The breathtaking altitude, perfect snow conditions and heart palpitating terrain of the Iranian alps are slowly grabbing attention in the skiing world.
Truth is, there’s a lot to love about the mountains of Iran.
The country’s most popular ski area, Dizin, is a two hour drive north of Tehran and the season runs all the way through until late May. The resort is high, super high, 4000 metres high and it also faces north which means loads of dry, light, powder snow.
Peaked your interest? Here’s my six things you should know before you go.
Yes, there is a Fashion Code
It’s winter, and it’s cold. Pack what you would take on any ski trip. Jeans. Boots. A long coat. You’re done! Also, females must be sure to bring their favourite scarf to fashion as a hijab.
If you are in Tehran before heading to the slopes, make sure you check out the beautiful but often tucked away fashion boutiques. We ended up, quite by accident, at one of Tehran’s budding fashion shows. What you will notice down in Tehran is how stylish everyone is, and I mean everyone.
Prepare yourself to be outdone, Persians are among the best dressed people I’ve seen.
As the air gets thinner, so do rules regarding the head dress, or the ‘hijab’. Don’t expect to see women skiing with anything other than beanie and goggles. It’s standard ski attire throughout the resorts.
You’re in for a culture shock, in a good way
People will stop you in the street. ‘Welcome to Iran’ will be followed by a dinner invitation. Don’t be worried or surprised, there is no hidden agenda, just genuinely lovely people.
It is going to be expensive… to ski anywhere else, ever again.
Lift tickets for the largest ski resort, Dizin (opened in 1969 under the Shah), will set you back $30 a day. That gives you unlimited all day access to the mountain. Lunch will probably leave you another $5-10 out of pocket.
Join the locals at popular mid-mountain restaurants for a bustling cabin style affair, or you can seek out the inconspicuous bunker style “bar” towards the top of the mountain for the real Iranian snow-scene vibe; snowboard/skiing movies, a rooftop deck and delicious home cooked food. What more do you need?
Gear hire is equally affordable. In saying that, I’d look at bringing your own. Most of the equipment for hire is made up of 80s style skis and limited snowboards.
If you are planning to ski at one of the smaller areas (Shemshak or Darbandsar), bringing your own jacket/pants/gloves is a must. Sticking to Dizin, you’ll be able to get what you need, you just wont have the options available in Europe, America or Japan.
You’re going to be hungry, a lot
There may be no alcohol but there is plenty of food and once you taste Iranian food you are going to want more of it. Unless you are there for a few months you won’t even come close to trying all of the different dishes, but here is a quick list of my faves just to get you started.
Tachin – rice caked chicken with red berries, and a burnt saffron crust.
Fesenjoon – walnut, pomegranate and chicken/lamb stew.
Chicken Haleem – The best in Tehran comes from the little stores at the entrance to the Tajrish bazaar, north Tehran. Be sure to add in cinnamon and sugar and stir through before eating!
Mirza Ghasemi – Made with eggplants, garlic, tomatoes and more. The best are at the Tajrish bazaar in Tehran, again.
The Kebabs from Darband – A myriad of kebab restaurants line the deep valley and running stream that winds its way through the mountains at the top of the city.
Dinner at Khoone – Khoone restaurant is in the Tehran suburb of Vanak. It is modelled like a small home, hence the name (home), and doesn’t have a menu. The chefs change dishes every night but no matter when you go, you’re in for a treat.
The other problem with Persian food is that it’s rather difficult to get anywhere else in the world. So the next time you get a hankering for some fesanjoon, you better pack your bags.
You can’t make snowballs!
At nearly 4000 metres, the snow surrounding north-facing Dizin is super dry and fine. Steep lines and high altitude means you may not get the shear depth experienced in a powder haven like Hokkaido.
What you do get is terrain that will make your toes curl.
The grooming at Dizin is solid and in-bound terrain offers enough natural features and powder faces to keep anyone entertained. The fact that the resort is practically empty during the week, and that locals generally stick to marked runs, means that you will have a mountain of lift-serviced fresh tracks.
Side and backcountry
But it’s just outside the resort boundaries where the fun really begins. You can either hike along the ridge or persuade the lift operator on the far right pommer to give you a lift up. Once up there, take in the endless peaks, valleys, drops and overhangs.
Argue with your buddy about which drool-worthy ridge has the more perfect run off. Most importantly, take in each and every run because the chances are, you’ll be telling people about this for years to come.
The snow out there is super light, untouched and unchecked so be sure to bring a buddy and the appropriate backcountry gear and know before you go.
You’re in for one hell of an adventure.
Need to know
Check with your country of residence travel alerts and updated visa guides for Iran as they can change.
A number of airlines fly into Tehran from Australia including Qatar via Doha, Etihad via Abu Dhabi and Emirates via Dubai. Thai Airways will launch flights into Tehran from Bangkok in October this year.
If you’re flying from Europe then Air France, Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines and British Airways all fly in to Iran. There are as yet no direct flights from the USA though plans are in the process to change that.
Entry to Iran
Admission is refused to women not wearing Islamic head cover, scarf, long sleeves or stockings so make sure you wear that scarf and cover your arms and legs.
30 day visas for Australians and EU passport holders are obtained upon arrival for 145 Euros (cash only).
However Brits, Americans and Canadians must obtain a visa prior to arrival (and they must also book a guided tour as independent travel for these nationalities is banned).
If you have any Israel travel stamps in your passport you will not be granted entry.
Editor’s note: Human Rights
Like all travel to foreign countries, check in with the local laws before going as there are many rigid cultural, religious, sexual orientation and gender restrictions to consider. Do you support them? Does tourism support them? Will ski tourism help bring a light on human rights? Note that oppression will be less obvious in affluent Tehran than elsewhere.