Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Skiing in South Asia

Inside Pakistan's only ski school

A young man skis at Malam Jabba, 20 march 2011                          Malam Jabba is building up a following again







With just 15 pairs of skis and two or three pairs of poles, Matee Ullah Khan runs the only civilian ski school in Pakistan. He is on a mission to bring fun back to Pakistan's Swat valley four years after militants who had taken over the area were driven out.
Many of the people he teaches use homemade skis, fashioned out of wooden planks with a pair of old shoes nailed into position.
Poles are usually sturdy branches cut from the local trees, hand-knitted woolly hats are the only nod to trendy skiwear.
His school is at Malam Jabba, in the Swat Valley, where in 2007, after Taliban fighters took control, life suddenly changed. Listening to music and dancing were banned - and so was skiing.

The militants attacked the ski school several times, bombing the hotel, smashing up equipment and dismantling the ski lift - a gift from the Austrian government in the 1980s.
"I was very upset, I thought it might not be possible to ski at Malam Jabba again. I love skiing and we grew up here, we love our area, but it was not possible to live peacefully and do our usual activities," Matee Ullah remembers.
"Initially the militants didn't attack the civilian population, but the security situation was deteriorating day by day, and there were suicide bombings and civilians were also targeted.
Matee Ullah Khan (centre) is seen here on the slopeMatee Ullah Khan (centre) is seen here on the slope
"It was very difficult to have a normal life, everyone was so scared, and there was a psychological effect on everyone's mind. You didn't know if you would survive or not, it's very difficult to live like that."
Swat is famed for its natural beauty. It nestles between the tail-end of the Hindukush and the Karakoram mountain range, which boasts K2 as its highest peak.
But skiing has never taken off in Pakistan. Traditionally, Swat is a place where wealthy people make for the hills in the summer months to escape the stifling heat in the cities, but in the harsh winters even locals often migrate south.

"It keeps you alive - especially the spring skiing when the temperature starts to warm, and the snow starts melting, but at night the temperature falls and frozen ice crystals form on the top layer of the snow.
"When you start sliding down it in the early morning, breaking that ice, it produces a very good sound and you can feel it down your skis. We say that having one run on this spring snow makes you young for a year."
Between 2007 and 2009, when the Taliban were in control of Swat, skiing was not an option.
But Matee Ullah Khan, who represented Pakistan in the skiing competition at the Asian Games in China in 1996, has decided it is his duty to revive the ski school. It is partly an attempt to rebuild the local economy, but also a form of resistance to the intimidation of the Taliban.
He wants to bring fun back to Swat.
"The children of the area are very happy that we are skiing again. It's a good message that peace has been restored or is being restored in Malam Jabba," he says.
"No-one can say our area is totally safe and secure from attack, we have to live with it. But we all have to do what we can to promote peace, and everyone must try to contribute."
Matee Ullah Khan's abundant enthusiasm for skiing seems to be infectious, and many children are planning to take part in a ski gala, Skiing for Peace, this week, on their homemade skis.

An enterprising local has rigged up an improvised version with a recycled motor, but it is all very basic, and a world away from the fashionable slopes of Chamonix or Klosters.
"It's the aim of my life to develop skiing in Swat, we have a great opportunity here. Many of my pupils are showing promise, I'm very proud of them. It's my hope to get one of them into the Olympics to represent Pakistan, and one day perhaps even win a medal."  By Rebecca Kesby, BBC World Service.

The above article covers skiing in Pakistan, but what about the other countries of South Asia.

Skiing in South Asia

I lived in Afghanistan from 1993 to 1996 and climbed and skied in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan.  When I skied in Afghanistan, locals told me I was the first person they had seen since the Soviet Union left in 1989. 

On Friday's, we would drive up to the Salang Pass with friends, and ski down the side of the road. See article on skiing in afghanistan.


Right and below: Skiing in January 1996 in the Hindu Kush, Afghanistan. Photo: Bob McKerrow






      The author skiing at Muree, Pakistan, 1996. Photo: Bob McKerrow



South Asian powder

Skis are transported by donkey in the Shahidan Valley of Bamiyan province, Afghanistan, 1 March 2013
  • India
  • In a small market, India leads the way with lodges, ropeways and at least one cable car, mainly in the Himalayas. See link. Heliskiing in Gulmarg is becoming popular.

  • Nepal
  • Nepal lacks infrastructure but cross-country skiing is growing in popularity. See link.

  • Afghanistan
  • Skiing in Afghanistan died off after the Soviet invasion in 1979 but attempts at a revival are being made in the Bamiyan area (picture above), despite the risk of Taliban attack


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