I enjoy travelling. At a basic level it’s just nice to be somewhere new and waiting to see what’s around the next corner. Beyond that, sometimes it puts you outside your normal “comfort zone” especially if the people and culture you’re visiting is very different from your usual european norms.
Iran was to be my first visit to the “middle east” (apart from some short airport stays which definitly doesn’t count). I had heard good things about skiing in Iran and the travel there in general, but I still didn’t really know what to expect.
In the case of Iran much of the media is obviously focused on the international relationship Iran has with the rest of the world. The US sanctions, nuclear weapons programmes, oil embargoes and dual nationals being held on spying charges and the like. All of this does mean travelling to Iran feels much more risky than the average ski trip! Is there a chance we would get into trouble? Would we even be given visas to go, and might it prove tricky to travel to other countries afterwards?
And why go in the first place? That is easier to answer. One of Iran’s best kept secrets are the mountains. The Alborz range stretches right across the northern edge of the country and forms the backdrop to the capital city Tehran. The mountains are impressively tall and feature multiple peaks over 4000m and the volcano of Damavand which at 5650m is a proper expedition.
The skiing is very reliable due to the altitude and there are ski resorts scattered throughout the range. Then if you talk to Iranians, people who have travelled there and some lesser read articles it’s clear that the locals are polite, friendly and very welcoming to foreign travellers. When you add everything up, the chance to travel to Iran to experience both the people and the skiing is pretty irresistible.
And the skiing certainly lived up to expectations. We had a mixed bag of weather during our ten day trip, with some fresh snow over a couple of stormy days but some brilliant sunshine too. Each day we had a short drive to a side valley to start a day tour. Often these would be “summer” villages that were either very quiet or deserted during the winter. So our tour would begin by skinning through the snowy streets before climbing the slopes above the village.
We chose north facing ski tours most of the time, climbing between 700m to 1500m in a day. Some of the routes were the best ski tours I’ve ever done, with big wide open slopes that gave great skiing from top to bottom, with very little of the fiddly or awkward skiing towards the bottom of the mountain that is quite common in the alps. Each day had a very exploratory feel, with no other groups in sight. With no avalanche bulletin and little chance of a rapid mountain rescue we kept our route choices conservative and kept an eye on the snow pack with the changing conditions.
Our day off mid week involved an overnight in Tehran and some tourist sightseeing and shopping. It was an interesting day, and it felt like being in a busy, and polluted, European city. We were there on the Iranian new year, which meant that most people were buying gifts and shopping before the holidays, so the bazaar was rammed with people and the roads were packed with everyone driving to the coast for a mini-break. I have to say that I enjoyed getting back into the mountains again after that. It was a relief to breathe some fresh air and enjoy some peace and quiet. We got see more of the genuine Iran away from the city, stopping off in road side cafes for tea and chatting to our drivers and local skiers who accompanied us during our trip, a requirement for British travellers.
We had eight days in Iran, with seven days skiing. We didn’t even scratch the surface of the skiing potential, there were literally fantastic looking ski tours in every direction. Some with well established routes and many peaks that have never seen a pair of skis.
There’s so much I could write here….. but you’ll all get bored. Here’s a few photos and captions from the trip. We’re putting together a video of the trip as well over the next week or so. And if you’re interested in a future trip, send us an email and we’ll add you to the list.
Updated photo gallery here.