Middle East’s Secret Ski Resort: Iran

When talking to your friends and family about where you want to go skiing this year, ‘Iran’ is generally  never a country thrown around. Even SNOWLUXE. HQ were a little surprised but we wanted to suss it out and see if it was worth it.

Skiing in Iran sounds a little hard, political and stressful. Would it even be fun?… But yes its world class.

Keep reading as it definitely is a great option and amazing cultural experience.

Picture a bustling Middle Eastern city, the bazaars roar to life in the early hours of the morning, cars frantically snake the streets as their horns battle with the call to prayer. In the distance, towering mountains sit silently above the metropolis, the sun breaking over their peaks as golden hour blankets a city waking up for another day. Except this is no standard day for you. You’ve just landed in Tehran, everything has gone from 0-100 real quick, and you’re about to shred some of the best snow on the continent in a peculiar place that will hands-down be a Sunday BBQ story for the ages.

The Resort: Shemshak, Iran

Nestled in the Alborz mountain range, Shemshak is a popular local ski village 60 minutes drive to the north-east of Tehran, the Iranian capital. The resort itself is situated at 2550 metres a.s.l. so your hesitations about snow depth can rest easy. Lifts at this resort reach as high up as 3000 metres, and the terrain is said to be pretty gnarly if you’re not on-piste. You’re in luck too, as Iranians don’t ski off-piste, almost ever, so you’ll have it all to yourself if you’re ballsy enough to give it a crack.

Shemshak is also equipped for night skiing, but somehow not for snow machines (yeah, we’re not sure how that works). Hotel Shemshak sits at the base of the slopes, a dated version of an Austrian ski-in-ski-out resort chalet. The best part? Lift tickets are around $6 AUD per day and accommodation will only set you back a tad more.

What is it like?…

Think the French Alps 40 years ago. The ski lifts were actually installed by the French pre-revolution, and, while ancient by our expectations, they’re well maintained and (we’ve been told) up to safety standards. Iran’s elite, in particular the educated-in-Europe-Gen-Y-types, frolic around the resort as if the strict rules of Islam enforced in the city don’t apply. Complete with designer sunglasses and European style fur coats, men and women mix freely at the on mountain cafés, despite them still not being allowed to share chairlifts or gondolas. In fact, up until only about a decade ago, the pistes had an actual fence down the middle for the women to ski on one side and the men on the other.

You’ll find the vibe is much more lax up on the mountain these days, but don’t expect to be downing Kronenbourgs at aprés and dancing on tables at an Iranian version of La Folie Douce. The ‘bars’ are tea, coffee and soft drink only. You can go without a beer for a week, but if you absolutely can’t, we’ve heard it’s not that difficult to source a few local brews should you meet the right person (off the record, of course).

Important Stuff:

When you put the absent party culture aside, Iran is the definition of every keen skier’s dream. Quiet resorts, dirt cheap tickets, no one skiing powder, and the opportunity to explore some unreal terrain in a fascinating country.

Fly: Qatar Airways can get you there from Australia via Doha.

Visa: You’ll need one, so make sure you apply to an Iranian Embassy or Consulate well before your travel date. Also, if you have evidence of any travel to Israel in your passport, you’ve got no hope of getting in.

Is it safe? For tourists, yes. Besides the average level terrorism warning you’d similarly find in Bali or Morocco, there is nothing in particular to worry about. Providing you can adhere to their rules and customs for a week or so, you can have the trip of a lifetime.

Tours: A pre-booked tour with a guide on the ground is the best way to get the most out of your short time there.