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A Call to Powder

A Call to Powder

Travel
By Marisa S. Katz
posted: 09/07/2006

The ski day begins not with the ritual layering of breathable base layers, but with a vociferous call to prayer. The loudspeakers on mosque rooftops resonate with vibrating voices urging the slumbering Beirutis to wake and pray: "Allah Akbar" filters through my hotel's 19th century windows. Today is the Islamic holiday of Id al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice, which concludes the annual Muslim pilgrimage.

But for some, there's an entirely different kind of pilgrimage in the offing. Faraya Mzaar, part of the Mt. Lebanon range, is visible just beyond the mosques' minarets. In these world-class mountains—elevations exceed 10,000 feet and annual snowfall is 300 inches—Lebanese skiers are reclaiming the sport after a 15-year civil war.

The drive from Beirut to Faraya takes less than an hour. On the way up, billboards of Arabic pop sensations Nawal al Zoughbi and George Wassouf line the highway as the landscape shifts from drab concrete apartments to rocky, barren mountains. Military checkpoints dot the mountain road, but eager skiers packed into tiny cars are waved through. They weave past stalled vehicles—Lebanese drivers unwisely ignore chain laws—until the resort appears just as the road dwindles to a slush-covered path.

The base of Faraya is at 6,070 feet, the summit 2,000 feet higher. From December to April, skiers whistle down the 42 trails, carving turns in the light, fluffy powder. Lift attendants shout y'allah (move) as skiers reach for the cold metal seats, which smack forcefully into their backsides as they sit down. Between the two peaks, Jabal Dib (7,531 feet) to the north and Mzaar (8,085 feet) to the south, skiers can access 18 lifts, and with most sticking to the green and blue runs, the adventurous can head off-piste with little competition.[NEXT ""]

Two types of people ski here: On one side of the mountain is an overcrowded dining area filled with locals and the odd Scandinavian family. A mile away, the Intercontinental Mountain Resort caters to the upper crust: You'll find more Hummers and Mercedes in the heated garage there than you'd see on Rodeo Drive.

The views, however, are equal opportunity: Skiers can see Israel's Mount Hermon, the Syrian border and the Mediterranean from Faraya's peak. But when the sun shimmies down the mountain, it's back to Beirut, back past the soldiers and the stalled cars, past the town of Ouyoune-El Simane, where hungry skiers stop for ground lamb and flatbread, past the disheveled apartment buildings and into the city, where tomorrow morning the call to prayer will sound again.

The State Department warns against travel to Lebanon, but if you go, Faraya Mzaar is 26 miles from Beirut. Hire a driver through the resort—the roads are rough.Contact 011-961-9-341502; skileb.com

October 2005

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