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Skiing in Afghanistan

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Afghanistan’s Bamyan province is best known for its ancient statues of Buddha, destroyed 15 years ago by the Taliban government. Today, its relative security and freezing winters are aiding the growth of a fledgling skiing industry. Mukhtar Yadgar explains how a radio station is helping local people discuss its potential for growth.

Ilyas Tahiri, a Radio Bamyan presenter, skiing.

A five minute drive from the site where the ancient Buddhas of Bamyan once stood, a radio mast sprouts from the ground. It belongs to Radio Bamyan, a local radio station in one of Afghanistan’s most mountainous regions. It’s summer now and wisps of brown dust rise up with the heat, yet in the winter months, Radio Bamyan’s roof is covered with snow.

Bamyan’s frosty winter weather, steep slopes and relative security have popularised skiing in the province. However, there are no ski-lifts, no chalets and certainly no après-ski. In the absence of sporting infrastructure, it was recently announced that two skiers from Bamyan will be representing Afghanistan at the 2018 Pyeongchang‎ Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Bamyan is also the venue for the annual Afghan Ski Challenge – which counts ‘no weapons allowed’ amongst its rules. Yet despite these successes suggesting a potential new ski-tourism destination, most of the local population, a relatively poor community, has had little opportunity to discuss what the growth of the skiing industry would mean for them.

Radio Bamyan, Bamyan Province, Afghanistan

Over the past year, Radio Bamyan received BBC Media Action training to boost its editorial, business development and programme making skills. Training is part of a wider project to help Afghan media become more sustainable and independent – so that it can play an important role in helping people hold their leaders to account.

It was this ongoing support which inspired the station to produce a special show to discuss the government's plans for the sport and its potential economic and cultural benefits.

Crowded into a small studio, people passionate about the sport – including sportsmen and women, a politician and the director of the Bamyan Ski Federation – discussed the future of skiing in the region.

On the topic of female representation, Arifa Akbari, a female skier, told listeners that an “increasing number of women are now skiing in Bamyan’s ski parks.”

Members of the audience prepare for a debate on Bamyan's ski industry at Radio Bamyan

On the development of infrastructure, the Director of Bamyan’s Ski Federation, Afzal Noori announced that “six new ski parks were planned in Bamyan province” while local authorities were trying to organise direct flights from Dubai to Bamyan to facilitate ski-tourism. Soon “Bamyan will be Afghanistan’s skiing centre” he declared.

Later on in the discussion, another contributor suggested that future tournaments could have a “significantly positive impact on the small businesses of Bamyan” as visitors arrived.

Like everyone in that studio, I’m looking forward to seeing what skiing can do for Bamyan. It’s peaceful here, but the community is still poor. Attracting more visitors to its historic sites and a fledgling ski-industry – could have a major economic impact on the local community.

The broadcast enabled communities to hear what the government has planned and helped raise awareness about the potential of the sport to bring business to the area.

I also hope this episode, along with an increase in ski-tourism and Bamyan’s Olympic hopefuls, will inspire a few more local residents to don their goggles, strap on their skis and take to the slopes this winter.

Participants of an international skiing tournament trek up a hill in Bamyan

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This post first appeared on BBC Media Action's blogFind out more about their work in Afghanistan.