The Afghan Ski Challenge

On March 3, 2014, in a small village outside Bamyan on the slopes of Afghanistan’s Koh-i-Baba mountain range, 80 skiers from across the world assembled at a starting line that had been jerry-rigged up just the night before.

Now, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d read that last sentence wrong. When one thinks of Afghanistan, one usually does not think of skiing. There are several obvious reasons for this: Afghanistan has been war-ravaged for decades. ‘Afghanistan,’ ‘leisure sports,’ and ‘fun, relaxing time’ are paradoxical to the images we’re bombarded by in the news.

Moreover, there are no ski lifts in Afghanistan. And at elevations that can reach above 10,000 feet above sea level, it’s not particularly easy to place one foot in front of the other—much less climb a mountain.

Plus, there are no ski shops in the nearby vicinity (and by ‘nearby,’ I mean for at least 3,000 miles.) That means all equipment must be brought into the country, adding a lot of weight to the average ‘adventure day pack’—and making you a target for thieves in this impoverished nation.

Makeshift skis are available for those who need them to participate in the ski challenge. Photos courtesy of Bamyan Ski Club

And yet, when Swiss journalist Christoph Zuercher visited Bamyan in 2009 on a break from assignment in Kabul, he took a different view.

Zuercher sat on the rooftop of his hotel, looked out over the caves of the Buddhas (destroyed by the Taliban in 2001) and the snow-capped peaks of the Koh-e-Baba mountain range and thought, “Skiing!” Because, apparently, when Swiss people see snow and mountains, they have a Pavlovian response that compels them to hurtle down the mountain. It’s practically genetic.

A donkey carries the winners’ podium to the starting line. Photos courtesy of Bamyan Ski Club

And so the Afghan Ski Challenge was born. The country’s only ski race and pitting locals against ski tourists, it did have a somewhat challenging start. There was little interest in the first competition, held in 2010—skiing is, naturally, not native to the area, and the debut race featured some rather unwilling locals who had to be talked into participating (and subsequently tried to back out.)

“It was a total catastrophe,” Zurcher said. “No one wanted to ski, and they didn’t want to get tan skin.” Light skin is prized here. Plus, there was the understandable aversion to possibly breaking a leg in a region without a decent hospital.

But by 2014, the race started to gain international attention and the money started coming in. Bamyan is a mainly agricultural society and in winter, unemployment skyrockets. The town is so neglected by the central government that until February 2014, it didn’t even have electricity.

The Afghan Ski Challenge is a backcountry ski race, which takes place every spring in Bamyan. The event is organized by the Bamyan Ski Club and open to all. Bamyan is the other, unknown Afghanistan. In the 70ies a famous destination on the hippietrail to India, does Bamyan today welcome travelers back once again. The race in February 2015 included 30 participants from Afghanistan and 20 international competitors from the US, Australia, Norway, Slowenia, Finland, New Zealand, France and the UK.

Equipment needed: Skis and skins (and sunprotection!) Snowboarders need snowshoes or a Splitboard.This is a self-sufficient race. All food or water has to be carried by competitors.

Bamyan ski school

Over the years, dozens of local Afghan boys – and since 2013 also girls – have learned to ski with the Bamyan Ski Club ski school every February before the race. A team of international instructors also taught them the basic of avalanche safety.

The Bamyan Ski Club will also open a permanent ski center in Bamyan 2018 and is working hard to put the first ski lift in the mountains of Afghanistan into operation soon.


Koh-e-Baba Mountain Range, Bamyan Province, Central Afghanistan, approximately 180km west of the capital Kabul.


Uphill, Downhill, Exact course varys. Overall Distance: 2-4 Kilometers, Overall difference in altitude: 600-1200 Meters. Lowest Point: around 2600, Highest Point around 3800.


No weapons allowed. Everyone starts at the same time. The winner is the first person to cross the finish line having successfully registered at all the check points along the way. Skis and Snow Boards are allowed.


For 96 CHF a year, you can become a member of the Bamyan Ski Club. As a member you are entitled to the exclusive Bamyan Ski Club Badge and the stylish Ski Club Pin. Twice a year you will receive a newsletter, which keeps you up to date about the club’s activities, and you will be invited to the annual Member’s Cocktail. With a membership your entrance to the Bamyan Ski Club Bar is guaranteed as well as your pool position at the Afghan Ski Challenge at St. Moritz. To register, please fill in the inlay or contact


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