Afghanistan Ski Challenge

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

In 2011, an extreme skier went in search of pristine slopes in Afghanistan. He discovered Bamyan. Nuts about the place, when he got home to Switzerland, he founded the Bamyan Ski Club, and started the Afghan Ski Challenge, an annual race open to locals and infidels 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

As the sport grew more popular with the locals, sponsors from the BSC and the Aga Khan Foundation donated gear and money to develop the region into a tourist destination. Locals run the show, renting equipment, giving lessons and serving up hot drinks.

Even Bamyan girls are in on the game, though they ski in a restricted area and with female-only instructors. Last year’s Afghan Ski Challenge, held in February, drew 40 local and 20 foreign participants. Two Afghan men are in training for the Winter Olympics 2018.

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

Nestled in the Koh-e-Baba mountain range, the Bamyan ski resort is 180 kilometers west of Kabul. The province is known as one of the safest in the country.

But it’s still Afghanistan. Mobile service, when it exists, is patchy. There’s no avalanche warning system or mountain rescue. Though the ski areas are clear of landmines, this is not a place to go exploring.

Among the official rules for the 2016 Afghan Ski Challenge: ‘No weapons allowed.’

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It’s a long way up, but the views are breathtaking. Image: afghanskichallenge.com

By 2016’s Challenge, (in late February) there should be a tow rope in place. Until then, it’s a loooooong way up.

The region is also known for its enormous Buddha statues, partially destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.

Tourism isn’t a new thing to the Bamyan 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 to see the Buddha, Koh-e-Baba and Band-e-Amir.’

Selling T-shirts to gawky tourists transformed Cambodia: 2 million people visit Angkor Watt annually. In formerly war-torn Rwanda, tourism is the top earner in the nation’s economy. After spectacular political failures trying to patch Afghanistan back together, it may be a bunny slope that saves the nation.

For more info, check out Aga Khan’s fantastic guide to the region:

http://www.akdn.org/publications/2011_ski_afghanistan.pdf