Matiullah Khan, chief instructor of Pioneer Sports and Ski School, is often credited for bringing international skiing to Swat Valley. A trained professional, he organised the first national skiing competition at Malam Jabba Ski Resort in 2000.
“Several national skiers participated in the competition,” he told The Express Tribune.
Following this event, the sport gradually gained momentum in the country and the ski lift at Malam Jabba became a popular tourist destination.
In the years to come, the Ski Federation of Pakistan (SFP) held numerous competitions at the resort. Khan established the Pioneer Sports & Ski School in 2005 to train residents and tourists interested in the sport.
“We focused on training young people so they could represent Pakistan on an international level,” he added.
However, everything changed suddenly when the Taliban took control of Swat Valley in 2007. The resort was converted into a stronghold for militants.
During the siege, it appeared as if international skiing had lost ground in the valley. The resort’s flip-flopping fortune, from a holiday destination to a breeding ground for militancy, encapsulated Pakistan’s struggle against extremism and deteriorating security.
Although the army retook Swat after launching a major offensive in 2009, those years of uncertainty and mayhem has negatively impacted international skiing in Pakistan.
According to Khan, the resort was destroyed, pushing the sport towards complete collapse. “The ski lift at Malam Jabba was destroyed and the only hotel at the resort was set ablaze,” the instructor said.
After the storm
Since then, ski instructors and enthusiasts have struggled to bury the past and work towards giving a new lease of life to the sport.
“In 2009, we asked the Pakistan Army to help us organise a skiing competition at Malam Jabba,” Khan said. “Through their support, we were able to organise a skiing competition in 2010 which attracted a large number of tourists.” There was a skiing festival in 2013 and 2014 as well.
According to the instructor, Malam Jabba has numerous facilities for skiers.
“The quality of our slopes is particularly good and in an ideal location,” he said. “We should take advantage of this as many young people in Swat are keen to learn how to ski.”
However, the responsibility for picking up the pieces does not fall entirely on the army and ski instructors. “The government must also revamp the ski resort at Malam Jabba and help promote the sport,” Khan said.
The instructor insisted that skiing equipment is expensive and is not always available in Pakistan. “We have repeatedly asked the government to provide us with the equipment but it hasn’t shown interest in the matter,” he said. “As a result, we are forced to ask some of our skiers who have moved abroad to send us the equipment.”
Call for support
Khan lauded the efforts made by the Norwegian government to promote the sport. “The Norwegian embassy in Islamabad has helped us organise skiing events at Malam Jabba.”
However, he voiced concern over the government’s reluctance to accept the importance of skiing to the country. “It helps build courage and confidence in skiers,” Khan added. Moreover, Khan believes a large number of international tournaments can be organised at Malam Jabba ski resort as it has a range of facilities. “Unfortunately, the government has not given much attention to the resort,” he said. “I would strongly advise the government to develop the slope and re-install the ski lift so as to allow international competitions to be held at Malam Jabba.”
In September 2014, the TCKP and government announced plans for a new tourist resort, ski and hotel project in Malam Jabba. An MoU was signed to this effect.
“We are counting on the government’s support,” he said. “Skiers need more facilities and better equipment. Only then can we produce skiers who can represent Pakistan on an international level.”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2014.