One after another the young men were scooped up by the chairlift, but they were not off for late-season Sunday skiing.

The Christian militiamen -- some wearing white snow uniforms over their basic white khaki issue, others sporting leather caps with ear flaps prized for their protection against the bitter cold -- were off for 48-hour duty on the newest and highest front in the current round of hostilities with the Syrians.

Carrying American-made M16 rifles, plastic cans of water, ammunition boxes and flat Arabic bread, they ranged in age from young teen-agers to a grizzled Army sergeant.

"I'm ready to stay up there despite the cold until the Syrians leave," said Joseph, at 19 a professional electrician from a working-class Beirut suburb who started fighting in the mountains during the 1975-1976 civil war.

Although there was a good four miles in snow and mud ahead of them once the 1.2-mile chairlift dropped them off at the top of the ski run, they were in a confident mood.

In the last 48 hours, the Christian militiamen claimed to have won back the so-called "Frenchmen's Room" near the summit of Sanine Mountain virtually without resistance from the Syrians.

The Syrian seizure of this 8,500-foot high position a week ago was described by the State Department Monday as a "major change in the status quo."

The next day Israeli warplanes shot down two Syrian helicopters used in the mountain offensive, and within 24 hours the Syrians moved in Soviet-built, surface-to-air missiles.

For the militiamen, however, the resulting international crisis involving the United States and the Soviet Union was not their concern.

What interested them was that someone -- it was unclear who -- has supplied them with both wire-guided and heat-seeking missiles. "Now we are not afraid," a young commander nicknamed Poussy said from his operations room in a luxury hotel in this ski resort, now deserted except for militias.

Without those weapons, the militia had been thrown out of its position on the strategic crest line overlooking both the fertile Bekaa Valley to the east and the Christian heartland to the west.

Using both French-built Gazelle gunships -- equipped with what militiamen called "100 percent accurate" missiles equipped with infrared guidance for night fighting -- and Soviet-made transport helicopters, the Syrians took the militia by surprise last weekend. The militias said recent reports that the Syrians were using the helicopters to resupply troops on the ridge line were correct.

"Our boys had to slog for seven or eight hours in the fog and cold to reach their positions while the helicopters were dropping the Syrians in a hundred or 200 yards from their targets," a militia spokesman said.

The militia admits to having lost at least seven dead and an undisclosed number of wounded, high casualties for an outfit that prides itself on inflicting losses on its adversaries.

And despite the proud talk, the Lebanese Army moved its units to prevent some militia positions from being overrun by the Syrians and their allies.

The official excuse for moving the Army was that the troops were about to take up their summer positions there anyhow.

Yet veteran mountain-climbers who know the region well wonder why the Syrians or the militia bothered fighting so hard for the terrain.

Syrian artillery in West Beirut, the Bekaa Valley and on nearby mountaintops, have more than enough range to shell Jounieh, the militia's main Mediterranean port and refuge for tens of thousands of Christians who have fled their East Beirut homes.

Quite apart from still holding the Sanine Mountain summit and other positions in the contested area, the Syrians seem as interested in the political as the military implications of their mountain offensive.

If the negotiations between Syria and the militia -- scheduled to start Monday -- succeed, some observers expect the Syrians to abandon this sector of the ridge line as a good-will gesture.

The Syrians had captured lower positions on the eastern slopes, stopping easy militia resupply for Zahle, the city of 150,000 now cut off for more than a month.

Watching the young men disappear into the low clouds, two bulldozers working on a new road to the top and Army trucks bringing in supplies, Seraphim, the chairlift operator, shook his head.

"Before the war how could I have thought I'd ever be transporting troops?" he asked.