x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Ask the Expert: Tehran's winter ski slopes

The Iranian capital offers an excellent option for those who want to pursue winter sports close to home.

I'm looking to arrange a ski holiday for this winter but because it's the busiest time of year at work, I can only manage a long weekend. That means I want to stay within the region rather than go to Europe and spend half my holiday travelling. Does that mean Lebanon is my only option?

The skiing in Lebanon is well-known, partly for the country's clutch of ski resorts but probably equally for the country's famous après ski.

However, there are other options within a few hours' flight of the UAE and - with the proviso that the political situation there becomes a little less fraught than currently - it's worth considering Iran.

The country has many factors in its favour: the two best ski resorts are close to Tehran, a lively and bustling city which is very easy to reach from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the skiing is excellent and the people are some of the friendliest you'll ever meet.

The two main resorts, Dizin and Shemshak, are sited in the Alborz mountains that separate Tehran from the Caspian Sea and they offer very different experiences for the skier.

We would start at Dizin, the more family-friendly of the two and with generally easier terrain. This resort dates from the former Shah's era and hasn't changed much, which makes it feel like you're an extra in an early 1970s-era James Bond movie. The chairlifts involve riding in oeufs, which as the name suggests are egg-shaped pods painted in primary colours and with sliding doors. There are also poma drag lifts which are so brutal that they make you feel like you've undergone spontaneous bowel surgery.

Shemshak is smaller and much steeper, with fewer groomed slopes, and thus requires greater skiing ability. Instead of oeufs, there are chairlifts which threaten to do to the back of your legs what Dizin's pomas try to do to your nether regions. The compensations include it being easier to access the steep and the deep.

The real revelation at both resorts is that skiing off piste does not seem popular among the Iranians, who form the vast majority of those on the slopes, and that means it's still possible to ski untracked powder days after the last snowfall. There is an après ski scene here that can get pretty wild but nothing like Lebanon and it requires an invitation from a local.

There is ski hire at each place but the quality of the equipment is lower than you'd find at a European or North American resort. You're better off bringing your ski gear with you, if you have it. Women need to be very modest in their dress and manner, with most of their hair covered any time they are in public. The best aspect of the entire experience is meeting Iranians, who display an abundant friendliness that totally belies how their government is perceived by outsiders.

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