FOR a country blessed with three of the world’s most famous mountain ranges, Pakistan has produced precious few Winter Olympians. Only three, namely Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Karim and Syed Human, have represented Pakistan at the pinnacle of winter sports. For next year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing, Pakistan has an allocation of two spots in alpine skiing. That though isn’t the only sport locals in Pakistan’s northern region take part in. Other sports, including snowboarding, downhill skiing and ice hockey, are also played with great fervour. And as Gilgit-Baltistan holds its first formal snow sports festival from this month, it is hoped that new talent will emerge. That though isn’t the hard part. Very little has been done to hone that talent so that supreme athletes can emerge and compete against the very best internationally. Then, there is the problem of distance. All three of Pakistan’s Winter Olympians come from the Naltar valley in GB, which was developed as our first ski resort in 1958. Malam Jabba, which was proposed as a ski resort in 1962, was beset with security issues at the turn of the last decade but is now slowly picking up. Madaklasht in Chitral is the country’s most recently discovered winter sports venue. And, as in most of the northern areas, skiing has been part of its activities for almost a century, with locals having crafted wooden skis of their own.

The remoteness of Madaklasht, though, means that unlike Naltar or Malam Jabba, it lacks infrastructure. Most athletes only have equipment donated by foreign skiers, who visit those areas now and then. While sports festivals do contribute to athlete growth, giving locals a chance to test their mettle against international athletes, it is essential for the government to develop infrastructure and get modern equipment for talented individuals who like other sportspeople will require the highest level of training off-season. That means heavy investment but it is probably the only way Pakistan can realise the tremendous winter sports potential it possesses.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2021

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