July 12, 2018
For a skiing expedition with a twist, adventurer Huw Kingston journeyed to Tajikistan’s remote Fann Mountains, where you’re more likely to spy untouched glaciers than you are any other travelers. Because there are none.
“Fancy skiing in the Fann Mountains?” my friend Dave asked me. “Doesn’t seem like anybody ever has.”
I’m not very good at saying no.
Fast forward a few months and a long-haul flight later, and we find ourselves at Dushanbe airport, loading our ski bags and packs into two small, beat-up cars that were neither Uber nor taxi. You are perhaps at your most vulnerable arriving at the airport in a new country at an ungodly hour.
With the streets of Dushanbe deserted, our drivers are free to put the pedal to the literal metal, and they race to deposit us, at the first hint of dawn, to Hotel Tajikistan, to sleep off our jetlag.
The ‘Stans’, that jigsaw of former Soviet Republics in the vastness of Central Asia, were a mystery to me until now. Tajikistan is the smallest and most mountainous of them and where, in the east, the Pamirs rise to over 7,000 meters. Further west, you’ll find the Fann Mountains, topping out at 5,500 meters.
In contrast to our airport ride 24 hours earlier, Eraj meets us at the hotel in his gleaming white Lexus 4WD to drive us to the Fann. At every turn and roundabout, billboards of President Rahmon smile upon us. In the mountains beyond Dushanbe’s outskirts, we pass the turn-off to Safed Dara, Tajikistan’s sole ski resort.
There, the omnipresent president looks smart in ski jacket and sunnies. We would come to understand that with food, education, healthcare and housing provided to satisfy most of the population, the president stands, if not as a benevolent dictator, then certainly as a man of much power. We’re also quickly learning how we have lucked out with Eraj, a travel operator originally contacted via the internet.
We did manage to ski some slopes, and Eraj was there to meet us when we came out to drive us the five hours to Artuch to begin our main course: Two weeks attempting a ski traverse of the Fann.
Ski touring is very much in its infancy in Tajikistan. You need to be fully self-sufficient and have an understanding of big mountains and avalanche threats—there is no real mountain rescue service in the country, nor ski guides. There are good hotels in Dushanbe and an ever expanding network of homestays out in the country, and there’s one fast developing ski resort, Safed Dara, close to Dushanbe. But that’s not where we’re going.
Artuch is an ex-Russian mountaineering camp that Eraj now owned and which he had staffed to open early especially for our visit. In the huge dining room on our last night, Eraj and his father, the chief magistrate in Dushanbe, joined us for dinner and the obligatory vodka. They toasted our travels, the politics of our nations, our families and much else besides.