|This winter's ski season shapes up as a very good year|
|faraya-mzaar resort is more popular than ever
With top quality snow and facilities, Lebanon's reputation as a winter sports destination soars
This winter, the ski season promises to be an exceptional experience for skiers, as "the slopes this year are excellent," according to Christian Rizk, Faraya-Mzaar ski resort's general manager.
"This season - until now - has already been a very successful one," said Rizk.
"It's very important that the ski season start shortly before the holidays, and this year's season luckily started at the beginning of December, way before Christmas, which gave us a greater ski frequency margin." According to an international tourist Web site, lonelyplanet.com, "Lebanon is becoming increasingly popular as a winter sports destination." "This is true," Rizk commented. "Faraya-Mzaar is the most professional ski destination in the Middle East. The Lebanese snow is of the best internationally recognized quality and our customer service and ski equipment are nonexistent anywhere in the Middle East." Though few may try to accomplish the feat, one of the oft-repeated points of pride in this country is that one can ski in the morning and swim in the afternoon. By far the most popular and professional ski resort in Lebanon, Faraya-Mzaar's lifts can provide skiers access to both the Jonction and Warde slopes. Rizk said, however, that while Faraya-Mzaar's prices may be higher than those of other resorts in the country, skiers are also getting more for their money. Indeed, the company has been adding new slopes to the area every year since 1991, with each one gaining increasing skier approval. This year, two types of skiers were particularly noticeable on the slopes; young children and European - especially Russian - tourists.
"It's true," Rizk said. "We are noticing an increasing number of Russian and Cypriot clientele. I guess they are after our Lebanese sun and snow; a combination they rarely have in their own country." As for the "infant skiers" bravely venturing through the most professional slopes like Warde and Cabane, Rizk said that it "was probably due to the fact that the slopes' access was free for children under five years of age."
"It's awesome," exclaimed Russian skier Vladimir Abakumoff, 25, when asked about the ski season this year. "The slopes and the snow are marvelously good for all kinds of snow activities. Among the several skiing destinations that I have visited throughout the Middle East, this country is among the best." Other young skiers resting at the foot of the Warde slope for professional skiers seemed to share the sentiment.
"The quality of the snow is excellent this year," one of the youths said. "We come here every other weekend, or as much as we can." Indeed, looking at the long lines of people waiting for lift tickets, one would hesitate to say that business is slow this year. This is particularly true of some of the newer slopes at Faraya-Mzaar, such as the three-year-old Warde slope situated just a few kilometers west of the popular Jonction run.
Though he remarked on the increase in ski prices compared to two years ago - the last time he visited Lebanon - Rony Abboud remains enthusiastic. According to him, "these slopes are the best ever." Abboud has been skiing every other weekend since the opening of this season and, like many skiers, he is very pleased with the latest and longest addition to the slopes - La Cabana, situated on Warde. "It's better than the other slopes because you have more choices," he said, referring to the variety of levels available. Abboud's friend, Michel Risk, agreed: "The slopes are beautiful. They are wider ... and the snow is in better condition." Skiing enthusiasts can get around the dilemma of expense by buying the Warde-only pass, which costs $26 for a full day, on the weekend. It's an attractive deal which, with the addition of La Cabana, offers skiers a variety of slopes to choose from. Faraya-Mzaar's ongoing development and facility improvements are impressive, and they help account for increasing, rather than diminishing, attendance on the part of local and foreign skiers.
More encouraging still is that these efforts are being implemented by other ski resorts in the country. According to Reine Abboud, a member of the National Ski Federation, there is an increasing change in ski season behavior among the Lebanese.
"People are not doing the regular things like alpine skiing anymore," she remarked. "They are trying new things." Abboud listed nighttime trekking through the slopes of Warde to the new La Cabane Pub as one such new activity, and winter Safari weekend trips organized at the Auberge des Cedres Ski Resort as another. "Similar efforts should and are being done by other ski resorts," she added.
Beirut,01 10 2005
The Daily Star