As a country engulfed by heat, how has Pakistan, with less than 10 ski resorts, developed winter sports with its own unique characteristics and attracted tourists and athletes from home and abroad?
Pakistan, located in South Asia and at the junction of Central Asia and Middle East, is surrounded by scorching heat year long, and thus snow is a rare existence for local people.
If they want to see snow, Pakistanis have to go to the northern mountainous region of the country, whose altitude is among the highest in the world – five mountain peaks have the altitude of more than 8000 meters compared with the total 14 ones in the world.
The mountainous climate in the region has offered the most fantastic opportunity for snow sight-seeing.
For example, in Murree, 60 kilometers north of the capital Islamabad, the altitude has risen sharply in the mountains which commands a fine view of the entire Punjab plain. After the British colonists were driven away, the Pakistanis discovered the beauty of Murree – the beauty of snow in winter.
Murree’s snow is only visible in the middle of winter. On a clear day, the capital Islamabad is still bathed in the warm winter sun, but looking at the skyline north of the city, Murree can be seen, which seems to be hanging in the air, wrapped in silver. The white snow on the distant mountains embellishes the capital, which is known as the “garden city”. Under the warm sunshine, one can enjoy the snow scenery, which makes you feel refreshing.
Walking northward from Murree, one can see two large rivers flowing out of the valley and converging in the valley city of Muzaffarabad. In the distance is the perpetual snow on Nanga Parbat, the highest mountain at the western end of the majestic Himalayas and the mountain with the largest vertical drop from the foot to the summit in the world.
In 2005, it was the epicenter of a 7.6-magnitude earthquake. After the disaster, Chinese engineers arrived to rebuild houses and schools. They also built a dam to help tame the Neelum River and solve the problem of the natural disaster caused by the severe uneven flow of the river in winter and summer, and brought clean energy, as well as the fast-growing city.
Many Chinese people working there told reporters that they could never forget the snow scenery on the moonlit night in Muzaffarabad.
On the north side of Nanga Parbat, the altitude continues to rise. This is the junction of the Himalayas, Karakoram Mountains and Hindu Kush Mountains. It has also been an important gateway for communication and exchanges between Chinese, South Asian and the Middle Eastern civilization since ancient times. Here, snow poses the biggest challenge for those who dare to challenge the road.
Now it is called Gilgit, an important town on the Karakoram Highway, which is also called the China-Pakistan Friendship Highway, the only road connecting China and Pakistan.
In the 1970s, 82 Chinese engineers were buried here after building the road, which symbolized the friendship between China and Pakistan. From Gilgit to the north, one can climb through the maze of snow-capped mountains and canyons.
The end of the road is Khunjerab Pass in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region with an altitude of 5,314 meters. Every winter, heavy snow freezes the road, and it can only be open to traffic again in the spring in the following year.
In the northeast of Gilgit stands Karakoram Mountains, the second highest mountain range in the world. This is the “snow mountain” in the minds of climbers. Since the 20th century, only 377 people have successfully made it to Mount Chogori, the peak of the Karakoram Mountains.
Pakistani winter sports are mainly popular in the northern mountainous regions, and there are less than 10 ski resorts in the country, of which the well-known one is the PAF (Naltar) Ski Resort situated in the Karakoram range of the Naltar Valley in Gilgit-Baltistan province.
In recent years, Pakistan has begun to attach importance to the promotion of winter sports. In January 2021, the first Winter Sports Festival was held at the Naltar Ski Resort, where skiing, ice hockey and snowboard competitions were included. Pakistani President Arif Alvi attended the closing ceremony.
In the same month, the FIS Snowboarding World Championships was held in Malam Jabba ski resort at Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with more than 40 domestic and foreign athletes participating.
At present, the Pakistani government is paying more and more attention to the development of winter sports, and the public shows greater interest in taking part in winter sports, which helps boost the development of the tourism industry.
The Winter Sports Federation of Pakistan is the national governing body to develop and promote winter sports in the country. Winter Sports Federation of Pakistan was formed in December 1990 with Chief of the Air Staff, PAF as its patron-in-chief and the Vice Chief of Air Staff as president of the Federation.
National Championships in alpine and cross-country ski events are held annually and Pakistani skiers are also regularly representing the country in international competitions. The Federation is affiliated with the International Ski Federation (FIS) and the Asian Ski Federation (ASF).
Pakistan also endorsed the Beijing Winter Olympics.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is himself a sportsman, is also expected to attend the opening ceremony of Beijing Winter Olympics on February 4.
In a letter the Khan sent to the Global Times that published on January 28, the Prime Minister said that “In the next few days, I will be arriving in Beijing to attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games. Being a sportsperson myself, I can very well relate to the spirit that sporting events like Olympics instill in a nation. I strongly feel that sports should be a unifying factor and should transcend politics. I congratulate the leadership and people of China for hosting this mega event and wish all participants safe, healthy and successful games.”
Pakistans top skier, Muhammad Karim, is all set to represent his country at the Games in Beijing in February. Karim from Pakistan’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan region, 26, is eyeing his first winter Olympic medal, and is hopeful that the Beijing Winter Olympics will play a significant role in his career and boost his confidence given the event’s scale and audience.
“The Winter Olympics is a major event, and athletes from many countries are trying to improve their skills to hold a good position in the Olympics,” he told Xinhua in an earlier interview.
This article first appeared in Global Times. Click here to go to the original.