On the Slopes in Afghanistan

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At first glance, things in Kabul look promising. Emirates Air started flying there in January and the city feels like a boomtown: sidewalks full of pedestrians, semi-paved streets full of cars, half-built buildings everywhere—including a very ambitious Marriott Hotel nestled next to the U.S. Embassy. There is even a huge Olympic compound, which houses an arena and a skate park called Skateistan.

But as boomtowns go, Kabul is sort of a bust. What progress there was now seems to be on hold. There are almost no women in public, the lines of people outside the Iranian embassy waiting to emigrate are several blocks long, U.S. Army spy blimps hang menacingly over the city, the Olympic park is virtually empty, and the Taliban is attacking election offices and Western hotels, so that despite sinking millions of dollars into the project, Marriott announced last year it was abandoning its hotel due to security concerns.

Sounds like a great time to go skiing!

Regardless of all the dangers of this war-torn country, or perhaps because of them, a growing sector of Afghan society dreams of a thriving tourism industry, the kind not seen here since the 1970s. Those who want to bring some of the trillions of dollars spent each year on international tourism are looking to the north, in Bamiyan and the steep white slopes of the Hindu Kush and the Koh-e-Baba mountain range.

Bamiyan is to Afghanistan what Kurdistan is to Iraq. Home to the Hazara minority, Shia Muslims who were treated with special harshness by the Sunni Taliban during their years in power, the town offers respite from the tension in the rest of the country. One sign of repose is the newfound recreation of skiing—embodied by the Bamiyan Ski Club and its flagship program, the annual Afghan Ski Challenge.