International skiers take to slopes in Pakistan

By AFP
Published: February 11, 2019
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Anastasiia Gorbunova says she used to believe Pakistan was a 'pretty dangerous country. PHOTO: AFP

Anastasiia Gorbunova says she used to believe Pakistan was a 'pretty dangerous country. PHOTO: AFP

NALTAR: Skiers descend in long, rhythmic swoops down pristine white slopes in the northern part of the country, braking in a spray of snow.

Dozens of athletes took part at a rare international competition in Pakistan, which boasts some of the world’s highest mountains but remains off-piste for most winter sports enthusiasts after years of conflict and a lack of infrastructure.

Ukraine dominates ski championship in Naltar

Nestled in the Karakoram mountain range, the Naltar Ski Resort has been at the heart of Pakistan’s efforts to draw winter sport tourists since the first international competition was held there in 2015.

PHOTO: AFP

PHOTO: AFP

“Pakistan has a lot of things to learn but with every year it’s getting better,” said Ukrainian skier Anastasiia Gorbunova, who admitted she used to think it was a “pretty dangerous country”.

“Now I know it’s a cliche because as I saw, people are sweet, they are nice, they try to make you feel like you’re at home and I appreciate that.”

Security has dramatically improved across Pakistan following a crackdown on militant groups in recent years.

PHOTO: AFP

PHOTO: AFP

Authorities recently re-opened another resort in the nearby Swat Valley that had been closed for years by insurgent activity, while other ski facilities are being developed elsewhere in the country.

Laura Moore, a representative of the International Ski Federation with the Azerbaijan team, said Pakistan boasted unrivalled ski conditions.

But she added that lengthy road travel and the regular grounding of flights during inclement weather made access to ski fields a tricky prospect – “off-piste and maybe with a helicopter”.

PHOTO: AFP

PHOTO: AFP

“I think it’s definitely more for the adventurer,” Moore said.

Pakistan is home to several peaks higher than 8,000 metres including K2, the second-tallest mountain in the world.

Winter Olympics: Pakistan puts faith in skiers

Skiers at the Naltar event were hosted by the Pakistan Air Force, who own the ski resort and facilitated their transport from Islamabad.

“Not all countries have mountains like this,” Berkin Usta, a Turkish skier who won the men’s Grand Slalom event. “It’s really good.”

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