05/03/2014 | by Sam Oetiker
Earlier this year, three professional snowboarders from Australia travelled to Afghanistan to go snowboarding. In one of the most dangerous countries in the world, they discovered incredible mountains, breathtaking landscapes, and heartwarming communities of happy, hospitable people. Internationally renowned snowboard photographer Vaughan Brookfield accompanied them to document the experience.
In late February, 2012, Clint Allan, Nick Gregory and Mitch Allan embarked on a trip that would change the way they viewed the world. They had heard about the tremendous, snow-capped mountains of the Hindu Kush that run 800km from central Afghanistan down to northern Pakistan. The mountain range is one of the final frontiers for mountain enthusiasts, and had only been ridden by a handful of amateur explorers before them. From what they could tell, the best peaks for snowboarding lay deep in the heart of war torn Afghanistan.
Afghanistan remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Throughout its history, conflict has been the norm and peace the exception. The very fabric of society is violent. It was something that haunted the snowboarders for the entirety of the trip. It didn’t help that immediately before they arrived American soldiers had burned copies of the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book, and waves of anti-American sentiment had swept over the country. Still, the drive to explore and to discover overcame their concerns about safety.
Spending more than two weeks in Afghanistan, as a westerner without any security escort, was a hazardous undertaking. Some Germans who travelled a similar route just a few months earlier were kidnapped and beheaded. For the snowboarders, breaking trail in never-before-ridden mountains brought with it added risks. Afghanistan is one of the most heavily landmined countries in the world. Many of the estimated 10 million landmines lie undetected and unexploded. The villages in the foothills are also renowned for their avalanche fatalities. That winter, there had already been more than 50 avalanche deaths.
In contrast to the picture portrayed in the western media, the snowboarders discovered that parts of Afghanistan are spectacular and many of its people are happy and hospitable. The snowboarders spent most of their time in a town called Bamiyan, in the centre of Afghanistan. Nestled in a narrow valley, Bamiyan is flanked on either side by the mighty, snow-covered peaks of the Hindu Kush. In this remote and desperately poor province, the beauty of the landscape has endured through centuries of violence and the snowboarders encountered a culture of generosity and optimism unfettered by the past decade of conflict. All winter, the mountains are covered in deep, dry snow. Most of them had never been ridden. With only their two legs to get them up to the peaks, the snowboarders set about changing that.