Afghan notebook: Downhill daredevils

The BBC's Kawoon Khamoosh has been to Bamiyan province to see Afghans strap on skis and boards and tackle the white stuff.

When our 40-seater plane landed at Bamiyan airport, I wondered how it might be possible to hold a skiing race in such a remote part of Afghanistan.

The airport, without tarmac runway or passenger lounge, is a world away from Bamiyan's ambition as a tourism destination, but as you walk out, the clear blue skies and amazing mountain views are stunning.

I came to watch the 4th Afghan Ski Challenge, a competition for local and international skiers meant to promote winter sports in this mountain region. On the morning of the race I was as excited as the 50 male and female skiers who gathered at the Koh-e-Baba mountain range.

After the countdown, the group, including 30 Afghans, started racing up the hillside, a height difference of almost 500m (1640ft). No lifts here, but plenty of enthusiasm.

This year the ski challenge included a wooden ski category. Some locals are making their own skis from wood and plastic. One of the skiers told me that his father was too poor to buy him real skis. "It's easy to make something that you really want," he said.

Alishah Farhang was the first crossing the finishing line in the main race. "I tried hard to achieve this" he said, standing on the winner's podium. Later he told me how much it meant to him: "Since I came across skiing, my life has changed a lot, I have new experiences, new friends and new contacts."

Alishah is now working as a paid instructor for Bamiyan ski club. The club provide classes in the winter season as well as skiing gear for hire.

Amateurs were also trying their luck on the slopes, often with mixed results.

Prizes for the winners included a Swiss watch, a sport camera and a ski jacket. But many competitors just turned up in their normal everyday clothing.

I was one of the few outsiders among the spectators because Bamiyan is remote and difficult to get to. The province's highways are dangerous with insurgents frequently stopping cars and air travel is very expensive.

The race was guarded by some armed policemen, but luckily they were not called on and were mainly busy protecting themselves from the sun.

For most Afghans, skiing is a very alien concept. But the Bamiyan ski club and the Aga Khan Foundation which supported the event are determined to attract more people and spectators to the sport.

Bamiyan has the best winter conditions in all of Afghanistan according to the organisers who also run short ski schools. In time they hope that the sport may attract more tourists to the province, its hotels and markets.

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