Close to two thousand five hundred meters high in Mount Lebanon emerges a modest ski resort, offering a clash of cultures and trends one might never expect.
Faraya-Mzaar-Kfardebian is an uncommon ski resort. Spanning eighty kilometers across its many peaks, marked by iron crosses, Faraya offers a panoramic view of Beirut and the Mediterranean Sea.
A Christian mountain, Faraya was founded in 1950s by a muslim. Cheikh Salim El Khazen built the Mzaar hotel and the Jabal Dib chair lift. Construction of forty two lifts followed, some built by Maronite Christians.
An hour’s drive from Lebanon’s capital of Beirut, the topography significantly changes. Along the road, olives groves and terraced gardens slice into rolling hills. As old men in tightly fitted shirts drink their tea, orange fruit sellers offer passing cars a morning treat.
Near the peaks, snow caps countless of stone terraces that overlook half a dozen ski and snowboard shops. Snowboard, gloves and a hat rentals cost as little as fifteen dollars.
At any of the resort’s parking lots, cultures and trends collide. Beat back vans unveil their shisha tobacco pipes, offering smokes to any who can sing the Lebanese national anthem. Gulf women drive their Rolls-Royce, their black cloaks pinned neatly underneath their chins. Meanwhile the Lebanese-French women show off their BMWs, but more importantly, their Spider-branded ski suits. They also clutch their Chanel purses.
The main base is full of marvel. One of the main ski lifts offers two separate lines; one for Gulf tourists, the other, for skiers and snowboarders. Kuwait and Saudi tourists never rent skis. Instead they ride all day on the lifts, taking photos of snow tracks.
“It is my first time seeing snow,” says one Saudi woman, dressed in a full abaya and niqab.
Atop Mzaar, the tallest peak, visitors ring a large church bell. They look towards the Bekaa Valley, enriched with the finest wineries. Pointing south emerges Mount Hermon, and beyond it, Israel. A neighboring peak spoils us with temples and columns, alters and tombs cut into terraced rock. On clear days one can see many coastal towns and cedar trees.
Few days shy of April, Faraya holds onto to its well-groomed snow caps. For snowboarders the tracks below are too flat, for skiers, they are perfect. Some trails are not clearly marked, others are invisible. But Faraya, a splendid study of topography and culture, lays out neither rules nor boundaries.