Many years ago, when I lived in South Korea, I used to spend a large portion of winter weekends snowboarding. However, after spending a few years in tropical countries I was starting to miss having fun in the snow, especially around Christmas time. So when I found out that the Alborz Mountains in Iran have some of the longest ski seasons, I decided to stop by and test out the slopes.
STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
It was a cold Christmas morning in Tehran. I’d fallen asleep with the TV on and the morning prayer woke me up suddenly, and I couldn’t remember where I was for a minute. I walked over to the window and looked out at the Alborz Mountains which sit along the northern border of Tehran. The city had been shut down a few weeks before due to air pollution as the mountains around Tehran trap the smog in winter.
The experience of being in Tehran was an odd one. I was constantly seeing strange juxtapositions of things I hadn’t expected to see. Case in point was when I headed down to breakfast in the Esteghlal Hotel (formerly the Hilton until the cultural revolution), and was greeted by the portraits of Iran’s Ayatollahs framing Christmas trees and presents. As I sat down to breakfast, the weather worsened as it started sleeting and I hoped that it would be better up on the mountains.
TOP OF THE WORLD
Although Tehran sits at just over 1000 meters above sea level, Tochal Ski Resort in the Alborz is just shy of 4000 meters above sea level. To get there, you have to take the Tochal Telecab, which is one of the longest gondola lifts with a length of 7500 meters. There are four stations as you go up the mountain, and the first station has stores to rent all the gear you need for snowboarding. There are restaurants at the first and third stations, but as I’d just eaten breakfast I continued up to the ridge. As the lift climbed up the mountains, we rose above the smog and the sleet and could only see the Milad Tower sticking up out of the brown soup that hung over Tehran.
The view of the Alborz Mountains from Tochal was spectacular from the ridge. There were a few people around, but nowhere near the numbers of people I’d seen on slopes around South Korea years before. The air was clear and crisp at -7 degrees celsius, and the snow was powdery. It was my first time to go snowboarding at such a high altitude, so I was surprised by how quickly I tired doing simple things like strapping in my snowboard boots. However, going down the slope was pretty easy, and I really enjoyed being able to manoeuvre without people littering the way down. Time flew by, and my stomach was telling me that it was time for lunch, so I took in the scenery before jumping back in the gondola for the long ride down to Tehran.
The truly great thing about Tochal is that it’s easy to access from Tehran, so you can go snowboarding in the morning and then go and see a bit of the city. There are 3 ski runs at Tochal, but they were all green (easy), which makes them great for beginners or for people like me who haven’t been out on the snow for a while. The ski season starts in November and can go all the way through to June, which guarantees some good fun on the mountain for most of the year.