Story by Piero Ruffino

We decided to leave the Alps for Iran's Elbruz Mountains because, you know... when you are waiting for a cable tram in the middle of a crowd full of noisy people, you think: Stop! It's relax time. I want to be free, without Ski Patrol, without rules, only you and the mountain. Yes the wilderness. India? Pakistan? Canada? USA? No! Too easy. The right choice: Islamic Republic of Iran. Yes, probably we're crazy. But you know: crazy people can go anywhere, good kids only go to the heaven...

IRAN : history, culture, traditions and, why not, sport as well? Winter sports, of course. Strange though it may seem, Iran has an abundance of mountains over 4.000m, the highest at 5670m above sea level being Mount Damavand, an inactive, characteristically coned-shaped volcano that dominates the Elbruz chain. There are ski resorts not far from Tehran that were built in the '70s, and which, in terms of elevation, compare favorably with some of the famous resorts in the Alps. The two best known areas for skiing are Shemshak and Dizin. We visited Dizin and had great fun skiing down slopes clad in 40 cm of the finest, virgin powder snow. A trip to Iran with your telemark skis in tow is an experience not to be missed, particularly given how cheap the whole expedition can be.

Let's start from the beginning. In the summer of 1998, I read an article on the forthcoming 20th anniversary of the revolution in Iran, and I found myself returning to my childhood memories, to confused images of a far-off, mysterious country projected through the cathode tubes of a television set. Indeed, it was curiosity that started me browsing through the Internet in search of more up-to-date information about Iran, or should I say PERSIA? There's not much you can't find on the Internet, and it wasn't long before I had discovered that there are mountains in Iran and that, in winter, it snows! Wonderful! I got straight in touch with another "mountain-loving" friend of mine to tell him the news and in no time we were sounding out the Foreign Office, the Embassy, likely and unlikely sponsors.

Two months before we were due to leave, my partner let me down and dropped out of the expedition. Luckily, I got in touch with Giorgio Daidola and after only two phone calls (it might only have needed one!), he said he'd be interested in joining in. The days passed and, little by little, Giorgio, the perfect assistant, managed to draft in three friends who would later prove themselves to be the ideal companions in our adventure, despite the fact that we didn't know each other.

 

 
   
 

 

With 29 days to D-day and after a string of refusals from potential sponsors, we managed to win over Swissair, Scarpa and Vittor Tua Ski (the only company from Biella to answer). There was less a month to go, and we were getting more and more excited at the prospect of telemarking on Iranian snow.

Finally the big day arrived, and I left for Torino's Caselle airport to meet Giorgio and his friends Leonardo Bizzaro and Michele Fedrizzi (the only "heathen" not yet converted to Telemark). We were to meet up with Filippo Iacoacci in Zurich, because he was leaving from Rome. Giorgio had a cold and was most anxious that he wouldn't be up to skiing, but events were to prove him quite wrong. It s a 5 hour flight from Zurich to Teheran and, with the 2 1/2 hour time difference, it was 4:30 a.m. before we arrived. The customs formalities were over in no time and we were met by two representatives from the Caravan Shara tourist agency in Teheran who whisked us off to a waiting minibus and on for a couple of hours sleep at the Mashad Hotel.

At 7:30 we were ready for our first taste of the Iranian mountains, and we found Farzhad (a mountaineering expert and excellent local guide) already waiting for us with a young Iranian boy (a snowboarder) in order to set off for a day's skiing, or rather, telemarking, in Dizin. The road from Teheran, a sprawling city of 10 million people, winds through a fairy tale landscape of colors that turn from ochre to gray, from green to white it s true! In IRAN there is snow, snow and more snow. Dizin is equipped with 12 lifts, from 4-seater egg-shaped cable-cars to chair lifts extremely well prepared and of fantastic quality. There are simply hordes of snowboarders, just like the ones back home but, fortunately for us, a little more shy at the prospect of fresh snow which means a gateway to heaven for us! There is more powder than you'd know what to do with, virgin slopes that beckon. To a westerner, if you allow for the fact that its visitors are not decked out in the very latest fashion, Dizin looks like a resort in the Alps, there are carports, shops, ski-hire centers, ticket-offices, ski lifts, cable cars and snowmobiles. Apart from the infrastructure and the 1980's style kits, the only difference is that all the women are obliged by law to wear a veil. We left again for Teheran in the afternoon. With it being Friday evening, a day of rest in Iran, there was a chaotic jam in the city, but we were ready again the following morning at 7:00 a.m. for the 2 hour car journey along mountain roads and through tunnels to M. Damavand. Topping a foothill at about 2500 m/asl we see it before us in all its majesty.

Continued on page 2

 

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