All colours of piste in the Lebanon: travel

Stephen Wood checks out unlikely ski resorts at the World Travel Market
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The Independent Travel
Once a year, the travel business gets the chance to share the experience of the ordinary holidaymaker. That isn't actually the purpose of the World Travel Market, which exists to enable tour-bus companies, hotel chains and national tourist boards to hawk their wares to tour operators, conference organisers, travel a gents and the like. It is just a happy accident that the event turns Earls Court into a reasonable facsimile of Gatwick Airport on a bank holiday weekend.

My agenda at this week's event was to research those parts of the skiing world that British skiers do not reach: countries with mountains, snow and ski-lifts, but no tour operator to sell them to us.

The first stop on my itinerary was Serbia. Its stand seemed rather bare, with just a few leaflets about hotels in Belgrade. I enquired about the possibility of skiing holidays: "Sure, you can ski in Serbia," said the woman folding leaflets, as if nothing could be easier. She didn't actually add "if you make all your own arrangements", but that became obvious when she showed me on a map how to get to the resorts from Belgrade, and explained the procedure for obtaining a visa.

My next stop, Russia, was suggested by Simon Calder, our travel editor. Ten years ago, he went on the first-ever cross-country skiing holiday there, offered in Britain by Intourist, the state-run travel agency. It laid on two guides, two drivers and a 50-seat coach, despite the fact that only four people had booked the holiday. Not much progress seems to have been made since then. On the stand of the State Committee of the Russian Federation for Physical Culture and Tourism, Eugueni Gorki, admitted that Russian skiers prefer to go to Slovakia or Austria: not more than 20,000 a year ski in their own country. "The new minister for tourism was a professional skier," he said, "so perhaps he'll do something to develop skiing holidays."

Next, I tried a few long shotd. My question about the country's skiing went down so well with the Portuguese that I tried it on a Canary Islander, who obviously thought it was the funniest thing he'd heard all day. Naturally, I ended up at The Netherlands, where one of the stand's staff entered into the spirit of the thing by recommending its dry ski-slopes.

My serious quest continued at Bolivia, a country which has no reason to apologise for the skiing: its Chacaltaya resort, three hours' drive from La Paz, is the highest in the world at 5300 metres. It turned out that skiing is not very well-developed in Bolivia. The woman on the stand pointed out that Chacaltaya is its only resort, and although Europeans do ski there, they are mainly Germans. I could, however, get a brochure if I sent a fax to La Paz.

Nobody could say that Japan's skiing is not developed: the country has some 700 resorts. But it is too far away, too alien and thought to be too expensive to attract English skiers. The tourist board's London PR man said that it was talking to tour operators about two-centre packages, combining city tourism with skiing - which seems a good idea, because the skiing market is so domestic-based that the resorts are, apparently, hellish at weekends but empty during the week.

The two countries in which I was really interested were Turkey and the Lebanon. Both have longish traditions of skiing and have traditionally been ignored by British skiers. Turkey's first resorts were close to Istanbul: the best-known, Uludag, is a ferry ride from the capital, and with rich Turks paying up to pounds 100 a night for its hotels it was priced out of the package-tour market.

Now skiing has spread out to the east, and a Turkish developer, Dedeman, has created a new resort at Palandoken, near Erzurum, 200km from the Armenian border. On the Turkey stand, Dedeman's Mustafa Turkmen ran me through the attractions: 2400m resort, 644 beds, 30km of pistes, four new chair- lifts. Already, 45 per cent of the skiers are foreign - a bizarre mix of Russians, Dutch and Maltese, in almost equal parts - and Dedeman is now hoping to do deals with English operators, too.

One of southern Turkey's small resorts, Saklikent, is close enough to the sea to allow skiing in the morning and swimming in the Mediterranean in the afternoon - my idea of heaven.

The string of six resorts near Beirut offers the same promise. The Lebanon stand gave me their excellent 34-page skiing guide - and a lovely idea. A cheapish flight to Beirut: skiing at The Cedars and Faraya (lifts to 2463m, all colours of piste); the sea only half-an-hour away; Lebanese food... just the thought of it was worth a day in the scrum of the World Travel Market.

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