This is my first blog, and I can't think of a better way to set the tone for the kinds of content I will be sharing than to pay a tribute to the incredible hard work of two people who inspire me the most: Sajjad Hussaini and Alishah Farhang. They are the first skiers from Afghanistan to reach an athletic and skill level high enough to participate in a world championship. It's amazing what they have achieved only in a few years, and with limited resources.
Afghanistan has never been a skiing nation. This is no Switzerland, or France. There are no resorts, and ski lifts. Nor the money for such expensive sports. There is an ongoing war that has lasted more than 40 years. However, there are plenty of beautiful mountains with perfect conditions for skiing, and a lot of enthusiasm. In 2009, when Christoph Zuercher, a Swiss journalist, discovered the perfectly-sloped Koh-e Baba Mountains in Bamiyan, a peaceful province in Central Afghanistan, he imagined people skiing on those hills. Fast forward eight years, and you see hundreds of local skiers, an annual international ski competition (The Afghan Ski Challenge), and Sajjad and Alishah eyeing to earn a spot in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. This will go down in history. It already has.
The two Bamiyan natives grew up in farming families, often grazing their sheep around the Koh-e Baba mountains, and attending school at the same time. When the first Afghan Ski Challenge was organized in 2010, they borrowed old equipment from expats and race organizers. After three times winning the championships, they were crowned the best skiers of Afghanistan, and given a chance to train in St. Moritz, Switzerland for three winters in a row. This year, they participated in their first FIS world championship in St. Moritz, representing Afghanistan for the first time as a ski nation in the international stage.
Their success so far hasn't come easy. It is a result of hard work and dedication against so many odds. Despite not having proper equipment, a proper place to train, and living in a corrupt country engulfed by terrorism and violence, they have achieved beyond what is possible. More importantly, they have motivated more Afghans to take part in skiing, and inspired younger ones to dream of racing. This is just the beginning of their journey, and we can only imagine the exciting future of skiing in Afghanistan.
Alishah and Sajjad are exactly the kind of people Afghanistan needs. They are the faces of resilience, hope, and an emerging young population who is tired of wars, and ready to bring new ideas to Afghanistan. Their dedication to the growth of skiing is changing the image of the country from a war-torn nation to one with huge potential for tourism and sports. Often times, foreigners think of Afghanistan as a desert, unaware of the insanely beautiful mountains towering at 25,000 feet surrounding green meadows, and crystal clear rivers running through deep valleys. It won't be long before these images become a well-known fact.
For the world, and particularly skiing, Alishah and Sajjad are introducing a new adventure destination. The are also changing the demographics of the sport from being a heavily Western sport to one in more disadvantaged communities. At the same time, they are having a blast exploring Afghanistan's untouched and beautiful wilderness.
Follow them on social media (Alishah & Sajjad) to keep an eye on their exciting progress.
Check out the Afghan Ski Challenge website for more info, pictures, and videos!