James Robertson – Off Piste in Afghanistan

James Robertson

Off Piste in Afghanistan

Bamian is situated at a six hour drive North of Kabul. Historically it has benefited from its location on a trade route and, subsequently, its resultant cultural tourism.

It is a long time since silk, spices and Buddhism crossed through Bamian and the last 30 years of turmoil in Afghanistan has all but destroyed tourism in the area.

However, in 2008, the Aga Khan Foundation launched a project to encourage ski tourism in Bamian. Since then several groups of Western tourists have travelled to the area to experience skiing in virtually untouched mountains.

While there is a recent history of skiing in areas close to Kabul, this does not exist in the more rural and mountainous areas such as Bamian. Having seen Western skiers enjoying the snow, the local youth have fashioned their own skies from wood and metal.

While the Aga Khan Foundation actively supports the training of local guides and local skiers in general, these young Afghanis don’t want to wait for equipment and instruction to be provided for them.




James Robertson is a photographer working in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Having won the Guardian Student Photographer of the Year 2008, whilst studying physics at university, he now divides his time between working as a photographer for Bonhams Auctioneers Edinburgh and producing his own documentary and sports photography work.


14 Responses to “James Robertson – Off Piste in Afghanistan”

  • Really cool story!
    Lack of resources sometimes spurs creativity in a big way as I can see here.
    Good for those boys!
    At times they look Nepali…
    Anyways….great essay!

  • What a amazing take on Afghanistan. I think most people are so used to seeing blood and destruction associated with anything Afghanistan that a story like this could really effect ones understanding of the country & it’s people.
    Love it !!

  • Whoa, these guys are going to hurt themselves!

    Anyway, great photos, Congratulations

  • Excellent, humbling story. I hope you’ll be able to return and dig into this some more. This would be a terrific piece to bring some balance into the pages of one of the mainstream, consumer-driven skiing magazines.

    Don’t think I’ll complain that my skis aren’t good enough.

  • Great story, never seen this covered before (had no idea this existed in Afghanistan). Very humorous (for me) allusions to those classic pics of Helmut Newton (rich folk and babes on the slopes) and Liebovitz (Schwarzenegger in Gstaad) …recalling all those with these guys is quite interesting…and ironic (not this series, but the pics of the rich and famous)…

    love the home-made diy skis and lessons :))…

    my only lament is that this seems (looks like) all the pics were shot in one day (looking closely at the subjects, light, etc)…and for that, i want soooo much more…but, i also understand if it was a day shoot…just an essay needs more depth and time (documentary wise)…

    with that reservation, must say that the first 2 pictures totally knocked me out!…as did the 2nd last…

    would love to see James spend more time with this place and with these skiers in and around these mountains…like Teru’s early non-war shots of the war in afghanistan, a story that needs to be seen wider and more deeply explored…if folk are ever able to get their heads out of the morass that is their perception of Afghanistan and Afghani people…

    thanks so much…wonderful stuff

  • I would never think snow skiing when I think Afghanistan. Best of luck to you! I hope you are able to dig deeper into this story… the series seems a little light at this point as though it was shot in one afternoon. Off to a great start though… with focus, it could be an extremely memorable story.

  • Tying a 1×6 onto your boots and trying to ski is pretty hard core…and a prescription for disaster. Perhaps we should launch a relief effort…Skis for Afghanistan. Send ’em all those old skis we never use.

  • Talk about grit. What a fun story. James has illustrated the elemental drive of snow skiing. It’s all about getting down the hill…

  • Stunning photos. Thank you for sharing. For more of the story of Bamyan skiing check out the book Ski Afghanistan online at http://www.akdn.org/Content/1122. There’s some nice background on this effort and the amazing place and people involved.

  • Great story, excellent photos, innovative minds, tough hands, tough feet, strong lungs; along with the skis Jim wants to send them, I think we should send some more snow, too.

  • Carlos, the majority of the people in Bamian are Hazara and there is believed to be Mongolian ancestry which why they look distinctly Nepali.

    Bob, you’re spot on. Not only were these all shot in the same day, but probably over only a couple of hours. It was only an eight day trip with five of those spent in Bamian. And this was the only time that the locals appeared on their own skis. Though it’s something I’d love to go back and spend more time looking at.

  • James,

    Interesting…never heard of the Hazara. What I have read (very little and I’m no expert) about that area being an ancient Buddhist site.

    Well….great work all the same. I really like this essay and hope you make it there again soon!

  • Indeed and the remains of the Buddhas of Bamian are very nearby; a very moving site.

    I had a very hard time trying to edit a coherent set of images as there are so many different aspects to the skiing that is going on there. They actually have a surprising number of skis out there already and when I was there it was avalanche transceivers and shovels that they were short of.

    Thank you so much for all the comments; it’s amazing to get so much encouragement and to get feedback about how others see the images.

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