Retro Runs: Skiing In The Alborz Mountains, Iran

Here we give you the lowdown for a perfect day Skiing in The Alborz Mountains.

Alborz mountains loom large over northern Tehran. Those peaks are the perfect antidote to
the sweat, smog and chaos of a traffic jam on a five-lane highway
in Tehran. The ski resorts, Shemshak and Dizin, lie about an
hour and a half from the city by car. Our driver insists on taking
the steeper, more direct route which suffers from the ‘occasional
landslide’ – the ‘safer’ option via Chalus can add another three
hours travel time. We bite the bullet.

The high altitude – both resorts are over 3,000 metres – and
predominantly north-facing slopes make this a hotspot for powder
junkies who can enjoy a season which stretches from November to
May. While in Shemshak the ski area is not extensive, slopes are
steep and more suitable for experts with a taste for off-piste with
plenty of local guides to show you the way. 10 miles further up
lies Dizin, offering a larger and more developed infrastructure,
and terrain for skiers and snowboarders of all levels.

Over and above skiing, however, the Alborz resorts offer a
glimpse of people navigating the paradoxes of a restricted society.
While the muezzin calls people to prayer at the foot of the hill,
house music blares from slope-side shacks. Girls remove their veils
to enjoy the sunshine despite lifts officially being segregated. As
hotel lobbies become deserted at night, locals with whom you’ve
squeezed into a tiny 70s-era gondola will invite you over for some
home-brew and a BBQ. Ski gear and passes will set you back no more
than $40 per day, but expect super-retro offerings.

The perfect day

Wake early in Tehran to avoid the traffic and hop in a taxi to
Shemshak – the going rate is about $40 one way. As you snake your
way up and the majestic Mount Damavand creeps into view, make a
pitstop at a roadside restaurant to devour some fresh flatbread and
barley soup. Notice the contrast between a brand new Mercedes
parked outside a luxurious mountain villa, while just across the
road an Afghan shepherd, recognisable by the traditional pakol hat,
saddles a donkey. Then on to Dizin, just up the road, with its more
expansive ski area. Stop at Chalet by the famous purple gondola for
some local tea and a thick Iranian soup, Ash-e-reshteh, made from
lentils, beans, parsley and a lot of butter – the perfect fodder
for an action-packed day.

At each lift, staff will insist you stop and share a cup of tea
with them. Don’t decline! They’ll advise – and for a small fee
guide – you on the less travelled but more beautiful and
challenging routes. At closing time listen out for the caf├ęs
playing music. Drinking is prohibited but a friendly foreign face
and attitude will lead the intrepid into enjoying some
high-elevation escapism, Iranian style. Stumble back to your hotel
at night and keep the balcony window ajar to let the frosty air and
the howling wolves lull you to sleep.


Hotel 1 and 2

A stone’s throw from the lift in Dizin are the two hotels,
conveniently named Hotel 1 and 2. All rooms offer balconies and
cost $20-40. Staff greet you with bright smiles and
enthusiastically nod their heads in agreement with everything you
say but rarely understand what you’re after – it’s all part of the
charm, just keep your fingers crossed that an Iranian expat steps
in as an intermediary. Bigger groups can rent cabins which are only
five minutes by shuttle bus from the slopes of Dizin.


Chaman Restaurant

If you don’t get your fix at Chalet, stop at Chaman restaurant
which you’ll spot hen taking the distinctive purple gondola from
the middle station. Snowboards pitched like a barricade (skiers
beware!) dominate the perimeter, while music blasts from speakers
and people sunbathe on the roof. Fast-food joints and pizza stands
populate downtown, and here you’ll even find schnitzel. These cosy
shacks are the place to get to know locals. Play darts and pool in
smoke-filled basements and experience a different side to the


Explore Darbandsar

For those with an appetite for adventure, take a local guide and
head off-piste. The high altitude and regular dumps of snow make
even the more-travelled routes seem untouched most days. The
descent from Dizin to the neighbouring village of Darbandsar, where
you need to have a car waiting to return you to the top, is

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