'Winter wonder' in the Middle East: The everlasting allure of Lebanon's skiing legacy

Variety and Tech
2024-01-29 | 06:20
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'Winter wonder' in the Middle East: The everlasting allure of Lebanon's skiing legacy
'Winter wonder' in the Middle East: The everlasting allure of Lebanon's skiing legacy

If you ask the older generation about Lebanon, you will hear stories about all the glory the country used to feature. 

Better described as the "Switzerland of the Middle East," Lebanon, once a secure banking hub, is known for its snow-capped destinations overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. 

Just a few kilometers from the capital, Beirut, you can get transported into a winter wonderland in the country's equipped ski slopes, resorts, and beautiful mountains covered in snow for months during this awaited season.

For years, skiing in Lebanon has been the go-to activity for winter sports enthusiasts.

Many reports say that Lebanon's first "ski pioneer" was Ramez Ghazzaoui, a Lebanese student who learned to ski in Switzerland and brought the sport with him in 1913. 

However, 1935 marked a significant date in Lebanon's "ski history" when the French army established the first Ski and Combat School in the mountains of Bcharri in the north.

Following that date, the Army Command established a building for this school in 1937, located in Youssef Rahme Barrack, the Cedars.

The primary function of the ski school was to lead special missions on snow and conduct search and rescue operations for missing or trapped in snow individuals.

In the 1950s, Lebanon entered its "golden age," an era during which Beirut was the region's tourism and commerce center; during that decade, skiing was becoming more notorious. 

Over the years, ski resorts started to develop, from the Cedars to Kfardebian and all the way to Qanat Bakish, enhancing the country's reputation with one of the largest – and most beautiful – ski destinations in the Middle East. 

With Lebanon considered a rather "small country," this feature makes ski resorts accessible on a day trip, with less than an hour's drive from Beirut. 

Notably, Lebanon's geography plays a vital role in making this sport popular, as there are four main geographic regions in Lebanon, differentiated by topography and climate. 

It is worth noting that skiing is not the only "snowy activity" in Lebanon, as snowboarding and snowshoeing are becoming popular, especially among the youth. 

In fact, throughout the years, this winter sport - skiing - has raised Lebanon's name abroad.

Lebanon has taken part in almost all Olympic Games since 1948, the country's "Recognition Year."

Since then, athletes such as alpine skier Ibrahim Geagea, who competed in 1948, 1952, 1956, and 1960, and Chirine Njeim, who participated in three Olympics in alpine skiing and was twice the Lebanese flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, made their nation proud. 

In 1961, the Lebanese Ski Federation, the national governing body for Olympic alpine skiing, snowboarding, cross and country, and biathlon was founded. 

Despite periods of political instability, skiing has remained popular, attracting both locals and international visitors.

This year, despite being late, the ski season in Lebanon has started, a season many await eagerly to enjoy the quality of the snow. 

As Lebanon's ski legacy continues to unfold, the vibrant ski culture persists as a source of pride, contributing to the country's unique identity as a winter sports destination in the heart of the Middle East.

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