Pakistan's "Switzerland of the East"
Malam Jabba, Pakistan
Though the mountains of northern Pakistan are some of the tallest and most impressive in the world, the country has only had a single commercial ski area. Developed with the aid of the Austrian government, the hotel and chairlift in the former British hill station of Malam Jabba sat at 9,200 feet in the Swat Valley of the Hindu Kush, an area once called the “Switzerland of the East” by Queen Elizabeth II.
The ski area attracted hundreds of tourists a day and economically supported many of the area's families. Then the Taliban invaded in 2007, razing schools, burning down the hotel, destroying the chairlift, and snapping the skis (or worse) of anyone who dared come to enjoy themselves. When the Pakistan Army managed to retake the region in 2009, the ski area was in ruins.
Fortunately Malam Jabba was the home of passionate skier and former national champion Mateeullah Khan. As soon as the army regained control, Khan revived his Pioneer Sports and Ski School and began bringing schoolchildren, many of them girls, onto the area's lone slope to brighten their spirits after two years of violence and terror. Many of the kids skied on wooden boards with old shoes nailed to them. Poles were cut from trees. Locals jerry-rigged a car engine to power a rickety single-car chairlift.
In 2011 Khan organized a Ski for Peace event, with many children eagerly participating in their homemade skis. Increasingly popular events have been held every year since. When asked why he was so determined to hook the valley's traumatized children on skiing, Khan replied, "There are certain sports that make you brave. The thrill of coming downhill at high speeds makes you joyful, but it also makes you bold, it gives you courage. It gives you vigor to go forward and do other things in your life too."
Thanks largely to Khan's unremitting efforts, the government of Pakistan recently announced plans to rebuild the hotel and install a non-car-engine-powered chairlift with multiple chairs. The local schoolchildren can't wait.