Ski slopes open, anticipate busy season ahead, Ski season in Lebanon

Date: Monday, January 12, 2015
By: Mazin Sidahmed
Source: The Daily Star

KFAR DEBIAN, Lebanon: The mountain town of Kfar Debian was abuzz over the weekend as ski slopes opened for the first time this season, and local businesses said they looked forward to a productive winter. The slopes were opened thanks to heavy snowfall as a result of "Zina," a storm that overwhelmed Lebanon this past week. Areas located more than 200 meters above sea level were pummeled with snow Friday, reaching up to 1.5 meters at the country's tallest peaks.
The mayor of Kfar Debian, Wassim Samir Mhanna, was full of optimism, saying signs pointed to a strong touristic season ahead.

"In terms of the first day, we can say that it was very good, in terms of the weather and the snow on the ground and roads," the mayor said. "All the indications are great from the perspective of ticket sales and hotel bookings, the start is looking great.
"We can say that all the hotels were booked up and we even have people coming from other Arab countries. I even met people from Venezuela here."
Many are hoping that this year's snowfall will make up for last year's abysmal season, during which the slopes were open for only two days. Despite much anticipation, 2013's storm "Alexa" was mild, with little to no snow all season long.

The lack of tourists took a toll on local businesses, many of which depend on the ski season.
"Everyone around here was affected by the lack of snow last year – the restaurants, the hotels, the shops," he said. "But that year was an exception, it's rare for that to happen. Now you'll have more people coming who will want to make up for last year."
Mhanna said that only small slopes had been opened for the first day Saturday but he expected more snow in the coming days to allow them to open the remaining 14 chairlifts and five teleskis. The season typically lasts for about 100 days, he said.

The picturesque mountains of Kesrouan were covered in snow as far as the eye could see. Up at the Mzaar ski resort in Kfar Debian – not to be confused with its larger neighbor Faraya – skiers bustled around the lodge drinking hot chocolate to warm up after a session on the slopes.
Skiing was briefly interrupted when a deep fog cloaked the mountain and made it difficult for skiers to see. Regardless, most skiers were jubilant leaving the slopes.
"It was really fantastic, the powder was quite nice," said Ramy Haidar, a surgeon and avid skier. "I was quite keen on getting on the slopes the first day too."
"It's a good warm-up for this season," his sister Nadine Haidar, a nutritionist, added.
Many skiers braved roads that were still covered in snow and ice and low temperatures of -15 degrees Celsius.
Kfar Debian's most prominent hotel, the Intercontinental, experienced a notable uptick in bookings over the weekend.

"It's a great weekend, we have seen a great pickup for this weekend and the weekend to come," said Joost Koeman, the general manager of the Intercontinental Hotel.
However, the owner of Edgy Sport, a local ski shop, Edouard Tesh, had cautious optimism for the upcoming season. He said that the poor economic situation in Lebanon and the whole Middle East might slow the flow of skiers. "We will only reach around 60 percent of great years such as 2013 and 2012," he said.

Still, skiing is expected to be the most resilient sector in Lebanon's tourism industry. Locals say that the ski season is not generally impacted by the security situation, unlike touristic sites at Baalbek and Jbeil, as most of the skiers are locals. Also, the mountainous Kfar Debian is known for being a calm area with few security threats.

Owner of the famed restaurant Al-Arzal, a favorite among skiers, Charlie Zgheib said that people would be out no matter what the situation is in the country.
"Skiing has its own situation, independent of the economic situation," Zgheib said. "Avid skiers can't see snow and not go skiing. They just can't, regardless of their economic situation. They'll go in debt if they have to!
"The economic situation is effecting everyone in the country, but they'll still ski."

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