BEIRUT: As the ski season quickly comes to a close, tourists opt for other activities to take advantage of the snow before it melts, finishing off a winter season that has seen its share of slumps as a result of regional instability.
Small resorts have already closed their slopes for the year, while larger ones in the Cedars and Mzaar Kfar Zebian are expected to stay open until the end of the month with few high-profile events planned.
After a slow start in December, winter sport enthusiasts profited from large quantities of snow throughout the peak season in February.
Most locals said they tried to avoid weekend crowds and preferred the weekdays, because they were able to dedicate a full day to the slopes.
The price differentials were another reason some enthusiasts opted for a weekday trip.
“For me, the ski passes are too expensive on the weekends,” said Nicolas Abouchedid, a student from Beirut.
Ronald Sayegh, founder of the online booking site skileb.com, said the number of day passes sold remained the same this year compared last, but added:
“We started [selling] early to focus on advertisements in schools for ski days and camps and offered packages which included free ski rentals. Still, there was an approximate decrease of 25 percent of total hotel bookings.”
A lack of foreign tourists explains the low numbers as the tourism industry in general experienced considerable decline after recent travel bans were imposed and political troubles began.
As Ibrahim Muhanna, a passionate winter sportsman who skies every morning noticed, “remarkably fewer visitors from the Gulf countries and from Syria could be seen on the slopes.” Foreign visitors currently make about a third of the total winter season bookings.
Hotels at the ski resorts have not been affected by the decline because they benefit from a strong local market, because people tend to stay in the country throughout their ski holiday.
Hotel owner Pascale Abi Rizk Khalil said thanks to the local market, her beds at Aux Cimes du Mzaar were generally full on the weekends, but cleared out during the week.
Due to the sluggish midweek, price reductions toward the end of the ski season reached up to 50 percent for chalets and 40 percent at Aux Cimes du Mzaar, which has already procured some short-term bookings according to Abi Rizk Khalil.
Snow enthusiasts often favor snowmobiles when the ski season ends, as the snow away from the slopes is still appealing for a ride.
Ski enthusiast Muhanna, however, uses the vehicles for another purpose: “After the slopes have closed, I take a snowmobile to reach more remote spots where the snow is still good for skiing. I like the nature in the mountains a lot and would not take a snowmobile ride just for fun because it intrudes [with the surrounding] environment.”
Those who would like something less daring can also take advantage of snowshoeing or winter hiking.
A more relaxed day may be spent at the lavish spa of the Intercontinental Mzaar, as it includes treatments in the sauna, hammam and Jacuzzi.
Solange Rahme, senior sales manager at the Intercontinental, said though bookings have declined this year, she still considers it a good season so far, adding that her hotel has a high occupancy rate of 75 percent for this weekend. To account for the slow midweek, they promote a special deal including free ski tickets.
Despite slushy slopes this time of year, there are still some highlights to come in the village of Mzaar.
Beginning Saturday, the Italian Embassy will hold the event Italy on Snow, which will include Italian cuisine tasting and a fashion show featuring La Perla lingerie on the Intercontinental’s terrace.
In the evening, there will be fireworks followed by night skiing.
“We are excited about the happenings. It definitely contributes to our business with additional day visitors, even if customers are not likely to book a hotel room especially for the event,” Rahme said.
In the following week, another fashion show will be held on the terrace, this time featuring Diamony lingerie. In April, the event The Red Carpet Classic Auto Festival 2013 will take place at the Temple of Adonis in Faqra, which will include classic car and fashion shows.
Sayegh says the last official day for the slopes has not yet been fixed, though half the slopes in the Cedars have already closed because of melting snow.
Temperature drops predicted for Sunday will hopefully bring fresh snows to the mountains, ensuring there is still more fun to be had.