I often get amused faces when I tell people where I’m heading for the weekend, and none more so than last January when we headed off to go skiing in Israel. Not only did I get funny looks from work colleagues and friends but we even managed a smile from the usually stern Israeli Army at one of their checkpoints. I think “we’ve come all the way from England to go skiing” was one of the more unusual answers they’d received to their standard “where are you heading and why?” question! To be fair when we said the same thing to one of the tow operators on Mount Hermon he was equally, if not more shocked, exclaiming “why would you come here, go to Europe, there’s so much more snow there!”, I think the novelty value was lost on him!
Where can you go skiing in Israel?
So, incase you’re wondering where I’m going with this, I can confirm it’s definitely possible (and lots of fun) to ski in Israel. In the north of Israel is an area called the Golan Heights, technically still Syrian under international law, this area has been occupied by Israel since 1981 so the military and political tensions are still very much evident. It’s hard to travel in Israel without feeling the struggles of the region and whilst this isn’t the place to launch into a political debate I strongly recommend visiting the area before forming an opinion on either side, let’s just say it’s an eye-opener! It is, however, very beautiful. The Golan Heights is bordered (with heavily patrolled, non-crossable fences) by Lebanon, Jordan and Syria and sits 2236m above sea level at its highest point. In the very north of the Golan sits the Southern slopes of Mount Hermon, close to the town of Majdal Shams and home to the Mt Hermon Ski Resort.
I should say at this point my dad has been living in Bethlehem for the last 18 months, and as a keen skier himself this explains in part, aside from our enthusiasm for skiing in a more unusual location, our reason for heading to Mount Hermon. It’s a good few hours drive from Bethlehem to Majdal Shams but a beautiful route, including heading down to the Dead Sea, up the Jordan Valley and past the Sea of Gallilee. Majdal Shams is a Druze village at the base of the mountain, it’s not your stereotypical ski town by any means but we did enjoy lunch in the Mount Herman Apres Ski Bar! If you’ve ever skied in Scotland you’ll know how unreliable snow cover can be, and how difficult it is to plan a trip in advance. Skiing on Mount Hermon is very similar! When we arrived they were yet to ski this season, it had however been chucking it down with rain since we touched down at Tel Aviv airport so we hopefully headed straight up to the slopes hoping all of this had fallen as snow. It had. But as you can imagine 60cm of snow falling in less than 24 hours is pretty difficult to cope with for a small resort in thick cloud and they weren’t able to open.
We made it!
The next day we were in luck. Mount Hermon opened for the first of only 7 skiing days in the 2018 season and we hit the slopes with hundreds (maybe even thousands!) of keen locals. If you make the trip here to ski start the day early, everyone flocks to the slopes when there’s enough snow (many people not to ski but to see snow for the first time) so the traffic can be a nightmare and ski hire is very busy, but there is plenty of (basic) gear. There are refreshments on the slopes but outlets get busy very quickly as they’re shared with non-skiing visitors. I’d definitely recommend the vanilla pastries for a mid-morning break though!
The skiing is over a relatively small area but there’s a good 13 runs and some are actually pretty steep so there’s definitely enough to keep even the best skier amused for the day. What’s more there’s a lot of beginners so you can easily look like an expert! For the best runs head down Run 1 (imaginative names) on the front of the hill and then find your way over the back (via Run 3) to Run 12 if it’s open for quieter runs with some stunning views. We braved the short ‘black’ in this area that very few had skied and the snow was so thick and heavy it wasn’t the most pleasant, but several face plants later we made it back to the piste! The mountain range extends in to Syria and Lebanon so whatever you do don’t stray too far… although the land mines will put you off off-piste pretty quickly anyway! One thing that was very noticeable was how few women there were on the slopes, especially as it’s usually a very even split in bigger resorts.
I’m very happy to have ticked Israel off my ski world map, and if you’re lucky enough to make it to Mount Hermon when there’s enough snow I’d absolutely recommend skiing in Israel it for at least a few hours. Don’t be surprised to see people skiing with machine guns, apparently it’s this season’s must have ski-accessory! Off to Lebanon next??