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MUZAFFARABAD: A snow sports festival was held in Neelum Valley on Sunday, featuring skiing contests between participants from three age groups.

Besides skiing, the athletes also competed in snowboarding and ice skating in Arang Kel, a tourist spot located on the hilltop above Kel at an altitude of 8,379ft, said Azad Jammu and Kashmir Winter Sports Association (AJKWSA) Secretary Aqeel Khurshid.

The breathtakingly beautiful Arang Kel is accessible by a two kilometre trek from Kel, located some 165km northeast of Muzaffarabad.

Speaking to Dawn, Mr Khurshid said athletes under 10, under 14 and under 16 participated in skiing competitions on Sunday.

Earlier, he disclosed, the first youth ski training camp was also held in Arang Kel from April 3 to April 13, with two qualified and certified trainers, one of them a serving soldier and the other an ex-serviceman belonging to the same area.

A large number of local youth had participated in the camp for which technical support and equipment were provided by Pakistan Winter Sport Federation (PWSF), he said.

He said PWSF president, Vice Chief of the Air Staff Air Marshal Aasim Zaheer had agreed to be the chief guest at Sunday’s event but bad weather hampered his air travel to the area. He was represented by the federation’s secretary Air Commodore Shahid Nadeem, Mr Khurshid said.

According to him, some two months ago, three athletes from AJK participated in the National Skiing Championship in Naltar, Gilgit-Baltistan, for the first time and had shown a considerably satisfactory performance in spite of limited experience and exposure.

Mr Khurshid said Arang Kel was one of the best sites in the country for beginners and would be fully developed into the skiing site with the help of PWSF.

Apart from that, he said, at least two other similar sites would also be explored and identified in AJK to exploit AJK’s winter tourism potential.

He said Neelum Valley was one of the most attractive tourist destinations during the summer, but the promotion of winter sports would make it a fascinating station in the winter as well.

He expressed the hope that the AJK tourism department would also pay special attention to the promotion of winter sports.

Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2019