Long Weekend skiing in the Middle East
January in the UAE. As far as weather climate, it doesn’t get much better. Cool nights and warm days. But still for someone who loves the mountains and snow sports I needed to get my fix somehow. I unfortunately had one boundary, With working for the UAE national Service I would not be able to get time off till at least May time. This would mean the snow season on the northern Hemisphere would be over.
My only option was to go for a long weekend. Luckily I had the last Thursday of January off which would mean that I would have 3 days off for my trip.
Now I needed to decide where. All the large skiing destinations are either in Europe, USA, Canada and Japan. Which are all too far to travel to just for one weekend, I would basically be using almost one day just on the travelling alone.
So resigned to the fact I wouldn’t get to ski any big resorts this year I decided to look a any country within 3-5 hours with any sort of skiing. After looking at flights, snow conditions and logistics of countries like Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, I decided Lebanon was suited best.
I booked my flights on the Tuesday evening when my Thursday off was confirmed. A direct three and a half hour flight leaving Abu Dhabi on Wednesday evening at 9.30 PM and landing in Beirut at 11PM. Then the return flight was direct, flying at 4.15 PM on the Saturday from Beirut and landing in Dubai at 9.30 PM. This in terms of timing was perfect. I would hopefully be able to get two and a half full days of skiing if the conditions allowed.
So when Wednesday came along I finished work at 4pm. Drove the 90 minute journey back to the flat. Packed my ski gear, cameras and minimal clothing and then headed to the airport to catch a flight with Middle East Airways.
Once I landed in Beirut, apart from my school boy error for not taking a pen with me to fill out my Visa entry form, it was easy to get through the airport. I then picked up my Kia Optimus, rental car at the airport, loaded my luggage, set my destination in Google Maps and then got on my way.
I was told that driving in Lebanon was an experience of chaos. However at Midnight on a Wednesday night, apart from the rain, it was no problem. I followed the coast North for 20 Km before turning inland and beginning the 40 minute drive up the mountain. As I ascended up the winding roads towards Faraya the rain change from rain to sleet, then Sleet to snow. The roads started to get a light dusting of snow on them but with the winter tires the Kia had no issues.
I arrived at the Hotel I’d booked at around 1.30 am. Had to knock on the door for a while before the hotelier finally came to let me in. Unloaded the car quickly and jumped into bed.
When 6 am came around, which would mean it was 8pm back in the UAE, my body clock woke me up. I looked out the window and to my dismay the weather was not ideal. It was foggy which meant it would be difficult to differentiate the snow from the sky. It was still early so I hoped it would clear up as they day went on. I decided for that morning I would jump in the Kia and go and explore. As I drove down into the village I found a small shop where I bought food and snacks for the next few days. Then proceeded to head down the mountain. As I descended the fog eased off which made for some great views. I stumbled on some Roman ruins by the side of the road so spent an hour or so having my breakfast and investigating them. Then I decided that I would scale back up the mountain to the hotel, don my ski gear and go and see what the skiing here had in stall for me, even if the visibility was poor.
Getting from my hotel to the ski lifts was easy enough. I’d picked the hotel so it was next to the lifts so I wouldn’t have to waste time karting my gear back and forth. When walking up to the kiosk I noticed that only 2 lifts were open. And they were only for the baby slopes. The visibility was poor but apart from that there was no real reason. When I spoke to them they said the weather was too poor and there were not enough people here. This was frustrating and disappointing. Anyway nothing I could do so paid the reduced price of $20 USD and went to see what the 2 lifts and 3 runs had to offer. Within 30 minutes I’d used both lifts and skied all 3 runs. And was slightly flat with what was to offer so far. I could see that if all the lifts were open this would be a totally different situation. I persisted with the skiing for a few hours, going through drills and exercises I used to teach as an instructor just so I could blow away the cobwebs then returned to the hotel slightly frustrated and beginning to feel like this could be a waste of a trip.
The rest of that day was spend doing a little bit of reading on what the surrounding country side had to offer and then and a quick power nap to catch up on last night’s lack of sleep. I then dressed up warm and headed out to walk around town to see if there was any sort of Apres. Quick answer to that was no. I ended up in this restaurant with no one else in it apart from myself. However the Pizza I had was the best one I’d had in many a blue moon. Silver lining and all that.
Next day I woke up to the same weather. Luckily there had been some snow fall over night so there would be a good dusting on the mountain but the visibility was still poor. I decided that I would go and explore again. I’d read there was a natural bridge somewhere and that there was a little hike to it. So off I went in the Kia down the mountain.
Again when I got down the mountain the visibility was slightly better with the decreased altitude. So I parked the car and went for a stroll through the snow. After a while I came along the Bridge. Amazing what nature can do. Almost looks like it was carved by someone. When I was there the wind died down so I decided I would fly my drone as the footage would look good.
This is where it didn’t go to plan. As I was flying the drone under the bridge I miscalculated how close I was to the underside and my drone made contact. To my horror that all I saw on the screen was it starting to spin out of control then there the screen went dark. As I was stood on top of the Bridge I had to find a way down to 1) see if I could find the drone and 2) see if it was broken beyond repair.
With a little bit of a trek round I managed to find a steep slope that I walked down and had a walk around to see where it had gone. After about 5 -10 minutes found the imprint of it in snow. Once I pulled it out I could see that all the propellers were broken and apart from one scratch on the body it seemed ok. But I didn’t have any spare props on me so I would have to wait till I got back to the hotel.
I trekked back to the car, and realized that the weather up the mountain looked like it had cleared. So I hastily got myself back to the hotel threw my gear on and took to the mountain. Again was frustrating as they only had the 2 lifts open, again saying that the weather did not permit them to open the top chair lifts, (It was sunny with winds no more that 15km and hour). I had to make do with what I had and managed to find dome off piste between the two runs which satisfied me slightly however seeing the potential I was still frustrated about the lifts not being open to the top mountains.
That evening I chilled out back in the Hotel with a few beers and hit the sack early as I had decided that next morning I was going to wake up early and trek up the mountains on my ski’s before the lifts opened so I could at least say I’d reached the peak of Mzaar.
5.am came along, I got up donned my warm gear on, put my skins on the bottom of my ski’s so they wouldn’t slide backwards on the snow and started my track up. Unfortunately it was a white out. Visibility was very poor. But I thought I may as well walk up the piste and then I could ski down it and follow the poles marking out the way, and you never know I may be lucky and it would clear when I got to the top.
During the ascent it was nice and quiet. Not much wind, is was snowing lightly but nothing major. It only 2 hours to reach the top. Where I found a hut door to shelter from the snow while I removed the skins and had my breakfast. Unfortunately the luck of the Gods was not with me and the visibility was still poor. It was such a white out that the air and the snow blended into one. But I could make out the piste poles on the side so when I came to ski down I could navigate easily with that. The skiing itself was very nice. The piste was perfectly groomed and under about 4 to 6 inches of snow. It seriously felt like I was skiing in a cloud. The decent was quick, no more than 8-10 minutes to reach the bottom but was a good last run considering the conditions.
I did have time to buy a pass and get a few runs on the bottom slopes but as I was leaving in a few hours I’d decided to dry out my ski gear out as much as possible before packing it away and felt like I want really missing out on anything I’d not already done.
So back at the hotel with everything drying I just spent the last few hours sipping tea and looking up at the foggy mountain. Once it came time to leave I went out to uncover my car from the snow with the help of some of the locals. Loaded it up with everything I had and drove down the scenic road overlooking the Mediterranean to the west.
After reaching the coast I then turned south along the highway towards Beirut and the airport. It only took an hour and a half but my drive back was certainly different to the drive there. I’m not sure what highway code they use in Lebanon. But certainly don’t think it’s a safe one. 2 lane roads become 4 cars width, undertaking and pulling out without looking seemed to be appropriate. It was certainly an experience I will remember. However I managed the trip with no issues. Returning the car with a full tank I was less than 5 minutes before I was off to check in my luggage where I then went to wait on my flight home, while reliving my experience in Lebanon.
My short 3 days here I could certainly see the potential of the place. The skiing the culture and the country has a lot to offer. I may not have picked the best weekend weather wise and unfortunately the poor management of the ski area may have hindered the experience in one way. But with that all said, I still enjoyed my long weekend in Lebanon and is it an adventure if everything goes to plan???
If someone was to come to me asking is it worth a long weekend to Lebanon. My answer would be a simple Yes and bellow is some footage for you to see.