Pros: French alpine ambience, big mountain, close to Beirut, excellent hotel and food
Cons: Don't count on getting decent rental or demo equipment. the lifts close too early
This is not Whistler or Alta, but it is the best skiing in Lebanon, probably in the Middle East, and it beats the socks off most areas in the Eastern US. I've been there only once, during Easter 2002. I was working in Amman, Jordan, it had been raining hard all over the Eastern Mediterranean for over a week, with snow at higher elevations, and I wanted to get out of town and do something memorable. For a reasonable sum, I arranged to fly to Beirut, be met by a car and driver at the airport, stay the night in Beirut, and then drive to Faraya for two days of skiing.
I had the driver pick me up around 6.30 in the morning. It is supposed to take about an hour and a quarter from Beirut to Faraya, but it was raining hard at sea level but we were sure to encounter snow somewhere along the 5,700-foot climb to the base of the resort. It was Easter Sunday, and although you may associate Lebanon with Islam, around 40% of the population is Christian, and their stronghold stretches from the Eastern half of Beirut up to the mountains. It was pouring rain and the villages we passed through looked like ghost towns, everyone at home or in church, not an open shop or cafe anywhere. But somwhere before we got to Faraya, the village just below the resort, rain had turned to snow and my driver's Mercedes could go no further. he called his office in Beirut, who called the Intercontinental Hotal at the mountain, and they sent a 4 x 4 down to fetch me. My driver took his leave and promised to be back the next evening.
It took me some time after I checked into the hotel to get outfitted with equipment. the guy at the rental shop didn't speak a word of English or French, and my Arabic is nil, but I somehow managed to convince him that the ordinary rental equipment just wouldn't do, and for a small bribe he agreed to rent me a new pair of Atomic skis and boots belonging to an instructor who was not coming up that weekend. My first day was a bust. Only the baby chairlift directly in front of the lodge was operating because of high winds and whiteout conditions. I took a few runs but the whiteout was nearly total, to the point where I couldn't tell if I was going uphill or downhill. Soon they closed the lift anyway, so I went to the hotel spa to do a little exercise and take a sauna, and then later ate French Alpine fare (heavy on the cheese and potatoes) with a nice half bottle of Chateau Kefraya Lebanese red wine, and went to bed early. Snow was still falling hard. The next day dawned clear but slightly overcast, which meant I could not see the Mediterranean from the usual vantage point at the top of the Nord chairlift. Other than that, a more perfect day is hard to imagine. Fresh snow and fresh tracks for most of the day, since relatively few of the Lebanese skiers are skilled enough to ski the steep and deep, of which there was plenty. We're not talking about High Rustler at Alta, but there was plenty of snow, light and slightly wind-packed, and if there was no experts only terrain, there were plenty of runs challenging enough to keep a good skier interested and happy. The statistic of 15 runs is entirely misleading, since the entire area is above the tree line, so you are mostly skiing in wide open bowls. Different sections may have different names, and the official resport site claims there are 42 trails, but it hardly makes a difference.
I skied hard and didn't break for lunch, which is a good thing, since they closed the lifts at around 2.30. I asked someone why, and he shrugged and smiled and said, "It is time to rest now."
For me, Faraya Mzaar is not an international destination resort in the sense that if you wanted only a ski trip you could get better skiing and better value, and I might not go there for an entire week but if you are living or traveling in the region and the conditions are good (check first since it looks as if at least half the lifts there are closed right now and the temperatures are in the 50s F) you can have a terrific time.