Bamyan is located in a high valley, north west of Kabul, 2,500 meters above sea level. On March 1st, the city hosted the third Afghan Ski Challenge – a ski touring race for local and international athletes. For the first time Afghan women participated in the event that Canadian outdoor company Arc'teryx was proud to support with the provision of waterproof jackets for the skiers.
World famous for its thousand-year-old Buddha statues, Bamyan used to be a tourist hot spot on the silk route, attracting on average 150,000 tourists every year. Although it is situated outside the war zones, the region still suffers because of the destruction of their main tourist attractions. Nevertheless it is an El Dorado for ski mountaineering. Mountains rising from 2000 to 5000 meters above sea level, northern exposure, a very dry climate and lack of ski lifts are the perfect ingredients for an event like this.
Attracting 40 athletes – most of them local sportsmen and women – and roughly 400 spectators, this year's Afghan Ski Challenge was a peaceful experience that drew a high calibre of media attention. The New York Times, National Geographic, Time Magazine, Al Jazeera and many others were amongst the cheering crowd. Bamiyan's provincial Governor, Habiba Sarobi, also joined them to promote the region that is on the list of UNESCO's World heritage sites.
Three years ago a small group of Afghan Ski-Fans (Aga Kahn Foundation) and employees of the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) founded the "Bamiyan Ski Club” and organized a small, local Ski touring race. The Afghan Ski Challenge was born.
The course took the athletes through the Koh-e-Baba Mountains in central Afghanistan. In past years the local sportsmen have outperformed the international guests in the ascent aspect of the race but there was potential for improvement in their downhill skiing skills so this year local participants were trained in a recently founded ski school for three weeks prior to the main event. The training for the Afghan athletes is lead by a Swiss ski teacher and mountain guides. The race was divided into the Classic Afghan Ski Challenge and a women's specific race that took place the next day.
Many local participants are poorly equipped and Arc'teryx is proud to support these athletes with waterproof apparel.