After being set ablaze in June 2008, Malam Jabba- the only ski resort in the country- was freed from the hold of radical clerics after the Pakistan army’s successful operation ‘Rah-e-Nijat’. The picturesque resort, situated some 314 km away from Islamabad, is a major tourist spot. Following the restoration of the law and order situation in the Swat district, the ski resort was restored to its status as a major recreational spot by the Pakistan Army. The Khyber Pakhtunkwa Tourism Corporation in collaboration with the army, the Royal Norwegian Embassy and Right To Play- an international development and humanitarian organisation which focuses on children’s sports, an 8-day long ‘Swat Snow Festival-2012’ (March 03-10) is in full swing at Malam Jabba.
The festival was held to revive the resort by attracting tourism from across Pakistan and all over the world. The colourful festival began with Norwegian Ambassador to Pakistan Cecilie Landsverk hoisting the flag to inaugurate the snow gala titled ‘Ski and Smile in Swat’. Malakand Division General Operations Commander Major General Ghulam Qamarfor, Right to Play Country Director Iqbal Jatoi, Norwegian embassy officials, including Minister Counsellor Terje Barstad, army officials, Right to Play officials, sports fanatics and a number of locals attended the inauguration ceremony.
Pak Army para-gliders displayed their skills to the sound of regional music.
The string of winter sports included in the 8-day long festival are: demo skiing by professionals, informative, guided tours to the ski slopes, live musical evenings, tobogganing, snow man building, snow trekking coaching classes and many other attractions.
Many university students are participating in these activities, apart from a large number of children, who are enjoying the festival to its fullest.
Ambassador Landsverk said in her inaugural address: “I am proud to be a part of this festival. It is a fantastic place and the snow festival can not only revive sports activities but also be a tourist attraction for people from around the world.”
While congratulating the organisers, the ambassador, a skiing enthusiast herself, said Norwegians love to spend time in the mountains and that she and her staff were ecstatic to be at Malam Jabba.
“The history of skiing is pretty old in Norway but this particular event is at par with Norwegian events and is a great source of fun,” she said.
Landsverk added that she was happy to know that peace had been restored in the region and was looking forward to skiing down Malam Jabba’s slopes.
Major General Qamar said the event was the first of the season while many more were being planned for the rest of the year.
“We will organise a cultural week in June this year. The all Pakistan Golf tournament and sports gala will also be a part of future sports attractions,” he said.
Qamar said the week was unique in term of sports activities. “Before this festival, only the locals used to engage in snow sports. Now sports enthusiasts from across the country are expected to participate. Children and women are also apart of it,” he added.
Major Qamar stated that peace had been restored in Swat and invited foreign tourists to come and enjoy the scenic beauty and participate in snow sports.
In reply to a question, Major Qamar said district Malakand would be handed over to a civilian government by the mid of this year.
Qamar said: “Now that peace is restored, no NOC is required for foreign visitors and tourists. We will work further to promote tourism in the region.”
The Malam Jabba ski resort was severely damaged by insurgents in 2008. Skiing and winter tourism had been the main source of employment in the area, which suffered due to terrorism.
“The area has been declared safe for tourism by the army but very little actual progress can be seen. The army and other organisations have taken the initiative to revive the resort by attracting tourism. This is something the locals want too,” said Nadeem Khan, a local child who was busy skiing.
Located nearly 40 km away from Saidu Sharif, Malam Jabba has always been a popular hill resort in Swat due to its picturesque scenery. It is also an ideal spot for a family picnic during the summer season due to its lush green pastures and thick pine forests.
Malam Jabba’s true claim to fame however has been as the home of Pakistan’s first and only ski resort, where thousands come during the winters to enjoy the sport. Regretfully, this resort was badly damaged during the conflict in Swat, depriving adventurous Pakistanis of the opportunity and thrill of skiing.
The Malam Jabba Ski Resort, owned by the Pakistani Tourism Development Corporation, has a ski slope of about 800 m with the highest point of the slope 2804 m (9200 ft) above sea level. The resort is equipped with modern facilities including roller/ice-skating rinks, chair lifts, skiing platforms and snow clearing equipment.
The ski hill at the resort has now been rebuilt and is fully operational while the hotel adjacent to it will be made functional in months to come.
Though the resort infrastructure is not yet fully restored, the organisers are offering tourists from all over Pakistan the chance to be able ski to their heart’s content once again.
The festival will conclude on March 10th, and is open to all for participation-without any entry fee.
So pack your bags and head to Swat to take part in this exciting event and be one of the first in years to ski down the snow-covered slopes of this beautiful destination.