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Tea-Apres: Cultivating Ski Culture in Afghanistan

Active/Outdoors — By Zain Iqbal on May 12, 2010 at 3:52 pm
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Remember a few years ago when one of those irreverent shirt companies were selling tees that proclaimed “Ski Iraq!”? Sure, the place was a bit of a nightmare back then (not to mention the fact that Iraq doesn’t even have a ski resort,) but it brings up an interesting point. Is there a tipping point where previously war-torn places start to attract tourism and travelers again? Even though much of Afghanistan is still affected by a dangerous insurgency – a problem that has unfortunately grown worse within the past year – there are several, peaceful enclaves within the country that are trying to develop infrastructure to support skiers

Image: Afghanistan Matters/Flickr

One of those enclaves, Bamiyan Valley, has always been a fiercely independent region, even before the Taliban were overthrown in 2001. The valley became famous because of the Bamiyan Buddha statues, which were tragically destroyed by the fundamentalist regime in an attempt to purify the country of any non-Islamic iconography. The ethnic majority Hazara people were also relentlessly persecuted by the Taliban. According to a recent article in the Guardian, local men from Bamiyan now thumb their proverbial noses at the previous regime by sitting in a classroom to learn the basics of becoming ski guides — a profession that would’ve been unheard of under the Taliban. One of the basic parts of the course includes, of course learning how to ski.

Image: Afghanistan Matters/Flickr

While Afghanistan may never have the well-groomed, luxury resorts found in Europe or North America, the fledgling industry is banking on on a smaller set of adventure travelers, either for back-country or heli-skiing, to help support the industry. Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, is already booming with expats, many of whom travel to Bamiyan to enjoy the relative peace and safety of cultural tourism of that region. Ski touring companies hope to tap into that population in order to help grow their tiny industry.

It’s adventure travelers, however, who often make up the vanguard of early adapters who attempt to be among the first outsiders to uncover a country’s natural beauty before other leisure travelers arrive. Expert mountain climbers and skiers traveled to the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in the 1990s after communism collapsed and took advantage of mountain ranges that had seldom been explored by anyone outside the Iron Curtain.

Although, like Afghanistan, the threat of instability looms as it did in 2000, when four American climbers were kidnapped in Kyrgyzstan by an armed militant group bent on terrorizing visitors. However, the rarity of such occurrences doesn’t deter people from visiting, and Afghanistan is hoping that with stability and a lessening of threats in Bamiyan, it may someday yet bring some prosperity to a long-neglected region of the world.

Tags: Afghanistan, Bamiyan, Central Asia, Ski, ski resorts

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