Youth skiing camp

IT is easy to forget that just a few years ago, many areas in Pakistan attracted bustling tourist traffic and there were several spots and resorts that showed the potential of achieving world-class standards.

Much of this activity, and the economies it drove, have dried up since the country became mired in militancy and terrorism, especially in the north.

This context lends greater significance to the few, but crucial, efforts that continue to be made with a view to clawing back to normalcy. It is thus heartening that the Pakistan Youth Outreach Programme recently organised a youth skiing camp at Zartghurben, a ski resort that lies a four-hour trek from the Shimshal valley in Gilgit-Baltistan.

Sponsored by several institutions, including the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, the event brought together 13 women and 20 men from Karachi, Islamabad, Hunza and Shimshal, with two professional Austrian ski trainers on hand to teach the novices the difference between their baseplates and their baskets.

Understandably, all the participants were pleased, with the president of the programme Mirza Ali — who, along with his sister Samina Baig, made headlines last year when they scaled the highest peaks on each of the world’s continents — renewing his commitment to promoting winter sports in Pakistan.

The initiative shown by this group is commendable, and should come as a reminder to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government that there is much that needs to be done in the province vis-à-vis tourism.
One of the first steps could be the rebuilding of the Malam Jabba ski resort, in its heyday the largest such facility in the country with a much-appreciated infrastructure.

Sadly, the resort was burned down by militants in June 2008, after having been closed for nearly a year while the area was under thrall of militancy. Injecting funds into and re-energising activities such as skiing, trekking and climbing would be one way of resisting the obscurantist push. The path to normalcy lies in revitalising what groups such as the banned TTP are trying to eliminate.

Published in Dawn February 1st, 2015