“Hey look, that is where we managed to get water before continuing through Nachal Amud.”
“Look! look! up there is Tel Hai College where we ended the first leg of our hike!”
“Holly mackerel, right here at this intersection is where we started our hike. That is exactly where we picked up the Golan Stone!”
This was how I serenaded my son, Ben, as we drove up from Haifa to the Hermon Ski Resort a few weeks ago. The Hermon sits a few kilometers above the Druze village of Majdal Shams and I hadn’t been back there since we started our hike several years ago.
Ever since I started hiking the Israel Trail I’ve tried to live my life by my newly acquired mantra of “take advantage” of what life has to offer. So when I heard that the Mount Hermon ski resort was open and had two meters of snow at the summit, and I realized that Ben had learned how to snow board while he was on his after army trip, I decided to plan a day where I’d get two for the price of one: a day spent with my son, and a return to my first great passion – skiing.
I was on the ski team in my high school in Switzerland. There was a time in my life where my love for skiing was so intense that I considered becoming a ski instructor instead of going to university. But I did go to university and skiing gradually faded from my life. Now I would find out if I could start again, right here near home.
We started from Haifa in the pitch black at 5am and we had already rented our equipment and were ready to start by 8am when they opened the slopes. I worried whether I’d still be able to ski after all these years? I put on my skis and immediately felt completely at home. We went through the gate to the easy chair lift, got in position, and in couple of seconds, there we were, being carried over the slopes. How can I explain? It felt just like any other ski resort. Like we were in the Alps. It seemed impossible that this mountainous place, trees burdened with snow, snow flakes swirling down, freezing cold, was still Israel and my home in Haifa only a two hour drive. My son and I kept exclaiming over the scene. We talked about the strangeness of a country where you can drive from alpine skiing to snorkeling on a tropical reef in five and a half hours (it is 475 km from The Hermon to Eilat). We couldn’t think of any other location in the world where that was possible.
We got off the lift and skied down. Unbelievable! First of all the snow was incredible, packed powder; both soft and dry. And the run was perfect for a confident beginner; wide, smooth and steep enough to get momentum. I skied down with elegance, and was overwhelmed with bliss. Then we went up the second chair lift up to the intermediate slopes. It started as a path, and then turned into another wide slope, but this time quite steep in places. I skied down much like the pro I used to be , with one caveat, I was no longer a daredevil. Several times on the drive up I’d thought about the fact that I’m 57 not 16 and that I should not be reckless. I kept my promise to myself, I strove for beautiful skiing instead of speed.
Completely exhausted from non-stop skiing all morning, we stopped for lunch. We were happy we’d packed our lunch, because the food at the cafeteria was terrible looking. It looked like greasy, fast-food, type of fare. We, on the other, hand had a thermos of steaming hot, strong, sweet tea, thick tuna fish sandwiches, dates, oranges, and chocolate for desert.
After lunch, well rested, we started again. This time we skied to the third chair lift which goes up and down Wadi Sion and spent the afternoon on both intermediate and quite challenging black diamond slopes in this area. While we were on the chair lift my son wondered why there weren’t any lifts going up the left (eastern) side of the Wadi, and we speculated that it must be because the border with Syria was up there. I looked at several maps when we got home and it was actually the border with Lebanon not Syria.
While my son and I were going up the lift, talking and laughing, a wonderful memory flashed back to me. My family took a ski vacation in Zermatt when I was teenager, and my mother and I decided to have an adventure and go up to the border with Italy right at the top of the mountain range that included the Matterhorn and the little Matterhorn. I remember the last T-bar lift best. It seemed interminable, and as we went up the visibility decreased, snow flurries started, and my mother and I became increasingly cold. We reached the top and skied just a short way to the ski lodge that was perched on the top of the Alps. Then we went into the lovely heat, stamping the snow off of our boots, taking off our gloves and hats, we felt human again. We walked a few steps across the border into Italy and had an amazing Italian meal including a half carafe of wine. We lingered over the meal for far too long, and were slightly tipsy when we started the long ski back down to the town. We ended up the last people on the slopes that evening as dark descended.
I can imagine a parallel universe where irrational hatred wasn’t infused into our neighbor’s minds from kindergarten. Where just like going from Switzerland to Italy, we also could take a ski lift up the eastern slopes of Wadi Sion, step across the border with Lebanon, and have a traditional Lebanese meal starting with a Mezza of 30 salads perhaps. While our Lebanese neighbors could spend a day skiing the Israeli side, and partake of a warming Hamin. Everybody would win.