Bamiyan is to Afghanistan what Kurdistan is to Iraq. It is home to the Hazara minority, Shia Muslims who were treated with special harshness by the Sunni Taliban during their years in power, the town offers respite from the tension in the rest of the country. One sign of repose is the newfound recreation of skiing—embodied by the Bamiyan Ski Club and its flagship program, the annual Afghan Ski Challenge.
“In 2009, the Aga Khan was looking into developing a ski project,” says Ian MacWilliam, a former communications officer for the Aga Khan Development Foundation “We hired a mountaineering specialist to be a ski consultant and he and some others started surveying the parallel valleys in the area and talking to the village elders. We tried to tell them it will be like the 1960’s with all the tourists. In 2010, the Aga Khan Development Fund produced a guidebook and set up a shop in a local guesthouse. There was some old equipment from some French people and our first clients were foreigners living in Kabul who needed a break and spent money.” At the same time, a Swiss journalist, Christoph Zurcher, now a features editor at the Neue Zurcher Zeitung, was dreaming up the first Afghan Ski Challenge. “I came to Bamiyan as a tourist,” says Zurcher, “and one day I sat on the roof of my hotel looking at the mountains and, as [I’m] Swiss it didn’t take long to start thinking of skiing. With the help from my newspaper I contacted some sponsors and in 2011 held the first race.”