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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Afghanistan: War Zone or Ski Resort?

27 June 2012

With skiers desperate for new adventures, could the mountains of Bamiyan become a snowsport holiday destination? Katherine Makris explores the possibility






Beautiful, fresh snow covering high, undiscovered mountains is not often an image associated with Afghanistan, the infamously war-torn country. But this may, in time, change.

Recently some extreme skiers have risked their lives with the Taliban to visit Bamiyan in central Afghanistan, and explore the Koh-e-Baba mountain range. With the third annual Afghan Ski Challenge returning in 2013, will more contestants take part than the fifteen in 2012?

Reports describe stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the country below, and mountain vistas hiding many unexplored peaks. There are a range of slopes for skiers and snowboarders making it a perfect destination for people from the western world, but it is a destination still in the centre of a war zone.

Despite often being associated with the bombings of the giant Buddha statues, the Bamiyan Mountains are actually one of the safest destinations in Afghanistan. But the journey to the slopes can be very dangerous. With no planes flying directly to Bamiyan, visitors must fly to Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Here, they face the option of a six-hour road trip or another plane journey with an Afghan airline. Either way, there’s a high risk of danger with Taliban activity so close.

On arrival, getting to the top of the slopes is another conundrum. While the western world has chairlifts and gondolas, Bamiyan offers a 5000 metre climb with skins, or you can hire a donkey from a local farmer to get you to the summit. But those who reach the top claim the views are worth the dangers, and are eager for others to join them.




For the vast majority, the risks of skiing in Afghanistan seem to outweigh the remarkable sights. Therefore, in the past two years, a Swiss skier, Christoph Zurcher, has launched the Afghan Ski Challenge in the hopes of attracting more skiers to venture across the untouched terrain. The event encourages skiers and snowboarders from across the globe to participate in a seven-kilometre race.

In the 2012 Afghan Ski Challenge, ten Afghans and five foreigners took part. The top three places were all taken by locals, mainly due to their quick ascent up the slope, a skill not easy to master. Khalil Reza (19) won the 2012 race in 44 minutes, despite his relative lack of skiing experience.

So, if you are on the look out for a new ski destination which is well and truly off the beaten path, why not Afghanistan? Yes, the dangers and challenge are enough to dissuade most, but the rewards for any brave enthusiast are unmatched.


Words by Katherine Makris


Applications to next year’s Afghan Ski Challenge are now open. All foreign entrants are required to pay a fee of £320. For more information about the race, visit www.afghanskichallenge.com

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