Afghan Ski Challenge

Ski Afghanistan? That’s crazy talk. Or is it?

Once upon a time, a Swiss journalist was working in Afghanistan when came across the snowy mountains of Bamyan. Nuts about the place, he brought some skis and equipment to the region and founded the Bamyan Ski Club. In 2011, the organisation started the Afghan Ski Challenge, an annual race open to locals and visitors alike. Bamyans, it turns out, love to ski.

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Though most locals use standard equipment these days, there are some wonderful improvisations. Image: afghanskichallenge.com

A growing industry

As the sport grew more popular, sponsors donated gear and money to develop the region into a tourist destination. Locals run the show, renting equipment and serving up hot drinks. Trained by volunteers from pointy places all over, Bamyan residents work as ski instructors. In 2018, Bamyan skiiers Sajjad Husaini and Alisha Farhang attempted to qualify for the Winter Olympics.

Nestled in the Koh-e-Baba mountain range, Bamyan is 180 kilometers west of Kabul. Tourism isn’t a new thing to the region. Here’s how an elder described the province in the 1970s: ‘The hotels were full! The river was lined with people in tents. People from all over the world came to Bamyan.’

Though hobbled by current travel restrictions, the area now has 4 resorts.

Even Bamyan girls are in on the game.

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Like anywhere, ski fashion is fiercely competitive. Image: afghanskichallenge.com

Safety

The province is known as one of the safest in the country. But it’s still Afghanistan. Mobile service, where and when it exists, is patchy. There’s no official avalanche warning system or mountain rescue infrastructure.

Skiiers must be fit enough to climb to their destinations in full gear; Bamyan pistes don’t have lifts.

Though the ski areas are clear of landmines, this is no place to go exploring without a trained guide.

Guided tours are available, though skiiers should check insurance options and travel restrictions first.

The Afghan Ski Challenge

The course for the back-country race varies, but the clock starts with all entrants scrambling up the summit at once, registering at checkpoints along the way.

Racers must compete unsupported and carry all gear up the mountain.

Among the official rules for the Afghan Ski Challenge: ‘No weapons allowed.’

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battleface magazine editor Sasha is a writer and amateur palaeontologist from New Orleans. When not writing or digging dinosaurs, she teaches English.