Après-Ski in the Islamic Republic

Winter sports the ultimate in cool for Iranians who can afford it.
January 31, 2011
The ski lift at Tochal, just outside Tehran, takes 40 minutes from the base to the top. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
The ski lift at Tochal, just outside Tehran, takes 40 minutes from the base to the top. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
In the Iranian capital, the American flag is more commonly on view when it is being set fire to. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
In the Iranian capital, the American flag is more commonly on view when it is being set fire to. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
Casual contact between the sexes is not so strictly patrolled high on the mountain slopes. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
Casual contact between the sexes is not so strictly patrolled high on the mountain slopes. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
The Tehran ski centres attract some foreign tourists, in this case Russians. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
The Tehran ski centres attract some foreign tourists, in this case Russians. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
This seemingly remote mountain location is not far outside Tehran. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
This seemingly remote mountain location is not far outside Tehran. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
Snowboarding is popular in Iran. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
Snowboarding is popular in Iran. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
Even on the ski slopes, Iran's feared morality police are on hand to catch any backsliders. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
Even on the ski slopes, Iran's feared morality police are on hand to catch any backsliders. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
Iran is the only country in the Middle East holding ski competitions. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
Iran is the only country in the Middle East holding ski competitions. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
The ski-lift at Tochal is one of the world's longest. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
The ski-lift at Tochal is one of the world's longest. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
A professional skier. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
A professional skier. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
Time out after a ski run. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
Time out after a ski run. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
One of the few places where it is allowed to celebrate a birthday party in the open air. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
One of the few places where it is allowed to celebrate a birthday party in the open air. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
Some people prefer to smoke while taking a rest. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
Some people prefer to smoke while taking a rest. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
Some prefer to go to a restaurant by the track and have a bowl of hot soup. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
Some prefer to go to a restaurant by the track and have a bowl of hot soup. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
Tochal Hotel down the track. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)
Tochal Hotel down the track. (Photo: Shahrzad Miri)

Unlike most residents of the Iranian capital Tehran, a select few do not have to struggle to make ends meet and can afford to go skiing at the weekend on the conveniently-located slopes north of the city.

The Tochal ski centre is one of four that attract crowds of winter sports fans every winter. Like the Ab-Ali, Dizin and Shemshak centres, it is run by the Islamic Republic Sports Organisation.

Tochal is the most popular of the four. Located nearly 4,000 metres high in an area called Velenjak area dubbed the “Roof of Tehran”, it is conveniently close to the city and is a hangout not just for hardened skiers, but for young men and women who want to escape the social constraints of daily life.

Winter sports arrived in Iran relatively recently, and the slopes around Tehran date from the late 1960s and 1970s.

Centres like Tochal are among the few places in Iran where young men and women can mix in relative freedom. Somehow, the draconian laws that apply elsewhere dissipate in the rarified atmosphere, and women ski without comply with the full requirements of Islamic hejab. Even here, though, there are police on guard, kitted out with skis, but they do not make too much of an effort to enforce the rule. Some skiers say the government earns enough from the winter sports to allow it to turn a blind eye.

The ski slopes also attract foreigners, often from the Middle East, for whom Iran is an inexpensive option compared with Europe.

Skiing here is not cheap for Iranians, though. A session here will set you back between 60 and 150 US dollars, or less if you bring your own gear, which is expensive in its own right. Prices like these mean skiing is not for the average middle-class person, let alone anyone on a lower income.

Shahrzad Miri is the pseudonym of a photojournalist based in Tehran.

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