Lebanon's snow-free ski resorts push economy downhill

Tue Mar 11, 2014 11:25am EDT
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By Stephen Kalin

FARAYA, Lebanon (Reuters) - The mountains north of Beirut, usually a snowy winter playground for skiers and other tourists vital for Lebanon's services-based economy, are brown, muddy and completely empty this season.

Hotel rooms lie vacant and winter sports rental shops are idle, with the lack of snow deterring even the keenest visitors.

An unseasonably warm and dry winter - the mildest in decades by most accounts - has also endangered the harvest of vineyards which export prize-winning Lebanese wines around the world.

Along with worsening security problems and political gridlock, the fickle weather has exacerbated a three-year drop in tourism in this small Mediterranean country. Before the conflict in neighboring Syria erupted in 2011, the sector generated about 10 percent of economic output.

"This is the first time the slopes have not opened at all," said Joost Komen, general manager of Intercontinental Mzaar, the largest hotel and ski lodge in Faraya.

"That there is limited snow, it happens. But that there is absolutely no snow? No, this has never happened."

Komen told Reuters revenues were down more than 80 percent, directly affecting around 600 families dependent on hotel jobs. Ski instructors, rental shops and other businesses that benefit from seasonal activity have also taken a severe blow.

"God forbid we have another year like this. If it happens again, you'll see many shops shutting down," said one vendor, sitting in a parking lot full of idle all-terrain vehicles.   Continued...

People sit in a room at the Intercontinental Mzaar in north of Beirut, Lebanon March 7, 2014. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir