Islamabad: This winter brought an exhilarating change for the people of Pakistan’s remote valley who remained confined to their homes during the frosty, snowy season. A winter sports camp was organised from January 2-7 in the Qaqlasht area of Chitral, the farthest most district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Qaqlasht, that means dry land, is a flat terrain located about 80 kilometres north of Chitral.
Harsh winter and heaps of snow significantly restrict the activity in the region affecting the daily lives. “The winters compel us to stay indoors for nearly five months. This has been the case for centuries,” said Asif Murad, resident of Booni, a town in Chitral, located at 1,500 metres above sea level. “But this year was different. The locals learnt about fun winter activities such as skiing and eagerly participated.”
The camp attracted the attention of the locals and revealed the remote valley’s great potential for winter sports which the tourism and sports authorities have failed to recognise, he said. “The valley has tremendous potential for winter sports and tourism that can create new opportunities for development,” Murad, one of the organisers of winter camp, told Gulf News.
The valley’s first youth ski and mountaineering training camp at Qaqlasht was organised by Pakistan Youth Outreach Foundation (PYOF) and Hindukush Mountaineering and Adventure Club headed by Asif Murad.
The camp featured some 50 adventurers, at least 15 girls, from across Pakistan, including Lahore, Faisalabad, lower Chitral, Hunza, Kalash, Mastuj, Booni and Broghil, according to Mirza Ali Baig, chairman of PYOF.
Sharing the response of the participants, Baig said, the youngsters from the northern far-off villages were excited to be part of the camp. “It offered them unique skiing and mountaineering experience. Many of them said that such activities would give them a new direction, lead them towards a more productive and healthier way of life.”
To the local youth, especially women, the winter camp offered physical, social as well as mental benefits. Women from Chitral valley said that the sports camp offered them new opportunities, a sense of connection and would help ward off depression and anxiety that has engulfed many youngsters, mostly girls, due to lack of opportunities in the distant regions, he shared.
“The participants not only survived the cold weather but boldly embraced the challenges before them” transforming the white snowy field into a vibrant sports arena.
The short winter camp covered basic training in skiing and mountaineering techniques. The team of ski trainers comprised of one instructor from Austria, Julian Fink, and Mansoor Kareem from Pakistan’s Shimshal valley. Arshad Jon, Ahmed Baig, and Samana Rahim, from Shimshal, were among the mountaineering trainers, said mountaineer Mirza Ali Baig who is the second Pakistani climber to have ascended seven summits in seven continents. Baig is also the brother of Pakistan’s acclaimed woman mountaineer Samina Baig — the first Pakistani woman to climb Everest in 2013.
Ali Baig’s foundation aims to engage young men and women to participate in healthy and challenging adventure sports and promote winter and adventure tourism in Pakistan. “Winter does not mean that life should stop. The guesthouses and hotels should remain open throughout the winters. Youth should play winter sports, no matter how harsh the weather. This region has immense potential [for adventure sports and tourism]” Baig asserted.
In recent years, winter sports activities have gained momentum in Pakistan with yearly skiing events at the scenic winter resort of Naltar in Gilgit-Baltistan. Malam Jabba ski resort, some 40 kilometres from Swat Valley, is also a popular tourist resort that offers skiing, sliding, snow-tubing, ice-skating, ice fishing and chairlift ride to the snow-covered peaks.