Lebanese elites are finding a useful escape from the tear gas and rubber bullets of downtown Beirut – on the ski slopes high above the capital.
Skiers at Zaarour Club and Mzaar Ski Resort were whooshing down the slopes and basking in the sunshine last weekend. Some puffed away on expensive cigars and drank fine wine, exuding the distinctive Lebanese joie de vivre, impervious to the violence playing out in the streets of the capital just 40 kilometers away.
“While I am with the demands of the protests, I don’t want to join them on the streets as it has become violent and I have a family to think about,” said Ibrahim, a medical doctor who was skiing in Mzaar Kfardebian.
“Instead of being stuck at home watching them on TV, why not ski? The weather today was too good to miss,” he added, as he headed out for lunch at Rikky’z, a trendy eatery.
In fact, the ski season kicked off later than usual this year – not because of the economic crisis or street protests – but because the weather has been so bad.
“So far, the weather has been more of a deterrent for skiers than the economic situation. If Lebanese perceive the weather is not sunny, they will not come to ski, because they want to enjoy the overall experience and not just the skiing part,” says Carol El Murr, who runs the exclusive Zaarour Club.
The season really moved into high gear 10 days ago when a spell of bad weather finally relented, giving way to perfect ski conditions of brilliant blue skies and well packed snow.
“We are almost fully booked for lunch today; it’s the second best day of the season for us,” said the manager of Le Montagnou, a fondue and steak restaurant in Kfardebian.
While the season is now in full flow, it has not seen the usual bustle. And business managers worry about the economic outlook. The currency has lost about 30 percent to the dollar since protests began in October, banks have started to severely restrict the amount customers can withdraw, many employees are not being paid in full and the country faces huge debt repayments.
“If the situation becomes so bad that people barely have enough money for the basic expenses, they might reconsider ski trips,” El Murr added.
To fend off the dip in business, ski resorts have discounted their entry fees this year to roughly $20 on weekdays and $35 on weekends.