BEIRUT: Skileb.com’s live webcam of the Mazaar resort paints a pitiful picture: Brown weeds and mud abound where screencaps from a year ago show bundled-up families gliding over hills of endless white powder.
But it’s not just skiing enthusiasts who are watching the February forecast with trepidation; Lebanon’s ski industry has seen business drop by as much as 60 percent after an unusually warm and dry January.
“Usually we open around Christmas,” said Samir Saab, owner of the Laqlouq ski resort. “But this year it might not happen at all.”
Like Laqlouq, most of the country’s slopes open between Christmas and the New Year, after several winter storms create the necessary 40-centimeter base. Last year, the season was slightly delayed, opening in the second week of January.
But ski and tourism businesses said they’ve never seen a winter like this and estimated more than half of the winter season’s business had been lost so far.
That loss has been felt in the mountain restaurants, hotels and sports equipment providers that also rely on the tourism that snow draws to the area.
With most of Lebanon’s tourism sector already suffering due to the security situation and travel warnings from Gulf states, the ski industry had been expected to be one bright spot as it relies mostly on internal tourism.
Saab was the only resort owner to offer any skiing this winter. After Alexa, December’s disappointing winter storm, Laqlouq had 60 centimeters of snow and offered a free preseason open ski for two days just before Christmas. He hasn’t opened the slopes since.
Laqlouq, like other ski resorts, has had to refund season tickets and rely on holiday escape packages to bring in any guests. Other than New Year’s Eve, Laqlouq has been “totally dead,” Saab said.
This Valentine’s Day, hotels in places such as Faraya and around the Cedars in Bsharri are trying to draw couples to the snowless mountains with lower prices.
“Usually on the weekends at hotels, it’s fully booked,” caretaker Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud said. “But now you’ll find a room immediately and with special rates.”
The restaurants around Faraya have seen around a 40 percent drop in business, Abboud said, based on conversations he has had with owners. And for the resorts and hotels, Abboud said he wouldn’t be surprised if their losses were greater than 60 percent.
But providing exact numbers for seasonal losses so far is impossible, both Abboud and Saab said.
Abboud said the losses are a hard lesson for resorts to think about investing in snowmakers, instead of relying on natural precipitation to blanket their slopes with powder.
“It’s a catastrophe, but it really should teach a lesson. Snow canons are part and parcel of skiing,” he said. “The Olympic Games in Sochi would be threatened without them. It would make their misery a bit more bearable.”
Ecotourism groups operating around ski resorts and relying on snow have also taken a hit. Skyline Extreme Sports bases most of its winter trips around harsh winter weather conditions and offers private ski outings – all of which are impossible without the snow.
Gilbert Hobeich, founder of Skyline, said companies renting anything from snowmobiles to snowshoes had been hit this season.
“They’ve bought the latest Ski-Doos, new collections of snowshoes,” Hobeich said. “It’s hard to get them, and now there’s no ski season.”
Forecasts for the first two weeks of February predict a few centimeters of snow at the most. A small dusting had fallen over Faraya Tuesday night, but quickly melted by Wednesday afternoon.
February is typically the height of Lebanon’s ski season, and ski enthusiast Ronald Sayegh sounded more optimistic than others about the possibility getting some days on the slopes in before the end of March.
Sayegh, the founder of Skileb.com, the leading local website for ski bookings and news, is hopeful that skiers will have at least a few weeks of winter sports.
“There’s nothing to be done. This is the first time [the ski season’s been] delayed so much,” he said. “We’re watching the weather. I assume there will be snow in the last two weeks of February. It’s a sad season.”
Abboud, however, is placing his hopes on a drastic turnaround: “I’m hoping Alexa’s cousin will come.”