A rare moment of sunshine at Faraya Mzaar
I just got back from two days skiing with friends in Lebanon’s top ski resort, Faraya Mzaar.
The Dream Team:
We set off early Wednesday morning – too early as it happens. We arrived in Faraya at around 7am, only to find we couldn’t get into our chalet as the door was locked and no one would answer the bell or the phone, which in typical Lebanese style is only answered between 9am and 9pm. All the shops and restaurants were shut and the slopes also didn’t open until 9am.
We therefore settled into a nearby hotel restaurant for very drawn-out (very expensive) coffees to wait for everything to get going. We watched with frustration as the thick morning mist failed to dissipate, instead swirling wetly back and forth, affording us occasional glimpses of the ski lifts 20 metres away, in between periods where we couldn’t see anything beyond the terrace outside the window.
Having finally checked in, we rented our ski equipment from “Sports Experts”, below our grandly named hotel the Mzaar Panoramic. While cheaper than equipment in the Alps it was still pretty expensive – for the five of us to rent our skis, boards and boots plus a few pairs of ski trousers and gloves cost nearly $300 for two days. Sadly this did not mean the equipment was any good – the skis were at least 8 years old, the poles scratched and bent, and the snow-boarding boots apparently did not have proper bindings (whatever that means – I just heard a lot of ranting about it from the boys!)
When we finally made it the ski pass window, we found that due to the bad weather only three slopes were open. One was the baby-slope, so flat that even I, with my three days skiing experience, found it boring, the others were two very wide, steep slopes which were great practice for me, as I had to navigate much steeper inclines that I’d ever done before, but very boring for the other four boys, who have all been skiing or snowboarding for years and were looking forwards to running black slopes and going off-piste.
We had fun anyway, despite the weather, which was so bad that most of the day we couldn’t see more than 5 metres ahead of us due to the fog, and got peppered with very painful hail and frozen by the icy wind each time we sat down for the long, slow lift ride up to the top of the slopes.
At about 2.30 the fog cleared and the sun even came out for a few minutes. Excited by the thought of an hour’s fair weather before the slopes closed at 3.30 we quickly finished our lunch and headed back out into the cold. Unfortunately by the time we reached the good lifts up to the higher slopes it was 3pm, and we were told that the slopes were closed. Surprised and annoyed we pointed out that the slopes were supposed to open until 3.30 and that the weather had finally improved, but were greeted with the typically Lebanese shrug that says as clearly as if it was shouted: “There’s nothing you can do so I’m not even going to bother to explain myself to you.”
Defeated, we headed back to the hotel, but not before Everitte, Alex and Renko had attempted to walk up the side of one of the closed slopes, intending to ski down, only be interrupted by an extremely irate man wearing bright yellow who proceeded to shout at them extremely loudly in Arabic for several minutes – it was entertaining to watch and at least he didn’t just shrug!
After a brief nap we were ready to head back out for food, at which point Renko discovered that he had left his shoes in the sports hire shop, and had nothing but his ski boots to wear out into the night. He gamely walked down the mountain with us, his boots making an extremely loud noise at every step, while we subjected him to several hours of merciless teasing about how he was going to start a new trend at university, and was certain to be a hit with the ladies when we went clubbing.
The little town was almost dead – it was strange to see a ski resort at peak season almost empty of people, with all the bars and shops shut by 8pm. Apparently Faraya only really gets busy at weekends, even at the best time of year, which is rather sad. Still, eventually we found somewhere to eat, and they were happy to have us as their only table once Renko agreed to take off his ski boots and leave them at the door.
Dinner went well, as evidenced by Maarten’s hair, which got progressively madder and madder as the hours passed…
When we finally arrived back at the hotel it was 1am, and before bed I took this rather wonderful group shot to commemorate the occasion:
Waking up the next day 8am, I initially thought the weather had improved, which was enough to temp the boys from their tightly packed bunk beds in spite of their hangovers. However, back at the ski pass window we found that once again only three slopes were open, which meant another day of riding the same slope for hours.
On the way up in the first lift we saw a procession of soldiers marching trough the snow, presumably doing some sort of icy conditions training. We waved wildly from the lifts and they waved enthusiastically back, shouting at us in Arabic from their surreal position halfway up a ski slope.
Initially I had trouble with the same steep slope I’d been skiing on the day before, perhaps due to lack of sleep, and fell over at almost every turn on the iced-over piste. However, over the next few hours while the boys went off to try to ski off-piste I persevered and by the afternoon was going down almost as fast as Maarten and Renko with their years of skiing experience, although with a lot less style. I think I looked like a drunk spider on ice, but it was a lot of fun and I reached speeds of 50… 60… maybe 100 miles an hour! (Yes I did).
Unfortunately Renko broke a ski pole so headed back early and Maarten soon joined him, bored with skiing the same run and disgusted with the churned up snow on the piste.
Alex, Everitte and I persevered a while longer, and while riding the lift we saw some interesting things. The fog meant that we could only see what was happening directly below us, and in the space of half an hour we witnessed one stupid man ski straight down the mountain at lethal speed, screaming to people to get out of his way, almost run over a small girl and finally fall about 15 feet down the slope in a cloud of snow. When we skied down we saw that a huge crowd had gathered around him and he was not getting up. Eventually the Red Cross had to come and take him away on a snow mobile. I’m sorry to say we didn’t have much sympathy for him, given that he was clearly a fool who had endangered lots of other people by going that fast when no one could see each other in the fog.
About 10 minutes later we saw another woman who had fallen and broken her arm being bandaged up for transport. What with the fog, the poor quality of the snow and the old ski equipment it seemed like injuries abound at Faraya Mzaar.
At about 2.30 we headed back too, only to find on returning the ski equipment that Mr. Man from “Sports Experts” was trying to charge Renko $25 for his broken ski pole, which, as we argued for some time, had snapped simply because it was extremely old, not due to any incompetence on the part of Renko, who is an excellent skier.
After half an hour or so we reached an impasse: Mr. Man refused to give my passport back unless we paid him, and Renko refused to pay him because the charge was totally over the top and unfair. Apparently he once snapped two poles in one week while skiing in the Alps and didn’t have to pay anything because they know that ski equipment gets worn out and that poles do eventually break due to age and wear and tear.
It was one of those times when we knew he would give it up eventually, and he knew we knew, but the formalities still had to be gone through. After a long-winded argument in French between Maarten, Mr. Man and me we finally got my passport back, no payment required. I think what did it was not us pointing out that we had just paid him nearly $300 for ski equipment that was in terrible condition anyway and that if he had to spend $10 of it on a new ski pole that was his look out, but rather my telling him that if he waived the charge we’d rent from him next time and he could make another $300 for doing absolutely nothing.
Typically as we waited for our taxi the sun once again came out for the first time that day, and we were able to see how beautiful Faraya could be, if we chose a good time to visit:
After much bargaining we finally made it back to Beirut, enjoying the amazing views on the way back to the coast.
All in all it was an interesting two days – the company ensured I had a great time, and my skiing certainly improved… but I think I might wait until I get a chance to visit the Alps before I try skiing again!