Moving mountains

It’s a sunny day and I’m cruising down the nursery slope at Israel’s Mount Hermon ski resort. By noon, hundreds of novice skiers are sliding on the slush with me as the Sea of Galilee sparkles in the distance. Everyone is colliding, falling down, getting up and falling down again. The queue at the bottom for the magic carpet to hitch a ride back up the hill is long and getting longer. On the mountain above, more experienced skiers are swishing down the trails in a sea of rented Day-Glo winterwear. The children look intimidated by all the crashing and falling while the adult Israelis around me, some of whom have likely wielded m-16s in combat situations, are giggling like school kids – as if they haven’t just driven for hours and paid hundreds of shekels for the privilege.

Is it any wonder that Israelis flock to Mount Hermon? On the tense northern border with Lebanon and Syria, the mountain is the only place in the country with reliable annual snowfall. Micki Inbar, an unflappable PR rep, says that 80 per cent of guests come just to see the snow; to take hat-and-gloves snapshots dusted with powder, make snowmen and throw snowballs. These “visitors”, in the resort’s terminology, have their own separate attractions, including a roller coaster and a chairlift to an observation point at the peak. For the 20 per cent of skiers and snowboarders, the resort has 13 trails, five lifts, a ski school and a snow park. Despite the range of activities, most things that the Hermon has to offer can be tried in a day.

The Hermon is Israel’s only ski resort and it’s big business because of it. For the past three decades it has been owned collectively by the residents of the nearby Jewish community of Neve Ativ but it’s an economic engine for the entire region. Some 10,000 tourists come every day, each paying the equivalent of €125 for fees and amenities during a season that can last from December through March. Last season was particularly long – and profitable. The resort was open for skiing for 62 days in 2019 compared with only 13 days the winter before, bringing in 250,000 paying customers.

Read the whole story from 2019 in Monocle Magazine.