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In this picture taken on January 29, 2019, Turkish and Ukrainian skiers make their way to a slope to compete in the CAS Karakoram International Alpine Ski Cup, at the Pakistan Air Force-owned and operated Naltar Ski Resort, some 25km north of Gilgit in Pakistan's remote mountainous north. - Dozens of skiers in late January took part in a rare international competition in Pakistan, which boasts some of the world's highest mountains but remains off-piste for most winter sportsmen due to years of insecurity and lack o

'Pakistan's getting better every year': International skiers all praise after Naltar ski competition

"I think it's definitely more for the adventurer," comments one international skier.
Updated Feb 11, 2019 03:59pm

Skiers descend in long, rhythmic swoops down pristine white slopes in the northern areas, braking in a spray of snow as soldiers carrying semi-automatic weapons watch impassively.

A security official looks on during the CAS Karakoram International Alpine Ski Cup at the Naltar Ski Resort. ─ AFP
A security official looks on during the CAS Karakoram International Alpine Ski Cup at the Naltar Ski Resort. ─ AFP

Dozens of athletes recently took part at the rare international competition in the country, which boasts some of the world's highest mountains but remains off-piste for most winter sports enthusiasts after years of conflict and a lack of infrastructure.

Nestled in the Karakoram mountain range, the Naltar Ski Resort has been at the heart of Pakistan's efforts to draw winter sport tourists since the first international competition was held there in 2015.

Ukrainian skier Anastasia Gorbunova takes part in the CAS Karakoram International Alpine Ski Cup. ─ AFP
Ukrainian skier Anastasia Gorbunova takes part in the CAS Karakoram International Alpine Ski Cup. ─ AFP

"Pakistan has a lot of things to learn but with every year it's getting better," said Ukrainian skier Anastasiia Gorbunova, who admitted she used to think it was a pretty dangerous country.

"Now I know it's a cliche because as I saw, people are sweet, they are nice, they try to make you feel like you're at home and I appreciate that."

Security has dramatically improved across the country following a crackdown on militant groups in recent years.

Authorities recently re-opened another resort in the nearby Swat Valley that had been closed for years by insurgent activity, while other ski facilities are being developed elsewhere in the country.

Laura Moore, a representative of the International Ski Federation with the Azerbaijan team, said Pakistan boasted unrivalled ski conditions.

International skiers practice ahead of the competing in the CAS Karakoram International Alpine Ski Cup . ─ AFP
International skiers practice ahead of the competing in the CAS Karakoram International Alpine Ski Cup . ─ AFP

But she added that lengthy road travel and the regular grounding of flights during inclement weather made access to ski fields a tricky prospect — "off-piste and maybe with a helicopter".

"I think it's definitely more for the adventurer," Moore said at Sunday's competition.

Pakistan is home to several peaks higher than 8,000 metres including K2, the second-tallest mountain in the world. Skiers at the Naltar event were hosted by the Pakistan Air Force, who own the ski resort and facilitated their transport from the capital Islamabad.

"Not all countries have mountains like this," Berkin Usta, a Turkish skier who won the men's Grand Slalom event. "It's really good."

Turkish skier Berkin Usta takes part in the CAS Karakoram International Alpine Ski Cup. ─ AFP
Turkish skier Berkin Usta takes part in the CAS Karakoram International Alpine Ski Cup. ─ AFP

Azerbaijan skier Nurlan Abdulov takes part in the CAS Karakoram International Alpine Ski Cup. ─ AFP
Azerbaijan skier Nurlan Abdulov takes part in the CAS Karakoram International Alpine Ski Cup. ─ AFP

Pakistani children ski on a snow-covered street. ─ AFP
Pakistani children ski on a snow-covered street. ─ AFP

A general view of the snow-covered homes in the Naltar Valley. ─ AFP
A general view of the snow-covered homes in the Naltar Valley. ─ AFP