In winter, news that snow has piled up on Mount Hermon is a cause for celebration.
Cars filled with eager skiers, snowboarders, and people looking to play in the fresh white powder, will make their way up the winding roads of the Golan Heights to the most northern and highest point in Israel, as soon as word hits that there’s snow on the mountain.
“We’re finally open for the snowy season and it’s great. I’m so happy to see all the people coming to Mount Hermon,” Refael Nave, CEO of the Mount Hermon Ski Resort, tells NoCamels. “I grew up here and yet every time the first snow comes it is pure enjoyment to see and the adrenaline starts pumping.”
The winter Carmel storm – which swept across Israel this week, bringing one month’s worth of rain in just a few days – also gifted some 25 cm of snow accumulation to the lower part of the Hermon resort, which prompted the site to announce its opening on December 23 for sledding and other activities.
In the first four hours of the site’s opening on Thursday, some 2,000 visitors had come to play in the snow, Nave tells NoCamels.
While for people outside of Israel, reading about an accumulation of two dozen centimeters of snow may not seem like a big deal – in Israel, Mount Hermon is the only ski resort in this country where more than half of the total land area is true desert.
Indeed, this week’s opening of the Hermon site for winter visitors was reason to celebrate. And next week, on Monday, December 27, there’s an even bigger reason to celebrate – Mount Hermon is marking 50 years of activity.
“Fifty years of activity means a lot for those who know the history of the site,” says Nave.
The Mount Hermon site first opened to the public on December 27, 1971. It opened as the first and only ski resort – which it still is – when skiing was a hobby few Israelis knew or shared. Today, the 600-acre site hosts some 450,000 visitors in total – of them, some 50,000 skiers/snowboarders.
Ski season in Israel is short – usually about 50 days. When there’s enough snow on the mountain, there are 45 kilometers of trails to choose from, 11 chair lifts and T-bars, a ski school, an alpine coaster, cable car ride, and sledding options.
In 2019, the site, which rises to an altitude of 2,040 meters above sea level, inaugurated a new ski lift.
“Dedicating the new, enclosed ski lift in 2019, was one of my favorite memories, and a personal accomplishment that meant we are here to stay,” says Nave, who grew up in the Alpine-style community of Neve Ativ on the slopes of the mountain.
“We are not Europe,” says Nave, fully aware that any comparison to a ski resort in the Alps or Dolomites would be ridiculous. “But this is a tourist site with so many activities, it is a tourist destination for locals and foreigners.”
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Indeed, Mount Hermon is one of the country’s unique tourism sites – attracting local and international tourists alike. And while it began as a winter activity destination, it is much more than a quirky ski hill situated in the Middle East.
“The Golan Heights and Mount Hermon provide an experience that you can’t find anywhere else in Israel,” says Elisa Moed, CEO and founder of the travel agency Travelujah. “I love the quiet and the nature [particularly the hiking] and it makes me feel at peace. The mountains and viewpoints… the wine and vineyards, the waterfalls, the unique and tasty Druze food in Majdal Shams at the base of the mountain, and the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic history that lies in the area, just provides the perfect opportunity for an adventure that leaves you satisfied and happy at the end of the day.”
“These last few years especially, we’ve invested a lot in the Hermon as an all-year destination,” says Nave. “Everyone knows that this is a local ski site. But this mountain has so many other options and we’re adding new activities all the time. When a family comes up to this area, there’s a full day of activities waiting for them to do. This is a tourist destination and there are many reasons to come here.”
When the snow melts, a whole new tourist season of activities wakes up on the mountaintop – with its amazing views over the Golan Heights, Syria, Lebanon, the Galilee and the Hula Valley.
There are walking, hiking, and biking trails galore. An alpine coaster with thrills for anyone to ride it. There are dry tubing and karting activities for family fun. Ornithology fans and nature buffs will also enjoy the distinctive flora and fauna. The Syrian Serin (a brightly colored finch) and the horned lark, which nests on the ground, can be spotted here. Watch out for the Lebanon Viper. And get ready to be impressed by the Turkey oak or pretty, mountain-horned poppy.
“There are so many treasures yet to be fully explored,” says Moed.
Tourism sites the world over have had to reinvent themselves in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mount Hermon has adapted, too.
Pre-booking a visit to the site is now a must. Nave says this measure has helped cut down on wait time and keep the queues shorter.
“In the next 10 years, we have plans to build a hotel on site, create additional ski slopes, and, overall, double the area of activity,” he says.
Moreover, Nave and his team set out last year to the US to meet with travel agents and Jewish community leaders to “advance the idea of the Hermon as a tourist site” and secure a visit to Mount Hermon as a destination on the must-see travel list when visiting Israel.
“We are a center of attractions for anyone visiting the North of Israel,” Nave tells NoCamels. “We hope that once the borders are open again for tourism, that more people will come to visit this unique site.”