2009 TNT Travel Writing Awards entrant

Author: Isaac Kendall


Rob and I had taken refuge in the kitchen beside the vodka bottles on the premise of consuming some cancer sticks.

“You think they are whores?” I asked Rob in stunned disbelief. “I don’t know mate, I didn’t think you could get whores in Iran,” Rob replied in turn. The girls in question were two Iranian girls of questionable age, wearing skin-tight dresses of mid-thigh to mid-boob level. They were not acting like Sunday school teachers. Lashings of make-up and hairspray went into the final creation of this wonderfully terrifyingly promiscuous product.

What had led to this madness? How did I get here? What was I doing here and was I enjoying myself?? 

We were in Tehran, the Capital of Iran and the seat of power of one of the axis of evil.  We had heard a lot of things about Iran; that they cut off a person’s hand if you were caught stealing, the Government’s infamous nuclear reactor for “peaceful purposes.”  We had also heard that champagne dry powder could be found in the hills and that a lift pass was only USD$12 a day.  This is what we had travelled three days on the train to find out, and by our experiences so far, we were gonna have to do some reassessments of our thinking.

Iran is country about the size of France, located in the slightly hot neighbourhood of the Middle-East. With Iraq on one side and Pakistan on the other, it’s a country with a history that few can compare with.  The majority of Iranians are said to be descended from the Aryans, who settled in Iran sometime around 2000BC. In 550 BC a bloke called Cyrus the Great made a bit of a name for himself by creating the largest empire the world had ever seen. He and his successors held sway for 150 years over an empire stretching from India to the edges of Greece in the west. These days Iran is often hyped in the media for their part in the “axis of evil”, their dubious nuclear weapons programme, or the fact that brinkmanship seems to be a favourite pastime of their Govt.

We found the reality of Iran to be far from the hype of the media storm. The hospitality and welcome shown to us by the locals embarrassed us with its generosity.  Perhaps most importantly that they were Persians and not Arabs. The word Iran ‘Land of the Aryans’. They have more genetically in common with Europeans than with Arabs and it was not unusual to meet blue-eyed, fair headed Iranians. 

But this was all secondary to our plan, we were here to snowboard.

Our group had been invited to a house party in the north of Tehran by Alfo, an Armenian pop star who Becky, Hanna and Jamie, the girls we were travelling with had met in a down-town Tehran cafe.

After Rob and I had discussed whether or not the intentions of the said Iranian woman were wholesome, I left to throw down some drunken shapes on the dance floor. Rob turned up shortly afterwards with tales of a full frontal attack of the tongue on Alfo from one of the woman of the night. Rob later described this offence in great detail. It was the longest and most nimble tongue he had ever seen in his life.  Rob happily reported that Alfo had dealt with it admirably. The party ran its natural course, and after large amounts of photos, vodka and ciggies we finished up. Nassar, the owner of the apartment, insisted on giving us a ride home and so we all clambered drunkenly into the car. drinking booze is outlawed in Iran and the punishment for the first offence is 80 lashes. For a third offence the the punishment is death. Despite this Nassar didn’t seem the slight bit worried. He successfully navigated the backstreet’s of Iran and deposited us safely to our hotel door.

Waking hungover the next morning, we set about planning. In 1938 two German railway engineers turned up in Iran and built the first ski lifts and skiing in Iran was born. Dizin was the ski field that had been recommended to us, lying in the mountains 2hrs north of Tehran. At its highest point the mountain range stands 5000m tall and is ski-able up to 3600, with 950m of vertical drop. There are three cabin lifts, two chair lifts, and seven pommas. Around seven metres of snow falls a year and usually powder can be found from Nov to May.   

We had hired a condo on the mountain and set off somewhat ambitiously after dark.  After an hour of driving, there was snow all around us and we were winding our way through several old and somewhat decrepit looking tunnels burrowed directly thru the mountainside. During the journey our driver told us the history of skiing in Iran

We had christened him “party finger” as we couldn’t pronounce his real name. Obviously he liked to smoke crack cocaine from a grey misty glass pipe while driving. His English was broken but in between hits from the pipe and a manic laugh, he told a bit of Iran’s skiing history. When the Shar (king) was overthrown after the 1979 Islamic revolution, skiing became a little more difficult with women and men at times forced to ski on separate slopes. This was due to the authorities of the time fear that things could get a bit “frisky” if they were allowed to come in contact. Thankfully those days are past and the different sexes can mix freely on the slope. However, the idea of freedom does not yet extend to the lifts. Unless you are married men and woman must ride separate from each other. 

We arrived after a couple of hours and the snow lay a foot deep. Inside the house it was warm and roomy. Tired from the journey, we unpacked and crashed out.

Waking early, Rob and I chucked our gear on and were collected by Amir who we had hired the apartment from. His mate, Muhammad was also in the car. Muhammad said he would show us around for the day. He told us he was in the ski patrol and he knew the place well.

The all-knowing and all-powerful world wide web had informed us that rental would be maximum of USD$15-$20 and the gear would be of last seasons. The small hire shop consisted was run by a pair of zealous Iranians sporting well groomed moustaches.  They spoke no English. In the corner was a pile of scratched and battle-scarred relics heaped against the wall. There was not a price list to be seen

Rob and I looked at each other in horror. After four days of travel via plane, train and automobile it had come to this.

After picking through and finding the best piece of shit out of a pile of shit, I managed to bargain them down to $40USD for one day’s hire.  Ahhh ski fields, they fuck you no matter where you are. Still, the next day I managed to pay USD$30 and on the final day USD$25! Strange forces were at work in the rental camp. 

The lifts looked like they were fresh out of the early 70’s and that’s because they were.  Canary yellow fibreglass cabin’s where being carted slowly up the mountain. Still with a lift pass that cost only USD$12, and an increasing view of fields of untracked powder we could see things were looking up.

Strapping in at the top of the hill, Rob and I dropped in and headed straight towards the fresh powder we had seen on the way up. It was dry untracked knee-deep and the back leg started to burn.

Fresh powder flowed by, and Rob and I were hooting. After airports, taxis, a three-day train ride, hostels, foreign languages, professional rip-off artists, bad food, and no beer. Finally we were riding. Attacking the rollers, leaning heavily back in the chutes, the stress flowed out of us with each turn. I was trying to keep up with Rob and Muhammad, when I dug the nose in and cart-wheeled down the slope. Fresh cold powder chapped my face.  I sunk deep into a pillow of it, and had difficulties getting up.  Rob and Muhammad rode on ahead and endeavouring to catch up, I pointed the nose down hill and straight-lined it.

Later on that day I hiked out to the far left along an access road and dropped in. Powder a foot deep ran on and on. I got lost deep in the valleys. After dropping into some chutes and a bit of traversing, I made it back out onto the trail. The last lift had come and gone so I walked down and hitched a lift home with some friendly locals. With a bit of sign language I managed to get dropped off outside our door. The girls had cooked an amazing Christmas dinner. While eating we shared tales of powder runs, again lamented the lack of beer, and then slept solidly.

The following day we met some Iranians for lunch in the Cafe halfway up the gondola. Looking at the menu I expected to a list of couscous, falafel’s, and Rice I was surprised to find hamburgers, pizzas, burgers and chips on the menu. This for a total of USD$10!  On returning to the table the topics of conversation more or less revolved around questions about NZ, western attitudes towards Iran, Bush, Iranian woman and the odd query on religion.  I was talking to a well dressed middle aged guy about the Iranian government. Leaning in closer he told me that “this country is just like a communist dictatorship, the only thing is that religion is in charge not Communism. Look at the woman and what they have to wear. Its not right” I had to agree. That morning i had seen the “hair police” which consisted of a squad of stern faced army officers patrolling the bottom lift area. On the sight of a woman displaying excess hair they curtly advised the offender to tuck her scandalous hair out of sight. Later on that day I found an empty hip flask of Russian vodka, while waiting in the lift queue. It seems you can take the people out of the party but you can’t take party out of the people.

We inhaled our hamburgers, finished lunch and spotted a newly open pomma that had opened up an untracked face.  The queue was small and in typical Iranian style they were all going meekly down the trail. 

I don’t enjoy pommas on a snowboard at the best of times but this one was something else. This one was a rocket launch, and the launch controller was a manic turban wearing, toothy Iranian.  It was not unusual to see the pomma’s victims lying by the wayside.  It was worth it though, fresh foot deep untracked powder awaited. It was a leg burning ride all the way down, and we had it to ourselves for the rest of the day.

We rode for the next few days, getting fresh tracks all the time, and finally when the day came, we headed down to the bottom of the hill handed in our battle scared rentals, saddled up and headed back to the big smoke of Tehran.

Iran had not been what we expected. It had been more, the people  were open minded and sophisticated, not at all what was portrayed by the media storm. The woman were dusky maidens with a distant yet a regal beauty.  The snow had been of the fresh dry squeaky kind and we all would have loved to spend more time in it. We had only visited one of the seventeen resorts in Iran, and apparently they do Helli-boarding in Kashmir…