Trip Report by Native Ambassador Stacy Bare.
I have spent years of my life staring at maps and reading books about far away places. Growing up on the Great Plains in South Dakota, I had a giant horizon to stare at each day wondering was out there. One of the ranges, one of the places where I had spent an inordinate amount of time dreaming and reading about, was the Koh-E-Baba Range in the interior of Afghanistan.
I had read books about travelers and visitors to Afghanistan since before the US Invasion in 2001. I joined the US Army up May of 2000, and during my time I had several first-hand accounts of life and times in the nation from my fellow service members. Most remarked on the beauty of the country and made mention of the potential for Afghanistan to be Asia’s Switzerland.
Surprisingly, despite my best efforts and even the Army telling me multiple times that I would be going to Afghanistan, I never went in uniform. This last February though, I packed up a few pairs of skis and some extra gear to leave behind, and headed to Kabul to make a ski trip with my friend and filmmaker, Ben Sturgulewski.
Like the rest of the world, Afghanistan enjoyed a fantastic snow year that will hopefully break the back of a nearly five-year-long drought that has wreaked havoc on the mostly agrarian nation. The snow was stacked up high over the rocky mountains and the skiing was sweet.
We spent a lot of time hanging out with a couple of local ski crews who got after it just as hard as any group of rippers here in the States. A few different international non-profits over the years have collected and sent over a variety of used and new gear and jackets. However, the demand for skis and ski gear far outpaces the supply in Afghanistan. Every village in and around Bamyan City, the capital of Bamyan Province, has at least a handful of skiers. The higher up the valley and closer to the bigger mountains, the more skiers a village has. Kids make their own wooden skis and snowboards out of available materials—to include reusing aluminum food cans for bindings.
Skiing has been in Afghanistan for nine years and started with just a handful of folks that now number in the hundreds. In the testimony of a number of village elders, many who do not ski—skiing has transformed the winter from an oppressive and dreary time to simply survive through, into an exciting season where the mountains become beautiful and young people have something to do. The stoke for skiing and snowboarding in Afghanistan is incredibly high.
There are no ski lifts yet in country—though there is an enterprising resident who with a motorcycle, a long rope, and a tipped over wheelbarrow, has created a movable rope tow that was used to bring skiers to the top of the run for a women’s ski race. We thought Lindsey Vonn might show up for one last international race—but no. Instead, everything is uphill skiing. No skins? No problem. As most villagers have spent a good portion of their lives herding goats or sheep up and down the mountain sides, putting in a book pack is not the challenge we think of here in the States. Several other skiers wrap rope around their skis to create a homemade skin system that works pretty well.
Despite having superior equipment, there was never a day where I even threatened to come close to the same pace as our local hosts. And on the way down—they’re some pretty damn good skiers with plenty of natural style and speed.
We’re excited to tell the story we learned in Afghanistan and share it with the world this fall.
Stacy Bare and his team plan on releasing a ski film about local Afghan skiers this fall. You can follow along in the meantime at Adventure Not War on Facebook and Instagram as well as Stacy’s personal Instagram account at stacyabare.
All photo credits go to Stacy Bare.