By Adam Harvey
Here’s a confession: one of the reasons I applied for a job in Beirut was because I knew that in Lebanon you can ski.
I’ve loved the sport since I was 13 years old, and first strapped on a pair of skis at a tiny ski slope in the Brindabellas.
Corin Forest seemed terrifying — icy, steep, bumpy, chaotic, and so addictive that I moved to the big-time: Smiggins Holes.
But as an adult, I’ve lived in places like Perth and Dublin and Sydney, where the logistics and cost of skiing were prohibitive.
My last stop was Indonesia, where the temperature didn’t drop below 28 in three years and the closest thing to snow was the ash falling from Bali’s Mt Agung.
Then I moved to Beirut, where you can famously ski in the morning and swim in the sea in the afternoon.
The first time I went up in early January, I approached my Lebanese ski trip with the rigid discipline of someone who’d grown up skiing on weekends in Australia, where you’ve got to hit the slopes early if you want to avoid queuing for 45 minutes on the T-bars at Perisher’s front valley.
I was out the door at 6:00am, roaring up the mountain road by 6:30am, and at the resort by 7:30am.
That’s sea level to 2,000 metres in an hour, including a stop to pick up skis and poles.
I couldn’t quite believe it. Neither, I think, could the car park guys at Mzaar. I was the first person there.
I stopped in the empty bitumen, looked up at the mountain, with its deep, fresh layer of snow, and wondered where everyone else was.
In bed, as it turned out.
Cafes empty at 10am and packed at 10pm
Lebanese live life at the opposite end of the day.
At Mzaar, I cooled my heels with a handful of other early birds, eventually handed over $50 for a lift ticket, got on the first chairlift of the day, made fresh tracks all the way down and got straight back on to another lift, with no queue.
This happened all day long. It was like a dream.
The rest of the skiers arrived after 10:00am, but the lift queues were really only a few minutes’ long.
I basically had the mountain to myself — and what a mountain.
Wide, open slopes, loads of chutes and gullies to get lost in, and best of all, two huge winter storms had dumped about 4 metres of fresh show.
So much had fallen that the snowploughs had to dig channels beneath some of the chairlifts so they could operate.
Mzaar’s about the size of Thredbo, with a few flourishes that you wouldn’t see in Australia.
The food and drink are better — I had a mountaintop espresso with a saj, a flatbread cooked in front of you on a metal dome, with a layer of cheese, za’atar and yoghurt spread on top.
Just like in any ski resort, the music is terrible, but the fashion is more interesting — Mzaar’s the first place I’ve ever seen anyone skiing in a fur coat.
A view over the mountains of Syria
The resort’s in a Christian area, and the locals have made their allegiance clear by decorating the hilltops with giant steel crosses.
From one of the highest chairs you can look across the Bekaa Valley to the mountains of Syria.
I overhear a pair of skiers taking in the view. One man, who sounds American, says: “So that’s Syria, and that way, Israel?
His Lebanese companion is silent for a moment, then corrects him.
I’ve gone hard since 8:00am, and there’s no breather in the lift line, so after five hours of skiing I’m ready to go home.
I head back to the carpark, which is pandemonium. The latecomers are all arriving now, after lunch.
I’ve never seen this in Australia, where you might as well give up if you haven’t arrived by 10:00am.
The ski slopes might have been sedate and peaceful, but the roads leading to them are now frenzied.
There’s a 5-kilometre tailback as all the latecomers sit in stalled traffic.
Armed police stand on the narrow mountain road, waving arms and shouting as they try and fail to order the traffic, but even with all the cops, drivers pull out of their lane and roar up the wrong side of the road, blocking the cars coming in the opposite direction.
Everyone comes to a standstill as the impatient drivers then try to squeeze back in to the other lane.
Everyone honks at everyone else. I tap my horn just to join in the party, but none of these guys can wreck my good mood.
I’m in a post-mountain high. Skiing in Lebanon is paradise. You’ve just got to get up early.