It's All Downhill From Here

As winters warm up, Golan ski resort doubles as bike park

For mountain biker Shai Lahat, it took three downhill trips yesterday to take the edge off the thrill of hurtling down the slopes of Mount Hermon.

"It's super-fun, there are good trails and some sweet jumps. There's no other place like it in Israel," Lahat said after riding at Bike Park, a biking site at the Hermon Ski Resort on the Golan Heights mountain that opened yesterday.

Lahat, the technical coach for Teamisgav, a riding group with 200 members, envisions an expansion of the offerings, with additional trails for different types of bicycling that would attract riders coming from abroad.

The site already has three bicycle trails: a relatively easy one, for learning how to mountain bike and practicing technique; and two 4.5-kilometer downhill trails that go from the top to the bottom of the ski site and include jumps and other features.

"The main idea is to take advantage of the infrastructure, the unique topography, the weather and the accessibility of Hermon Ski Resort for bicycling," said Guy Zisser of PeakBike, the company that operates the park.

Bikers use the ski chairlifts to take them, and their wheels, to the top of the trail. An all-day lift ticket costs NIS 135.

"Several conditions are needed for a bike park, and in addition to suitable topography and accessibility, the chairlift is an important component," Zisser said.

According to PeakBike, there are an estimated 200,000 active mountain bikers in Israel.

But Zisser said it was "impossible to guess how many will come." For now, he's settling for the 10 biking "addicts" who showed up yesterday after hearing about the site's opening.

The general manager of the ski resort, Menachem Baruch, said he had been searching for a partner with a suitable background for years before joining forces with PeakBike.

"We realized a long time ago that we needed to bring mountain biking into the site as a complementary product, and we found the people who could do it," he said.

But though Baruch called the biking "complementary," it could well turn into the ski resort's main activity if the winters continue to be as mild as in the last two years. The resort was open to skiers for only seven days this winter and 15 days the previous one.

"It's sad," said Baruch, though he insisted "the winter activity is still central to Hermon."

The warmer winters may be bad for skiing at Hermon, but Zisser sees the silver lining in the disappearing clouds.

"Considering that Israel's weather allows for mountain biking for seven months out of the year, compared to just a few months abroad, our project is expected to form a complementary activity to the winter and in this way will contribute to increasing tourism in the area in the spring, summer and fall," said Zisser. "The Hermon will operate for a longer period of time as a bike park than as a ski area."

Zisser said there are similar bike parks in Europe, the United States and Canada.

"Soon the site will be associated not only with skiing but also with biking," said Lahat. "The word is already out on the opening, and riders are excited."