full cooperation
Everybody mentioned in the article above
Christian Rizk and Mrs Nicole Wakim Freiha at Mzaar Ski Resort for the ski passes
Charbel Sabbagh for a great company on the slopes and for the action photos
Joe Abi Rached and Walid Chehaid, from the “Democratic Republic of Snowboarding” for an unforgettable afternoon ride on the Grande Coulee
Issam Moubarak for lodging Dania at Mzaar Ski Resort
Zoya Issa el Khoury and Amin Dib from MTV Lebanon for a great interview
All the Rashaya people who were not mentioned above and who made her stay memorable

All those we forgot to mention…

You all made this trip what it turned out to be! A MILLION THANK YOU.

Myth confirmed: Ski and swim in a day

By Alex Taylor – The Daily Star
Photos: Mahmoud Kheir

KFARDEBIAN/JBEIL, Lebanon: The “ski in the morning and swim in the afternoon” slogan has long been touted in top 10 destinations lists featuring Lebanon. The country promises extremes unmatched by any other touristic experience – snow and the sea in the same day, women in hijabs and miniskirts walking down the same street.

Ski and swim in Lebanon
Mzaar ski resort

Lebanon, the phoenix, rises from the dust (or maybe the melting snow) to return to her legendary, travel glory. Unlike walking wardrobe contradictions, which are readily observable year round, there are only a few magical days when the weather cooperates and the ski/swim attraction is possible to attempt. With the slopes reportedly still open and the temperature sliding higher, I decided to test the cliché, planning a trip to Mzaar ski resort in the morning and finishing at the beach in Jbeil.

Beginning my journey early on a traffic-less Good Friday, I hit the road around 8 a.m. to get to Mzaar for the best snow. Winding up the mountain streets, a few roadside vendors hawk mittens, gloves and cheap sunglasses, taking advantage of one of the last weekends of the year to move their merchandise.

In February, snow covered the ground at the roundabout in Jeita, but today, the first snow sighting is in Mayrouba at about 1,250 meters. Glimpses of the peaks in the distance show that there is plenty of snow. But as I get closer I wonder if I’m about to be confronted by a giant pile of slush.

I enter the town of Faraya greeted by a waving Pierre Gemayel and a throng of cars and people. I worry at first they are all headed to the slopes like me, but it turns out (thank God) they are headed to Good Friday mass. It strikes me that the national holiday may be more important to enabling the completion of the ski-and-swim challenge than weather conditions as we arrive to the relatively empty Mzaar parking lot in record time.

Mzaar ski resort Lebanon
Mzaar ski resort

In the equipment rental shop I inquire if any of my fellow skiers are as intrepid as I in their ambitions for the day, joining me on the snow-to-sea trek. None volunteer but, fortuitously, one man tells me that he accomplished the feat once before, five years ago.

“Everyone says you can do it, but not many people who tell you to do it can say they’ve done it,” my new friend Georges says as I seek advice about the best place to swim. I ask him what it was like, to realize the ultimate Lebanon experience.

“We felt like rock stars,” he replied. Enough said. Excited and wanting to feel like a rock star myself, I eye the 1980s-era, hot-pink ski suits hanging in the shop.

Soon though, in my normal fleece, I hit “la piste.” Unlike my earlier trips to Mzaar, the chairlift waits are short and there are no children zooming around me, yelling in French as they slide over my skis and push through the “line.” The snow up top is surprisingly light and enjoyable but gets stickier the lower you go, like skiing through a snow cone. The estimation by the Mzaar ski patroller that the season will last another weekend, and possibly two if we’re lucky, seems a bit of a stretch. But today, conditions couldn’t be better – breezy and sunny, making the temperature seem much warmer than the 15 degrees the monitor in town shows.

After a few runs, I’m feeling exhilarated, but a bit overheated and in need of a swim. It might be the booming tunes by Stereo Love and the Black Eyed Peas blaring from the lodge speakers or maybe subliminal messaging from all the billboards advertising vodka, but I’m feeling ready for another, world-renowned Lebanese pastime – to party. I take off my skis, intent on joining the snow bunnies drinking white wine at the lodge in their furry, Prada boots, but remember that I have a mission.

Mzaar ski resort Lebanon
Mzaar ski resort Lebanon

I’m off to Jbeil, following flashy Hummers driving down the mountain. As I descend, the temperature rises, as do the glorious smokestacks of the Zouk power plant just ahead. Beach, here I come.

I slip onto the beach in front of Eddé Sands in Jbeil from the public entrance, navigating rocks and last summer’s empty bottles of Ksara Sunset. Once I reach the water, I kick off my shoes to feel the baked, orange sand between my toes. To my surprise, the beachgoers abound, lounging and playing in the water. Ready with my swimsuit donned under my ski gear, it’s now or never. I pick the least slimy looking bit of beach and run in, hoping the thin, green film on the water’s surface isn’t something contagious. The temperature is shockingly cold but I’m in to win it and dunk my head. Mission accomplished.

Swimming in Byblos Edde Sands
Swimming in Byblos Edde Sands

After a brief swim curtailed by chattering teeth, I rest on my towel at the edge of a row of plush, pink beach beds newly laid out by Eddé Sands for the start of the summer season. The local patrons appear just as worn out as me, lounging and sleeping, slathered in tanning oil – so exhausted it seems that a few need their maids to build sandcastles with the children and refill their water cups. Oh, what a day we’ve had.

Edde Sands beach in Jbeil Lebanon
Edde Sands beach in Jbeil Lebanon

Gazing down the coast to where I assume Beirut sits behind a cloud of smog, I feel exuberant and consider my accomplishment. Do I feel like a rock star, though? Not quite. But I hear that you really haven’t seen Lebanon until you’ve been seen at another Beirut institution – SKYBAR. Cue bass.

Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Culture/Lifestyle/2012/Apr-07/169528-myth-confirmed-ski-and-swim-in-a-day.ashx
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)

Sunny Days and Snowy Slopes in Lebanon

Mar 19, 2011 – The Daily Star – by Simona Sikimic

FARAYA: The scent of spring is finally in the air and with temperatures firmly in the mid-20s, the winter blues, long-detectable on people’s faces, are visibly dissipating. Nowhere is this change more evident than the slopes of the country’s ski resorts, which have been overwhelmed by visitors in recent days, keen to exploit the ideal conditions.

The storms that pelted Lebanon last weekend dumped over a meter of snow on the leading destinations of the Cedars and Mzaar Kfardebian, extending the season well into March, with nearly 100 percent of lifts and runs reportedly open.

While slightly icy in the mornings and unavoidably slushy after lunch, when even the most diligent of snow maintenance work proves unable to ward off temperatures of above 10° Celcius, the snow is in an unusually good state for this time of year. Lebanon is experiencing better conditions than most European ski resorts, which are suffering from a notable lack of snow.

The situation is a real change from the 2009-2010 season, when poor snowfall shortened the ski period to a mere four of five weeks.

Intercontinental Mzaar Hotel

“We have been incredibly fortunate this year, and this was much better than expected,” said Andrea Wrba, general manager of Faraya’s biggest hotel, the Hotel Intercontinental Mzaar. “The season opened very early on  Dec. 11 and provided the temperatures do not get too high we expect to be skiing until April and indeed perhaps into April as well.”

Turbulent weather that has plagued the country has allowed the ski season to be constant this year, with no ski days lost due to lack of snow, although lifts were forced to close during the worst of the storms.

“This has been one of the best seasons ever and it is not over yet,” said Charbel Salameh, operations manager of Lebanon’s Ski Society, which boasts some 4,000 members from the country’s universities. “Every time it looked like the snow was melting, we would get a new dump.”

Conditions have been so good that normally rare “off-piste days,” where true enthusiasts venture off the designated routes to battle the powder, have been common, allowing many to brush up on this rarely used skill.

“Because the season was so bad last year, we had real difficulty recruiting at the start and lots of people backed out saying that the snow was going to be worse than 2010,” said Salameh.

“But, as soon as the snow fell, and then fell again, people absolutely flooded to join.”

Restaurants and cafes are busy, with hotels still reporting high occupancy and promoting special deals to lure in patrons. Big events, such as night skiing, which took place in the Cedars Friday and is scheduled in Faraya on Saturday, are also being held to boost visitor numbers.

“The weather is just beautiful,” said architect Stephanie Najjar, 28, who visited the slopes mid-week with a group of friends. “I just couldn’t sit in the office when I knew I could be out skiing in the sunshine and having a good time.

“Everyone in the office is trying to take a day or two off to enjoy this. I’m going to have so much work tomorrow but it is totally worth it,” she added.

Another visitor, Jean Hoayek, 74, has driven from Beirut every day since Monday to enjoy the snow.

“I’m lucky that at my age I can still ski so I try and come out whenever the snow is good,” said Hoayek. “The last few years have been disappointing to say the least and I was worried that this year would be even worse but it has been very good.

“There is nothing like having a glass of wine in the snow and sunshine after a hard day skiing.”

While the weekdays may be a reserve of the retired or the young and fashionable, the weekends are very much a time for families, with large swarms of schoolchildren heading to the slopes to take lessons, go sledding or build snowmen.

“I take my children skiing most weekends, provided that it is relatively sunny” said Sabine Daou, a mother of three in her 40s. “It’s a good way to keep them occupied and they absolutely love being out here. There is lots of fresh air and I can sit and have some time to myself while [my boys] go off with their instructor.”

[…]

Luckily, the hotels, resorts and travel operators have all thought of a host of other activities alongside skiing to maximize the season’s potential and compensate for the lost business.

Even once the snow begins to retreat, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, trekking and mountain hiking will all be available, while the more adventurous will be able to try their hand at hot air ballooning or paragliding. For the less brave, spas, restaurants and bars will also stay open well into the summer ensuring fun continues year-round in Lebanon’s mountains.

Skiing is Believing in Lebanon

Feb 2, 2011 – by Andrew Lee Butters

The life of a Middle East correspondent isn’t all conflict and crisis. In fact — though I may regret letting my editors in on the secret — when there isn’t a war, the living in Lebanon is pretty darn easy. Ski season opened here properly a few days ago with the first sunny weekend at Mazaar (ex Faraya Mzaar), Lebanon’s most developed ski resort. And, as the saying goes, TIME was there.

Mzaar (ex Faraya-Mzaar) is just an hour north of Beirut by car, and the short distance means you can attend a dinner party in town on Saturday night, get your full eight hours of sleep, and still be on the slopes by around 10 the next morning. And since Lebanese social circles are — like the country itself — pretty small, chances are you’ll see some of your dinner companions from the previous evening on the mountain, too.

Skiing is possible in Lebanon because the swift rise of the coastal mountain range, coming after the broad expanse of the open Mediterranean, creates updrafts that keep the high country cold even when it might be 60 or 70 degrees at the shore. While the old tourism industry cliché that in Lebanon you can go alpine skiing in the morning and water skiing in the afternoon might be technically true, I don’t know anyone who’s tried. Even in late March (which is about as long as the ski season lasts) the sea is too cold for much more than a quick dip. But it’s exhilarating enough just sliding off a chairlift and seeing the Mediterranean on one side and Biblical Mt. Hermon on the other. Pinch yourself: the Arabian Peninsula is that-a-way.

[…]

Mzaar’s slopes and parking lots, even on a glorious Sunday afternoon, aren’t nearly as crowded as the should be. There’s also a noticeable dearth of headscarves and Hummers. Most Lebanese who ski are either Christians (Faraya is deep in the Christian highlands) or Muslims who tend towards the stylish and secular. But the resort typically attracts many tourists from the Gulf and neighboring Arab countries, who have more traditional tastes: they like their cars big and their women covered.

They’ll be back soon though, according to Ronald Sayegh, the founder of Skileb. “Arabs understand the situation,” he said. “The nice thing is that once it’s calm, they are always ready to come to Lebanon. As long as we have snow.” Indeed, with hardly any snow in the Alps thanks to an extraordinarily mild winter in Europe, desperate Western powder hounds may not have much alternative to doing their skiing in the Middle East.

Nor is there much anxiety evident amid the Faraya set. As they head back down from the hills to the coast, many families will have a strange new white hood ornament on their cars. Snowmen are a winter status symbol that tell everyone in your home village that you’ve been up in the mountains for the weekend. The fact that the snowmen often block windshield visibility doesn’t seem to bother anyone. Indeed, a certain joie de vivre in the face of danger is as Lebanese as the cedar tree. As my Lebanese skiing buddy, Alex, said when an errant snowboarder went crashing through the plastic orange protective webbing separating skiers and the lunchtime crowd sunning themselves at a base lodge: “They ski like they drive.”

Lebanon Snowboarding Weekend – Day 1

Jan 23, 2011 – Barrystravels.com – by Gefrey

Early start for four of us, well 5 of us actually. Lenny, Matt W, Annalisa and I were on the morning flight and Matt N kindly volunteered to drive us to the airport as he and Morwenna were on the evening flight. Up at 5.30am and on the way to Sharjah airport by 6am for our 8.25am flight. Annalisa did start to get a little worried that we would be late, but in the end we were there with plenty of time and after going back and forth through the security machine, we were checked in by an Air Arabia representative using their machines and then directed to the bag drop off, where inevitably there was a family that had no idea, what ‘bag drop off’ meant and so were checking in properly at the drop off counter. However, even after all this, we still had time to grab some breakfast in Costa or Maccy D’s for Annalisa and then wonder down to the gate.

Matt N and Annalisa had organised the whole trip again (after Nepal) and had used www.skileb.com to do so. Aside from flights these guys took care of everything – so as we emerged from picking up our bags, there was a guy waiting with a sign ready to whisk us off to the minibus that would take us up the mountain.

Now this is the first time I have been to Lebanon and having lived in Dubai for the last 5 years and complained about the state of driving in Dubai, I had my eyes opened!! I love travelling to see other cultures and experience new countries and the more I travel around this region, I see why when you mix all these people together in Dubai, you end up with the issues on the road. In Beirut though, it is mayhem!! Our driver was very good and obviously accustomed to the driving style. However we did have one very close call going up the mountain and I am still not quite sure how we didn’t pile into the back of the small saloon that was turning left!

Another slight point of concern was that we were in Lebanon to ski and snowboard and as we were going up the mountain, there seemed to be a distinct lack of the white stuff! We had been checking the weather beforehand and the website had assured us that all the slopes were open and there was snow. What made it even more worrying was that Matt W had been before and as we passed through Faryaa town was telling us, how when he was there, there was 5ft of snow at this level!! We still hadn’t seen any!!

We needn’t have worried though, a few more twists and turns up the mountain and I spotted our first snow clumps and the temperature noticeably dropped a couple degrees. All of which was good news for us. We kept on climbing and went past the hotel where Annalisa and Matt had stayed last year and also past the Intercontinental Mzaar Hotel where Matt W had stayed previously. The minibus pulled up and we jumped out. Our 3 bedroom apartment* was on the 3rd floor. The shop where we were to hire our equipment from was downstairs, as was a bar and restaurant that would deliver to us!! More importantly, across the street and the car park was the slopes! In terms of location, it couldn’t have been any better. Great start.

Snowboarding Lebanon

As we had taken the early flight and Lebanon is 2 hours behind Dubai, we still had half the day to go. Our package didn’t include this days equipment hire and slope pass, but 30 mins after arriving, we were all sorted and on the slopes! For Lenny it was actually the first time he’d been skiing properly and he did amazingly well all weekend!!  It has been a good year or so since I was last on a snowboard. So we headed to the top of the slope, aptly named Baby! (a nice green run) Just so we could all get our ski legs on! The hardest part of snowboarding I find is getting off the ski lift as you have only one foot in the binding. So ‘Baby’ was good enough for me to start with for practicing getting on and off the lift as well as actually getting down the run.

As it turned out, there was no great drama getting off the lift (today) and after a couple of initial falls snow boarding legs returned and it was a good afternoon on the slopes. Annalisa and Lenny had a good few runs over a few hours and after a fall at the top, Lenny had turned his knee, so was in a bit of pain, so they went back to the apartment to warm up and chill out. So Matt ‘Hunter’ Wilson and I decided we would give the blue run that we could see from our window as it happens, a go. It’s funny how steep it looks when you are on the lift and how much steeper it is once you are stood at the top of the slope!

But for me that’s half the fun and the challenge. The lifts in Mzaar or Faryaa (they are still debating the name) shut at 3.30pm so that they can get everyone off the slopes before it goes dark, so we managed to get 3 runs in before we headed back to the apartment. A fantastic first afternoon on the slopes.

As we were in a self catering apartment, we needed to go and source supplies and also stretch Lenny’s knee out (as well as grab an apres ski beer) so we took a walk down the slope towards the Intercontinental hotel for said beer and also because there was a small supermarket downstairs. I think they thought all their Christmases had come at once as we bought up quite a bit of necessities. In hindsight I am not sure why we did, because after a few beers and a plate of chips between us in the hotel lobby bar, we then walked to the ‘big’ supermarket for more supplies. It was as we left the Intercontinental and the sun had gone completely, that we realised just how cold it had become!
Stupidly we had only come out in T-shirts and hoodies, no gloves or jackets and the wind was biting cold. I can safely say that the walk up the mountain was quite unpleasant. So much so, that I was struggling to breathe when we got back to the apartment. Needless to say, I didn’t go out again without full jacket, gloves and hat!!

After such an early start, it was hard to stay awake much beyond 8pm. However, as Morwenna and Matt were coming in on the later flight, didn’t feel it was fair to all be in bed when they got here. Having said that, I was basically asleep on the ‘Fat Boy’ cushion in the living room. Matt Wilson and Annalisa were playing a game on the iphone. Lenny was tending to his sore knee and desperately wishing he could also go to sleep! The guys arrived as planned and having worked a full day beforehand were quite tired, so a welcome drink or two then we all hit the hay in preparation for our first full day on the slopes!

Great start to the weekend.

*MzaarVille Panoramic Chalets starting $215/night including taxes.

Venezuela Beauty Queens Hit Lebanese Ski Slopes

Luna Ramos Faraya

Jan 13, 2011 – Huffingtonpost.com

Talk about bringing new meaning to the term “bunny slope” — Miss World Top Model 2010 Luna Ramos and Adriana Pena, Miss Venezuela 2007, stripped down before hitting the Lebanese ski resort of Kfardebian (known as Faraya) for a sexy photo shoot.

Ski Lebanon Fashion

Despite the snowy vistas, the Venezuelan galpals wore only skimpy bikinis while cruising the slopes. One curious male onlooker “accidentally” skied by into one of the shots, just before the girls posed coquettishly on a nearby snowmobile.

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So, when we say skiing in Lebanon is a once in a lifetime experience that will take your breath away, we kinda know what we’re talking about! Now tell us, next time you’ll have a day off, where will you be?

Mount Lebanon’s World Class Ski Resorts

Cedars Forest Lebanon

Jan 11, 2011 – Mountain Resorts News and Updates

Mount Lebanon region is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. High, snow-capped mountains from north to south through the center of the country, offers the region a rugged, rocky cliffs, which are ideal for a wide range of sports and adventure.

On the western side of the spine and legs in the sunny Mediterranean coast. In the east. A broad valley of Bekaa farmers height of Mount Lebanon, the perfect conditions for skiing, hiking, mountaineering, winter sports and other adventures.

Mount Lebanon

Growing up in high altitudes, to the famous old cedar of Lebanon in this region, their cups of green to the panorama of mountains, white snow.

At the southern end of Mount Lebanon, Chouf region is the largest country in the park, Al Shouf Cedar Reserve, a mountainous and wooded, with many trees, birds, mammals, endangered species and unique flora. The reserve is a popular destination for hikers, bikers and bird watchers.

Mount Lebanon Few places in the historical and cultural heritage, a unique combination of natural and historical attractions.Visit to view the picturesque mountains of Chouf a taste of traditional rural life in the region.The rooms and bathrooms Tour Beiteddine Palace to get a taste of life in the 19th get century, the emirs. To go further in history, visit the ruins of Jubayl, on the coast, where it remains of settlements from the Stone Age.

What to do in Mount Lebanon on the slopes of world-class Monte Lebanon.Go around the ancient cedar forests of the Al Shouf Cedar Reserve and admire the view from the top of the steep mountain reserves. Beautiful old Ottoman houses, the beaches and the largest museum of Byzantine and Roman mosaics. Explore layers of ruins of ancient civilizations in the coastal city of Jbeil in Lebanon, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world and the birthplace of the Latin alphabet. Along the streets of the old stone houses with red roofs in a traditional village in Chouf, Deir El Qamar and traditional dishes in a small local restaurant or coffee. Bike or walk along the path, which includes the summits of Mount Lebanon.

A visit to the mountain villages of cool season and throughout the region a popular destination for summer holidays and weekends on site.

Wish We Were There: Trends for 2011

Jan 1 – The Guardian – Travel – by Gemma Bowes

“Highlighting the hottest openings and dreamiest holidays, we reveal our lust list for this year – with something for all seasons.”

This Winter season, go snowshoeing in Lebanon!

“Lebanon’s appeal just grows in leaps and bounds, but we tend to hear more about the food and Beirut’s nightlife than winter sports, even though the country has stupendous mountains. ”

In this article, Gemma Bowes invites her readers to experience a snowshoeing adventure in the Shouf Cedars reserve, plus a visit to the monasterie of the Qadisha valley before hitting the capital.

Are you a fan of snowshoeing? Have you ever tried it in Lebanon?