Bamiyan (also spelled Bamyan or Bamian) is the capital city of Bamiyan Province, Afghanistan. It isn’t your usual ski tourist destination and is one of the world’s most remote ski resorts. Bamyan is a small town without any gas, water supplies, or electrical infrastructure, with its center being a bazaar. Bamiyan was said to have established a sister city alliance with Gering, Nebraska, in the United States. It has an airport with a gravel runway though the transportation facilities in the area are still sparse.
The cold winter season in Bamiyan lasts for as long as six months as mountains cover ninety percent of the province, bringing the temperature to at least 37.4 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. Back then, Bamiyan’s mountain slopes were untouched. The Hindu Kush mountains surround the city, one of the least explored ranges in the world that, in the winter, is capped with magnificent snow. Only several adventurous skiers are brave enough to make the long trek to the city in Central Afghanistan, even with its being a dangerous country.
The Daizangi Hazara are mostly the habitats in the area. For a long time, they use primitive skis made of wood planks and homemade poles to travel up and down the mountains, but since more adventurous Westerners have come by, organizations like the Aga Khan Foundation started introducing modern equipment and even training; providing jobs to locals. Together with Swiss brand Volkl, the foundation launched a program in 2008 providing training and equipment for locals.
In the year 2011, companies began to take ski tourists to Afghanistan. Every year, about 10 to 20 foreign skiers frequent the mountain range. A 10-day trip would cost tourists £1,700. This includes food and accommodation, transportation fees, and instructions from a qualified ski guide joined by local guides.
The ski conditions in Bamiyan are good. However, the ski area doesn’t have any ski lifts and chalets. Skiers must hike up the mountain, and it takes them one hour to do so and only two minutes to ski down.
Although tourists fear going to Afghanistan, the locals of Bamiyan help change their minds about it. The locals work as ski guides and tour organizers. Some work as drivers, and others sell snacks and drinks. The people touring have a lot of time to interact with them.
Afghan Ski Challenge
The annual Afghan Ski Challenge is a backcountry ski race. It is organized by the Bamiyan Ski Club and open to anyone who would dare to compete in it. The race included participants from Afghanistan and other international countries. Some competitors are from the US, Australia, the UK, Norway, New Zealand, France, Finland, and Slovenia.
Competing skiers were asked to bring their own ski equipment and sun protection as the challenge takes place during the spring season. The snowboarders were required to use snowshoes or a split board. Competitors must bring their own food and water supply as the ski challenge is a self-sufficient race.
The race is held at Koh-e-Baba Mountain Range in the province of Bamiyan. It’s located approximately 180 kilometers west of Kabul, the capital of Central Afghanistan. The course varies from uphill to downhill. It has an overall distance of two to four kilometers and has 600-1200 meters of the overall altitude difference. The lowest point of the course is around 2600 meters, with the highest point being around 3800 meters.
The rules are simple for the challenge. The first rule is: the participants must not bring or possess any weapons during the competition. Second, everyone must start at the same time. The winner is determined by whoever is the first to cross the finish line, having successfully passed all the checkpoints along the way. Skis and snowboards are allowed to be used in the competition.
The event is Afghanistan’s only ski race. Locals, with the planks of wood strapped to their feet, usually beat the foreigners in skiing up and down the mountain.
Bamiyan Ski School
Dozens of local Afghan boys and girls have learned to ski over the years. The Bamiyan Ski Club offers training to locals interested in skiing. They do this every February before the annual Afghan Ski Challenge. The locals were also taught about the basics of avalanche safety by a team of international instructors.
The ski club was also said to have planned on opening a permanent ski center last 2018 and are working to put the ski area’s first-ever ski lift into operation.