Skiing tourism in Lebanon

Every visitor to Lebanon (Capital: Beirut) has heard that in this country one can ski on snow in the morning and swim in the waters of the Mediterranean in the afternoon. This is due to the fact that Lebanon’s mountain range rises up above a very narrow coast. Even the highest resorts are only a short drive from the coast. On clear days a particularly spectacular view can be seen from the top. From the top of Mzaar, the highest point above the resort of Faraya, the Bekaa Valley and the Anti Lebanon mountain range can be seen to one side, and to the other, the city of Beirut and other towns along the coast.

Skiing in Lebanon has been a popular sport since an engineering student returning from studying in Switzerland brought back with him the sport of skiing to Lebanon in the early twentieth century. Lebanon is home to six developed ski resorts. Cedars Ski Resort Bsharri is the oldest and received its first ski lift. Mzaar Ski Resort, Kfardebian, is Lebanon’s largest ski resort.

Lebanon, a mountainous country with summits reaching heights of over 10,000 feet, is sometimes referred to as the “Switzerland of the East”.

Lebanon is home to six well-maintained ski resorts on the Mount Lebanon range that faces the Mediterranean. They have a combined 49 ski lifts with pistes totaling 300 km in length.

Lebanon’s ski resorts are accessible on a day trip with the nearest ski resorts less than an hour’s drive from the capital, Beirut. The sociable Lebanese ensure that the après-ski scene is as memorable as the skiing.

A seventh ski field, a steep and rugged one that is suitable for the most intrepid skiers only, is at Mount Hermon, but due to the political situation with Israel and Syria, the field has never been developed into a resort. In 2005, plans for a US$1 billion skiing resort, Sannine Zenith, were revealed.

In 1935, the French Army established the first ski school at Le Grand Cèdre Hotel in the Cedars forest in northern Lebanon.

The school moved two years later to a high mountain barrack that later became known as the Military ski School.

Michel Samen, in 1947, raised the Lebanese flag at the championship in Chamonix. One year later, Mounir Itani, Jean Samen, Abdelwahab El Rifai and Ibrahim Geagea, competed in the Winter Olympics at Saint Moritz.

1961 saw the official establishment of the Lebanese Ski Federation under President Dr. Emile Riachi. It started the golden era of Ski in Lebanon that lasted almost 30 years.

Lebanese skiers participated in the Olympic games and World Championships: Innsbruck (1964), Greece (1967), Sapporo (1972), Innsbruck (1976), Grenoble (1969), Lake Placid (1980), Calgary (1988) and Albertville (1992).

In 1967 and 1972 the Lebanese Army team won the World Championship of Military Ski.

From 1962 until the eruption of the civil war in 1975, a World Cup Competition named “Semaine Internationale du Ski aux Cedres” took place yearly in The Cedars and attracted the world’s most prestigious champions

Lebanese skiing history was at its peak in 1967 when the 26th annual International Ski Federation (ISF) conference was held in Beirut.

At the time of its construction in 1974, Faqra Club, which was built at the foot of Mount Sannine with the help of Swiss architects, was one of the premier private skiing resorts in the world. With altitudes ranging between 1700 and 2000 meters, the resort offered a dozen pistes of varying levels that permitted skiers to enjoy the sport day and night. On clear days, one could see the Mediterranean and the capital, Beirut, from the summits.

In 1993, the Lebanese-American, Richard Elias initiated the International Peace Ski, in which he led a group of thirteen professional skiers from ten different countries to ski in Lebanon.

Lebanese skiers have participated in the Winter Olympic Games since 1948 and in World Championships: Innsbruck (1964), Greece (1967), Sapporo (1972), Innsbruck (1976), Grenoble (1969), Lake Placid (1980), Calgary (1988) and Albertville (1992).

The ski season, which is similar to the Alps, typically runs from mid-December to April, depending on the length and depth of snowfall. In spring, it is sometimes possible to snow ski in the morning and drive to the coast in the afternoon to water ski.

Cross country skiing
Nordic skiing or cross-country skiing in Lebanon has become more popular after the year 1990 and is also being adopted by the young Lebanese generation, seeking tranquility, away from the crowded ski slopes. Amazing as it sounds, high plateaus in Mount Lebanon are ideal for cross-country skiing, and most of them lie in the neighborhood of the ski resorts. The average skiing period stretches four months easily as from mid December. Two amazing off-piste are available for cross-country sking lovers:
Grande Coulée: The Grande Coulée slope can be seen from Beirut on the sannine mountain. You can start your Journey to the Grande Coulée from the Faqra or Faraya-Mzaar resorts up to the Mzaar peak (at the top of the Mzaar chairlift) where you will find an old stone church and the remains of a Roman temple. Follow the crest with, at your right hand, the 1000 meters cliff and the wonderful scenerey at your feet. Ounce you arrive at the peak known as “The Chamber of the french” (altitude 2600 m) you can start your descent on a woundeful silky snow until you reach the orchards of Sannine (altitude 1500 m).
Mount Hermon:

Lebanon has six ski resorts with groomed slopes, catering to skiers and snowboarders of all levels. Beyond the skiable domains await you kilometers of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails waiting to be discovered; Lebanon has something for everyone. Each of the ski resorts has a different flavor; however, it is Faraya Mzaar (Kfardebian) that offers the best infrastructure and facilities for the tourists. The Cedars resort is ideal for nature getaway seekers, and Laqlouq is suitable for families with levels up to intermediate.

The Cedars area is utterly beautiful but it is better as a cross country ski resort. People enjoy The Cedars for the ambience and the spectacular views particularly on the Kadisha Valley. The Cedars is at the north end of the Mount Lebanon Range. The resort is a 2 hour drive from Beirut, but only an hour from Tripoli, which is definitely worth a visit. The drive up to the Cedars is through some of the most beautiful scenery in Lebanon.

In 1935, French entrepreneurs established the first ski school at Le Grand Cèdre Hotel in the Cedars forest in northern Lebanon. The school moved two years later to a high mountain barrack and became known as the Military ski School. In 1959, the Lebanese army established the first one seat chairlift that extended to 2700m. Later on, more ski lifts were built by the Keyrouz family and the Cedars became a destination for the Lebanese and International Gotha in the 1960s and early 1970s (until the break out of the civil war in 1975). Famous international movie stars, Presidents and Kings (including the Chah of Iran) have enjoyed the pleasures of skiing in the Cedars and clubbing in the mythical “le Chalet” Hotel (Closed since 1975)and its eccentric owner, Dede Taleb.

Skiing Area
The resort is in a huge basin and it is impossible to get lost. Half a dozen of ski chairs and ski lifts have been upgraded recently and more lifts are expected in the future. The resort is at 2150m with a chairlift that extends up to 2800m, leading to a wonderful plateau, with an ltitute between 2800m and 3100m.

The off piste around the basin is challenging, with a circuit leading to the old “Chalets” quarter passing through the multi-century old cedars forest.

Natural Sites
With this resort there are wonderful hikes in the Kadisha Gorge. People can treck along the side of the gorge and climb into the ancient Maronite chapels (built in caves in the rock face), which is an experience in itself.

Faraya Mzaar
Faraya Mzaar Kfardebian or Faraya-Mzaar (Arabic: فاريا مزار), also known as Ouyoune el Simane or Aayoun Al Simane, is a ski area in Lebanon.

Faraya-Mzaar was founded in the late 1950s by Cheikh Salim El Khazen who built the Mzaar hotel and the chair lift initially known as “Le Telesiege”. Simultaneously, a group of pioneers, including Sami Geammal, Robert Nassif, Dr Georges Zebouni and Pr Emile Riachi, started the development of the ski resort, building the first ski lift, the mythical “Le Refuge”. The group started building the first residential “Chalets” designed by architect Raoul Vernet, kicking off a period of undiscontinued real estate development in the whole area of Kfardebiane. In the early 1980s, the Saudi-Lebanese al-Mabani Group leaded by Fouad Rizk and Nehme Tohme acquired the majority of its shares and took over the development of the resort.

Skiing Area
The ski resort has 42 slopes and 80 kilometers of groomed tracks. The skiing season in Lebanon is similar in length to that of the Alps stretching over a period of 4 months]. The peaks of the Faraya Mzaar mountain range vary between heights of 1913 and 2465 meters. The tallest peak, Mzaar, as well as the Nabil and Warde peaks, offer challenges for the experienced skier or snowboarder. Three other peaks are well suited for beginners, and even more are adapted to skier of intermediate level. Skiing ranges between heights of 1310m at Faraya, 1850m (Ouyoune el Simaan) to 2465m on the peak above Mzaar. In addition, there are a number of cross-country trails. From the top of Mzaar, there is a view over the Bekaa valley, Mount Hermon of the Anti-Lebanon and other peaks like Laqlouq and the Cedars. Coastal towns and the capital Beirut can be seen on a clear day.

Natural and Historical Sites
Situated at an elevation of 1550m at the feet of Faraya-Mzaar, Faqra has monuments which included: temples, columns, altars and rock cut tombs. The temple of Faqra is partly cut out of the living rock. On the way to the ruins of Faqra, one can see a bridge called “Jisr al-Hajar” or the “Stone Bridge” with an arch measuring thirty eight meters.

Distance from airport: 43km
GPS coordinates: N 33°58’51” / E 35°48’37”
Base altitude: 1735m/5690ft
Top altitude: 1980m/6494ft
Number of lifts: 4
Suitable for beginners: Yes
Maximum difficulty: Red
Restaurant: Yes
Clubs/Bars: Yes

Distance from airport: 62km
GPS coordinates: N 34°7’48” / E 35°50’58”
Base altitude: 1650m/5412ft
Top altitude: 1920m/6298ft
Number of lifts: 9
Suitable for beginners: Yes
Maximum difficulty: Red
Restaurant: Yes
Clubs/Bars: No

Qanat Bakish
Distance from airport: 45km
GPS coordinates: N 33°57’44” / E 35°49’18”
Base altitude: 1910m/6263ft
Top altitude: 2050m/6724ft
Number of lifts: 3
Suitable for beginners: Yes
Maximum difficulty: Red
Restaurant: Yes
Clubs/Bars: No

Distance from airport: 54km
GPS coordinates: N 33°55’17” / E 35°48’43”
Base altitude: 1700m/5576ft
Top altitude: 2000m/6560ft
Number of lifts: 7
Suitable for beginners: Yes
Maximum difficulty: Red
Restaurant: Yes
Clubs/Bars: No