Mt Hermon (Israel's only ski area) manages to do something I would have thought is impossible: it makes a $95 lift ticket at Vail look like a good deal.
With much anticipation, the family went skiing at Mt. Hermon today, a small ski area with 1200 feet of vertical, summit around 6500', tucked away in the far northeast corner of Israel — in the Golan Heights, in a corner near where the borders of Israel, Syria, and Lebanon converge, about 35 miles from Damascus as the crow flies. We were up at 5am, on the road by 6. One of the rare occasions we let the kids play hooky — with school 6 days a week and a very limited ski season, there was no alternative if the kids were going to play in snow for one day this year.
All in all, I would have to say it was probably about the most unpleasant day of skiing I've ever had. Americans who make aliyah often complain about poor customer service in Israel — and Mt Hermon is completely typical.
The facilities are primitive — the old fashioned double chair lifts are the high end of what they offer. But I could forgive them old, slow chairlifts. After all, Israel is not a country noted for skiing, and being in the Middle East, their ski season is very limited. Some years they don't open at all, other years they are lucky to be open a few weeks. Not exactly an environment that would encourage heavy investment in high speed quad (or more) chairlifts.
But what I can't forgive them for is the total disrespect for the customer, and the lack of making an effort to do a few small things that could have made the experience 100% better.
Biggest complaint: there are no lift lines. This doesn't mean you don't wait to get on the lift — you do. Typically 20 minutes. But there is no orderly line — there is a mob. You have to push and shove and jostle for position until you reach the entry gate. I was pushed and crowded so hard I fell over. My 13 year old daughter got claustrophobic and had to take her skis off in the line because people kept walking around her and cutting us off from each other.
The snow was pretty mediocre — slushy, and quite a few bare patches. But it would have been acceptable, and fun enough as an outing if it weren't for the horror of the lines.
And if the lift lines weren't bad enough, the line for the bus back to the parking lot was just as bad. Same concept: no line, just a mob crowding, pushing, elbowing people out of the way to get on the bus. I had to use force to create a little space for my ten year old daughter so she could get on the bus without being crushed. My wife and youngest daughter couldn't elbow their way onto the bus we were on, and they had to wait for about half a dozen buses before managing to push their way on board.
No signs, not in Hebrew, not in English, giving directions for basic things like where you go to buy a lift ticket — I went to three different windows before stumbling on the right one. I had my own skis which I brought from the States, but my wife tells me the system for renting skis is equally disorganized.
I really wish we had peace with Lebanon – then at least there would be more choice in ski resorts within driving distance of Jerusalem.
Maybe it's a Middle East thing — the experience reminded a little of skiing in Iran, where they also had mobs instead of lines; but at least in Iran, the mobs were smaller, less aggressive, and the mountains were much bigger and the snow was much better.
I can only think of two reasons anyone would ever want to ski at Mt. Hermon:
- To say you've done it. Not many people have been skiing in Israel. Kind of like the same reason I flew a small plane into both JFK and O'Hare — it was expensive and impractical, but was cool to put JFK and ORD in my logbook. But can't say I'd want to repeat the experience on a regular basis.
If you live in Israel and want to give your kids a taste of winter sports, but can't afford to fly somewhere nice.
The lift tickets cost $55 — but with the lines and hassles I got in very few runs. In terms of vertical feet skied in a day, or in terms of fun and enjoyment, Vail at $95 is a bargain…if only the plane ticket was cheaper! Hermon now bumps Big Bear out of last place in the "my least favorite ski area" category. I don't like Big Bear for similar reasons — a small, overcrowded mountain (nearest skiing to LA). At least at Big Bear the long lines are civilized.
Didn't the British used to run this country? Why couldn't they have done a better job of teaching about lines ???
And while we're at it, since it's now a Jewish country, why couldn't our rabbis have done a better job of teaching about "derech eretz," common courtesy?