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Skiing in Iran

Ski Iran?! When conjuring up thoughts of skiing in the Middle East, you may think of the indoor ski area in the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai. And when you think of Iran, you may think of hot deserts and oil, instead of snowy mountains. Or you may think of political tensions with the “west” and a regime that’s not into decadent leisurely pursuits such as skiing. Thankfully since the removal of some sanctions against Iran in 2015, the country has opened up to tourism and Iran ski travel is ideal for intrepid powder hounds seeking off-piste powder. Skiing in Iran is pretty good, and it certainly offers the best skiing in the Middle East and is far superior to skiing in Dubai!

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a very mountainous country, with many, many peaks above 4,000 metres, mostly within the two main mountain ranges of Zagros and Alborz. There is no shortage of snowfall, and about a third of the country is snow covered in winter. Skiing in Iran sounds interesting, but when you label it as skiing in Persia, then it goes from interesting to exotic. This ancient civilisation is a melting pot of culture and languages, and being an Islamic republic further adds to the intrigue. You can combine skiing in Iran with sightseeing at magnificent mosques covered in beautiful blue mosaic tiles or visit a bustling bazaar.

Characteristics of Skiing in Iran

Most but not all ski resorts in Iran are very small, the lifts are old, and the piste grooming is sub-par. Some of the ski resorts are close to Tehran or other cities, and considering Iran is so populous, it comes as no great surprise that the Iran ski resorts can be swarmed on the weekends (Thursday and Friday) and the piste gets very crowded. The locals don’t tend to go off-piste, so just a little way from the lifts, the fresh powder lines are bountiful.

Not many of the locals go snowboarding, and skiing is a trendy sport for the wealthy. However for international visitors, skiing in Iran is cheap, and lift passes, accommodation and taxis are incredibly affordable.

You don’t go on an Iran ski trip for the après festivities because alcohol is officially prohibited, however you can enjoy coffee and tea and experience the famous Iranian hospitality, and it’s a great way to dry out. It’s sort of lucky that you can’t drink alcohol, because the ski resorts are at dizzying heights and one drink would probably get you dancing on the tables (dancing, especially on tables, is considered taboo too!).

Snow in Iran

The climates in Iran are diverse and many parts of the country are arid, whilst in NW Iran the winters are cold and very snowy. Dizin Ski Resort supposedly gets 275” of snow.

The Iran snow quality is usually very good. If you think Persian fairy floss (cotton candy) is delicious, then wait till you try Persian powder (not the insecticide kind) because the combination of deserts and nearby seas make for dry powder. High elevation also contributes to the snow quality, and some of the main ski resorts have favourable aspects for snow retention.

Most importantly when it comes to the snow in Iran, the off-piste and sidecountry powder at the ski resorts can lie untouched for days or even weeks.

Iran Ski Resorts

There are about 20 ski resorts in Iran. Most are small resorts that have 1 or 2 dinky old lifts and are unlikely to capture the attention of international powder hounds. These small resorts may only be useful for initial access to ski touring in the backcountry.

Some of the best ski resorts in Iran are located close to Tehran. Tehran has a population of 9 million, so it’s not really as a “ski town”, but you could use it as a base to explore. Just to the north of Tehran are three big ski resorts in the Alborz Mountain Range that are located within a 5km radius of each other.

Dizin Ski Resort is the largest, with 4 gondolas, 3 chair lifts, and 9 other lifts, and 23 slopes. It’s rather high, with elevations from 2,700 metres up to 3,600m. Dizin was the first ski resort in Iran to get the green light from the International Ski Federation to hold official competitions. The ski area has plenty of off-piste terrain and north facing slopes.

Darbandsar Ski Resort is privately owned and modern. It has a gondola, 3 chairlifts and 2 other lifts, and various piste, none of which are rated as black, although it probably has the second most challenging piste behind Shemshak. Strangely, off-piste skiing is not permitted, unless you beg with ski patrol.

Shemshak is an old ski resort which is decent sized by Iran standards. It has 5 lifts and 8 slopes, including some steeper slopes compared to other Iran ski resorts. The off-piste skiing is good.

Tochal is a ski resort that’s really close to the city of Tehran. It has a really long gondola that provides access from the northern part of the city up to the ski area, so it’s really popular with day trippers. The top of the ski area is at 3,850m. Tochal Ski Resort is rather small and the slopes are mostly suited to beginners and intermediates. Off-piste riding is very limited, yet there are some north-facing backcountry lines that drop over the back for road pick ups.

Other Iran ski resorts include Pooladkaf in Fars, Alvares in Ardabil, and Sahand Ski Resort in East Azerbaijan Province.

Travel to Iran

Iran aka Persia, is located in western Asia, with Iraq and Turkey to the west, and Pakistan and Afghanistan to the east. Needless to say, don’t go near the borders with Iraq or Afghanistan, although you’ll be too busy skiing or looking at mosques to contemplate it.

Access is via a flight into Tehran (you can look at flight options here) and visas are mandatory to enter Iran.

To travel around, there are minibuses/shuttles between the cities and villages, although the fastest way to travel to the ski resorts is to rent a car and drive, or get a taxi which you’ll find surprisingly inexpensive.

Other Activities

Whilst Tehran has some nice museums, the city is not that picturesque, so if you wanted some Instagrammable decorative bridges and beautiful tile-covered mosques, your Iran ski trip could include a visit to the ancient Persian capital of Esfahan, south of Tehran. The old towns of Shiraz, Persepolis and Yazd are also good for sightseeing.

If you want to post brag photos of your trip on social media, you’ll either need a VPN or wait until you get home, because Iran has some tight regulations on internet censorship.

Can Women Ski in Iran?

This is a reasonable question, considering that Iran is renowned for its oppression and lack of women’s rights, especially when it comes to voting and the dress code, and ladies you may be wondering if you have to grow a beard to go skiing in Iran. Not that long ago, there were some Iran ski resorts where women and men skied apart from each other. Women were relegated to the bunny slopes, whilst men got the steep slopes. Thankfully the religious police couldn’t ski so they weren’t so good at enforcing this, and some women dressed up as blokes so they could tackle the more challenging slopes. Then lift lines were segregated, and men and women couldn’t share a gondola together at places such as Dizin. Now women and men can ski in Iran together, and whilst local non-married couples cannot share a hotel room (this sounds like Utah back in the 90s), this rule doesn’t apply to international visitors. Naturally, any public displays of affection are considered somewhat taboo.

Outside of the ski resorts, women must cover their hair with a scarf, whilst up in the mountains, the hijab is replaced with a beanie or a helmet. Even at the ski resort restaurants, head covering requirements may be a little lax, and it seems that some of the wealthy women of Iran try to emulate European women.

When to Ski in Iran

The ski season at some of the Iran ski resorts is very long and can go from November into May. The best time to ski in Iran is from January to late March, although you’ll probably want to avoid Nowruz new year in late March. You might like to limit your skiing to work days, or if you love people watching then the busy weekends (Thursday and Friday) are ideal.

Here's a video of Dizin from Ski of Persia.

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