‘Excuse my ignorance but isn’t it still a bit dangerous there’ was the reply to ‘Tehran’ when I was asked from where I had just flown in from. We were in the taxi heading for Chamonix from Geneva and my fellow traveller’s view of Iran conformed not unsurprisingly to the image westerners have of this fascinating country and its welcoming people. Iran the pariah is the standard line in the western media.
The first hurdle the budding visitor has to overcome is to convince family members that a ski holiday in Iran is not a dangerously irresponsible act. Once done the next challenge is organising and obtaining visas, particularly for British citizens. For the French, Spanish and Irish members of the team this was fairly easy and not too expensive. Not so for the Brits for whom the process was laborious and involved a return trip to Dublin, there being no consular service at the Iranian embassy in London.
Visas in hand we arrived in Tehran in the latter part of April to 30°C + temperatures, blue skies and relatively clear visibility. It was windy. The first part of our trip was spent in the Alam Kouh Mountains a short day’s drive to the west of Tehran. We had planned to stay at the Iranian Mountaineering Federation lodge but due to the lack of snow we used mules to carry all our kit to the snow line where we spent four most enjoyable nights camping and skiing the surrounding couloirs and mountains. The highlight was a ski ascent of 4397m Gardoun Kouh, a delightful 20km round trip with 1600m of ascent. From the summit were snow-capped mountains in all directions contrasting with the vibrant spring green of the valleys.
After spending a night at -27m of altitude on the heavily built up shore of the Caspian Sea we transferred to Polour and the mountains of the central Alborz. Here we skied a lovely 4000m mountain called Angemar with impressive views of our objective for the following couple of days – 5671m high Mt. Damavand, the highest summit in Iran. In general high altitude and good skiing are mutually exclusive but our day on Damavand was a cracker. We skinned with ski crampons to within 250m of the summit and enjoyed a 2000m descent on most acceptable spring snow. The weather was perfect and there was little wind.
We were accompanied throughout our visit by Mohammad, Haji, Hamad and Ali. Their good humour, easy smile and warm hearted kindness left a lasting impression on us all as did the friendly welcome we received from everyone we came in to contact with. Iran is a can do country where everything is possible, though for the moment much is obligatory or illegal.