For many, it’s hard to imagine tiny Israel as anything other than a desert filled with nomads and camels or as the war-torn nation depicted on the international media. However, for a country of its size, Israel is incredibly diverse climactically, with snow falling each year in the Golan Heights, parts of the Upper Galilee, and sometimes even in Jerusalem.
Mount Hermon is Israel’s highest peak at an elevation of 2,814 meters (9,230 feet). It is located in the very northeastern part of the Golan Heights and serves as the border between Israel, Lebanon, and Syria, with the Israelis controlling the western and southern slopes of the mountain since 1967. Mount Hermon is also called “the eyes of the nation” due to the strategic advantage it provides the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in early warning and signals intelligence against Lebanon and Syria. The mountain is also a strategic resource for the country due to the water it provides. When the seasonal snows melt, the runoff is the primary source for several small rivers and streams, most of which eventually merge into the Jordan River.
To protect this national strategic resource is the Alpine Unit, a special unit of the IDF’s Northern Command. These soldiers are specially selected and highly trained in mountain warfare, including shooting while on skis, climbing and rappelling, and cold weather survival and rescue techniques. Their base of operations can be seen as one approaches the ski lodge. Signs are posted in several locations around the ski area warning people not to enter certain closed military zones.
In addition to its military and strategic advantages—and most importantly to the average Israeli—Mount Hermon also serves as Israel’s winter playland. Construction of the ski resort on Mount Hermon began in 1971 on an area of approximately 2 square miles at an altitude of between 1,600 and 2,040 meters (5,250 and 6,692 feet) high. The resort boasts 14 trails totaling 45 kilometers (28 miles) in length for all levels of skiers from beginner to expert; 11 ski lifts or t-bars; and a ski school offering group or individual lessons. The ski lodge provides rental equipment at a modest cost, as well as a store for those who wish to purchase their own gear. Two restaurants also keep skiers energized and ready to take on the slopes.
The site itself is very basic, due in large part to the space limitation. Despite this, I found it very welcoming and user friendly, even for a first-timer. A wide diversity of people had come to the mountain, including families with children, couples on a romantic weekend getaway, and the usual thrill seekers. While most of the visitors chose to strap on skis, a large number took to snowboarding, especially popular with the younger ages. So, while it may not be the Swiss Alps, it’s certainly a unique Israeli experience worth having.
For those who wish to spend the night, the moshav of Neve Ativ is located in the foothills of Mount Hermon, just a short ride to the ski lodge. Neve Ativ enjoys cool weather during the summer and snow during the winter. The moshav has several bed-and-breakfast and boutique hotels; most of them are built in European-style wood or stone designs. Neve Ativ offers an atmosphere unlike any other in Israel. In winter, you can feel as if you are in a European ski resort—except for all the Hebrew spoken on the streets!
So, the next time that somebody asks you, what’s there to do in Israel? you can surprise them by saying “skiing.” Take a break from the traditional Israel vacation and head north to Mount Hermon and the Golan Heights. Just don’t forget your hat and gloves.
The Ski Resort
In the Bible
Josephus called it Mt. Lebanon. Its lofty peaks inspired worship from many religions. It was a sacred landmark in Hittite, Palestinian, and Roman times, and Assyrian and Greek temples have been found on its slopes. The Druze have also revered it and have a shrine near Hasbayya in Lebanon.
By Will King,
Israel Mosaic Radio
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