Skiing in Foreign Lands

Me and Nellie have a rest in front of the fire.

Greeting loyal readers and fellow maremmas.  Now as you all know, aunty likes to go off and ski in interesting parts of the world.  Rather her than Us, for We do not like snow.  It is cold and as loyal readers know We three do not like getting our fur and paws cold.

In January this year, aunty travelled to Iraqi to go skiing.  Here is an article about her time there, from the Guardian

Iraqi Kurdistan: intrepid skiers break new ground

Three hours’ drive from Mosul, the small unspoilt pistes at ski resorts around Mount Halgurd, northern Iraq, are luring the first overseas tour groups

Iraq’s sole ski lift, at the Korek Mountain resort.
Iraq’s sole ski lift, at the Korek Mountain resort

‘For those who want to just ski a nice piste, have a beer, then go to a disco, it’s probably not so appealing.” James Willcox, co-founder of adventure travel company Untamed Borders, is talking about who might – and would definitely not – be interested in its latest offering: a ski tour of Iraq.

In January, Untamed Borders ran what was “probably the first ever commercial ski trip” to the country, taking a group of six intrepid travellers to the region around Mount Halgurd in the north-east of Iraq, three hours’ drive from Mosul and 500km north of Baghdad. Flying in to the city of Ebril (via Istanbul) they spent two weeks ski-touring this part of Iraqi Kurdistan, through landscapes rarely seen by western travellers.

Skinning near Choman.
Skiing near Choman

The ski season might be coming to a close, but if you’re looking for a trip for 2018 that’s got a little more edge to it than a week in a chalet in Chamonix, then this could be for you.

Willcox and his team have years of experience organising tours to less-travelled countries such as Uzbekistan and Somalia, and this tour was led by a guide who has previously led skiers in Afghanistan. The tour cost $2,400 for 10 days, excluding flights.

The tour group skied Choman and Mount Halgurd in January, while boarding with a local family. It also visited Penjwen, near the city of Sulaymaniyah, which has a nordic ski club, and the Korek Mountain, a “tiny” ski resort with a gondola, which was celebrating its annual Snow Festival.

Ski touring near Mount Halgurd - Iraq’s highest peak.
Ski touring near Mount Halgurd – the highest peak entirely withing Iraq.

Still, as one would expect, skiing in Iraq comes with its own unique challenges. The Foreign Office advises against all travel to much of the country, and all but essential travel to the rest. As a result, many insurance policies are void, but Untamed Borders is able to recommend companies that still offer cover.

“You have all the usual issues of skiing, but also need to avoid landmines, and unexploded ordnance from the 1980s near the Iraq-Iran border,” says Willcox. “You can’t get too close. But we work with local partners, guides in the area who know this, who know the areas you can’t ski for various reasons. We also use GPS, so if there’s a whiteout you don’t stray from where you’re meant to go.”

Not surprisingly, Mike Hinckley, 56, one of the skiers who joined January’s tour, had his reservations. Among them he listed “Islamic State, ongoing aspects of war and the perception that I, as a US citizen, might not be exactly welcome.” But he was drawn in by the opportunity to ski in a place where “virtually no one, if anyone, has ever skied before”. He admits it was frustrating at times, having to work around the “logistical, social or administrative limitations” of skiing in a country with a completely different set of safety concerns to a regular mountain zone, but it was about more than just the skiing.

“When we attended the Korek Snow Festival, we interacted with so many people (and TV personalities), and they seemed so happy to meet us, talk and take selfies with us – that was wild,” says Hinckley. “At that moment, the skiing almost became secondary.”
untamedborders.com, details of the 2018 trip will be on the website in April

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6 Responses to Skiing in Foreign Lands

  1. That pretty adventurous, even without the skiing part! We’re with you…not so inclined to be cold and have to pay for it on top of that. 🙂

  2. Kismet says:

    A tour of Iraq and Afghanistan? SQUAAAAAAWK

  3. I wouldn’t be brave enough to pick this countries for skiing… chapeau to your aunty…

  4. That does sound like an adventure (LAND MINES??? YIKES!!!), but Mom and I are more like you kids. We like to stay warm and toasty and close to home.

    Love and licks,
    Cupcake

  5. Christine says:

    I cannot wrap my head around going to Iraq to ski. Glad you had fun

  6. sandy921 says:

    You have a very brave Aunty, especially that landmine part at the end!

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