Diplo­macy on the slopes boosts Swiss-Iran ties

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Dar­band­sar, Iran

As a fierce bliz­zard sweeps moun­tains out­side Te­heran, a team of elite Swiss ski in­struc­tors re­fuses to al­low the deep freeze to stand in the way of warm­ing ties with Iran.

“The con­di­tions are ... in­ter­est­ing,” laughed Vin­cent Pilet, a mem­ber of the Swiss team, as snow whipped side­ways into the win­dow of the cafe in Dar­band­sar re­sort, a two-hour drive from the Ira­nian cap­i­tal.

He said he could han­dle the weather — the big­ger chal­lenge was deal­ing with the huge num­bers of Ira­ni­ans who had shown up to be tested by the visi­tors from Switzer­land.

Pilet and two other in­struc­tors were on a two-week mis­sion, scout­ing for the best skiers in Iran to train as in­struc­tors. They’ve been in­un­dated. “We ex­pected to have maybe 30 to 40 per day, and we’ve ended up with more like 70, or even 140 on one day,” said Loris Am­bresin, an­other mem­ber of the Swiss team.

Iran is per­haps not an ob­vi­ous des­ti­na­tion for skiers. But the Al­borz moun­tains above Te­heran are home to a clutch of ex­cel­lent pistes, even if some of the pre-rev­o­lu­tion fa­cil­i­ties look some­what dated.

“The chair­lifts are a bit old but that just adds to the charm,” said Pilet.

Skiing in Iran dates back around 80 years when Ger­mans ar­rived to dig coal mines in the moun­tains.

“The peo­ple of the vil­lage be­gan carv­ing skis out of tree trunks,” said Morteza Saveh Shemshaki, head of ed­u­ca­tion for the Ira­nian Ski Fed­er­a­tion.

Re­sorts popped up and at­tracted in­ter­na­tional in­vestors — at one point in the 1970s, a French-made cable car from north­ern Te­heran was the long­est in the world.

Al­though the Is­lamic rev­o­lu­tion of 1979 put the in­dus­try on ice, skiing has made a come­back. Whereas the pistes were un­til the mid-1990s di­vided by a long rope to seg­re­gate the sexes, now every­one can ski to­gether, al­though some con­trols re­main.

Some “don’t like the idea that men and women are hav­ing fun to­gether, but there’s not much they can do about it up here”, said one skier, ask­ing not be named.

When in­ter­na­tional busi­ness ties were rekin­dled by the 2015 nu­clear deal be­tween Te­heran and world pow­ers, easing sanc­tions on Iran, one Swiss firm spot­ted an op­por­tu­nity.

An­drea Gabus, who heads the in­vest­ment com­pany SGCH, be­lieves that build­ing a cadre of world-class in­struc­tors will at­tract more skiers and ul­ti­mately more busi­ness.

“It’s cur­rently an elite sport in Iran, but be­cause of the close­ness of Te­heran to the re­sorts, there is the po­ten­tial to make it more demo­cratic and bring it to more than just one so­cial class,” he said.

We ex­pected to have maybe 30 to 40 per day, and we’ve ended up with more like 70.” Loris Am­bresin, Swiss skiing in­struc­tor

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