Can Chris Exall top everyone’s favourite ski story? You bet, after he visited two resorts in the Persian pariah state. Planning your ski holiday gives you the opportunity for a find, the chance to get bragging rights to say – Oh yes, we were there first.Well I’ve just found a resort with a season from early November to late May, it has 13 lifts including 3 gondolas and two chairlifts spread over 1,000m of vertical drop. The highest skiing is at 3,600m so it should be good for powder days. And it is budget priced. So what’s the catch?
It’s in Iran, and Dizin is one of the highest ski resorts in the world, so averages seven metres of snow a year. Around 90 minutes’ drive from Tehran, Dizin is in a spectacular setting at the base of Sichal peak and looking towards Iran’s highest peak, Mount Damavand, a towering dormant volcano 5,600m high. With a base altitude of 2600m, it’s no surprise that most of the runs are above the tree line covering everything from steeps and bowls to gentle cruisers. Runs are groomed less frequently than in the west, but relatively quiet slopes and super dry, high altitude powder means that you can leave fresh tracks days after a snowfall. Though there is no snowboard park, there is a half-pipe and plenty of snowboarders on the slopes.
Dizin is one of 20 ski resorts in Iran. Being close to Tehran with a well-developed infrastructure it’s the most popular resort among western skiers. Opened in 1969 Dizin remains Iran’s leading ski destination and in addition to Western visitors, most who ski there are younger, fashion-conscious middle-class skiers with a desire to be seen in the right places. Dizin’s international clientele means that it also has a reputation of being more liberal in its outlook and operation.
Whilst the days of segregated ski runs are long gone, skiers do need to remember that Iran remains an Islamic republic with different cultural sensitivities. Women still need to give more careful thought to their clothing and though mixed groups rarely encounter any problems when skiing, men and women are not encouraged to take the gondola together.
Shemshak is closer to Tehran and tends to cater to more serious skiers looking for more challenging terrain. Opened in 1958, it has two hotels and four restaurants at the base of the mountain. You can even night ski on a floodlit run. The Iranian Ski Federation operates both places, and they even operate as grass ski resorts when the snow has melted.
Skiing in Iran is both familiar and strange. Dizin village has the look of a 1970s French, purpose-built resort. Lots of concrete nestled in spectacular mountains with ski in, ski out accommodation by the lifts, but après ski means tea, coffee and a water pipe. For après fun, do not rush to the hotel bars – they were closed down after the revolution.