Thinking about great places to ski, there are sure to be a few that will immediately come to mind: Austria, Colorado, maybe even Japan. But what about Iran? It might sound odd, but I recently came across an article about a small area in Iran’s Alborz Mountains, not too far from Iran’s highest peak, where there’s surprisingly good skiing. The Islamic Republic straddled between the Middle East and India has a plethora of skiing areas and other winter sports for those who can make the trip to the mountains north of Tehran. Even if you can get over your natural reservations of traveling to Iran, the trip to the ski area is up a windy and extremely narrow road, where rock slides are a real danger.
The article is about Darbandsar ski resort, located in a town that’s one of the highest elevated towns in Iran at about 11,000 feet. The adjacent resort is even higher, and is one of the biggest and most modern in all of Iran. The lifts at the resort go up more than 13,000 feet, allowing the resort to stay open for skiing for about six months out of the year, and management says they rarely need to use snow cannons to prepare the pistes. Apart from surprisingly good skiing, Darbandsar tries to offer facilities similar to what you’d find in ski resorts in America or Europe. In the restaurant, a DJ plays the latest tunes while a bartender mixes non-alcoholic cocktails cooled with snow. They offer such food as pizza, fried chicken, burgers and french fries, more like Aspen than Iran. One reminder that it’s still an Islamic Republic are signs reminding women to cover their hair, although not surprisingly the enforcement for this Iranian law isn’t as strongly enforced here as it is in other parts of the country.
After the nuclear agreement and lifting of sanctions, Iran is looking for a way to boost tourist numbers, and one of the areas they’re looking to expand is winter sport. Considering that Iran is smack-between the Middle East and India, that might sound strange, but the mountainous terrain of the country means it can easily go toe-to-toe with the likes of Aspen. Yet the number of foreign skiers who visit Iran remains small. Yet another winter sport, much more dangerous than skiing, is slowly gaining popularity with tourists: ice-climbing. It’s a widely-practiced sport in the mountainous areas of Iran, where dozens of people can be seen on weekends scaling frozen mountain walls with pick axes and spiky shoes. While it’s difficult and challenging, and much riskier than rock-climbing, it’s become popular with Iranian thrill-seekers.
Since winter tourism in Iran remains a relatively new phenomenon, a lack of effective transportation remains an issue. While the facilities at Darbandsar are very good, there remains a lack of parking space that means skiers might have to walk a mile from their car to the entrance gate of the facility. The fact that the road is so small and narrow also leads to plenty of traffic jams. Yet Iran remains optimistic, hoping that tourists will discover the wonders of Iran and give the region a major economic boost.