ISLAMABAD: Only an adventure buff can relate to the sheer thrill of sliding down a snowy slope while balancing on a pair of sticks.
Much like any other winter sport, skiing is alluring to those willing to brave the great outdoors when mercury plummets to subzero levels. Dwellers of the cold, rugged landscape of Gilgit-Baltistan have used wooden skies to drive in winters.
“I have taken a new challenge, a new direction and a new commitment and I am all for promoting winter sports and making this phenomenon accessible to people who love going out in the frosty embrace of mother nature,” said Mirza Ali, founding president of Pakistan Youth Outreach Programme.
Spearheading the first-ever National Youth Skiing camp at Zartghurben, a four-hour trek from Shimshal valley, Mirza hopes to generate interest in winter sports on a national level. Stephen Keck and Andreas Ehrensberger, professional skiing trainers from Austria gave training to the participants.
Mirza and his sister, Samina Baig, who hail from the scenic Shimshal Valley, are pioneers of outdoor and winter-extreme sports in the country. Samina is the first — and so far the only — woman from Pakistan to have conquered Mount Everest after getting training and assistance from her brother, who is also a professional climber. In 2014, the sibling duo scaled the highest peak on each of the world’s seven continents.
As a country that receives significant snowfall, Mirza sees enormous potential for development in skiing and climbing ventures in Pakistan. He cited a need for developing infrastructure to promote winter sports at the national level.
In addition to preparing and coaching young athletes, the camp also provided a platform for youngsters to interact with each other and to get inspiration from Samina.
At the camp, there were 13 women and 20 men who came from Karachi, Islamabad, Hunza and Shimshal, known as the valley of mountaineers. They learnt how to make wedge turns, lead changes, a breakthrough to parallel, sliding a 360 on the snow, take a better line in the bumps, and even ski a steep line.
The resort offers open slants, lift lines, and an extraordinary mixed bag of runs, including the learner level, as well as inclines that will not scare the maturing skier.
“It’s marvelous to see youngsters from across Pakistan acknowledge that great things never came from within the comfort zone,” said Samiya Rafiq, a participant who belongs to Karachi.
Rafiq, who is a paragliding pilot, was pleased to break from her own comfort zone and try a different sport in a different environment.
Misbah Aly, a fourth year student at Federal Government Margalla College for Women F-7/4, was elated to have participated in the camp. “It was an amazing experience. Such opportunities for women are rare in our area and I think such sports should be promoted to encourage more women,” she said.
Aly, who hails from Gulmit in Gojal, added that interacting with other participants and listening to their stories was a memorable experience.
Waqar Ali said he was simply overjoyed to experience the sport. “It was the ‘aha’ moment going down the run. It’s absolutely that twofold clench-hand pump moment of ‘I can do this’ and ‘I can ski,’ and the smile on my face and the freedom. It was really great!,” he remarked.
Annie, a participant from Hunza, said, “Winter sports are best for keeping a healthy lifestyle, enjoying the landscape and having fun. The ski slope has been magnificent.”
Nasira was a bit nervous in the beginning, when she was going to take ski training. “I would doubtlessly recommend this to a newbie. It’s simple, easy, and fun. You really do focus on the movements you need to ride or ski, so you learn a ton immediately,” she said.
Another participant, Maria, said, “I think particularly with winter games, there’s a gigantic stigma with individuals who didn’t experience a childhood with skis or close to the snow that its truly difficult to get into.”
Sohail Ahmed Baig recounted his experience, saying, “I tell everybody that this experience was priceless. If you come with an open mind, you will find that it’s not as hard as you think it is.”
Zartghurben is a ski resort with an astounding beginners programme. It is situated approximately 3,600 feet above sea level and offers extraordinary snow and a lot of space to strengthen one’s skiing abilities and is a must-visit for those looking to delve in winter sports.
The camp was sponsored by the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, Serena Hotels, Alpinist, Karakoram Expeditions and Epic Energy.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 28th, 2015.