Pakistan’s first Winter Olympian conquers slopes of Whistler
By Paul Watson
WHISTLER, B.C.– In his quest to become an Olympian, Muhammad Abbas first had to tame a mountain beast called Malam Jabba.
High above northwest Pakistan’s Swat valley, Malam Jabba’s runs were so wild the International Ski Federation refused to certify them for competition until a bulldozer smoothed out some of the most dangerous stretches.
It made no difference to Abbas. He was born and raised in the Karakoram, a monstrous range that cuts across northeast Pakistan and includes K2, the world’s second-highest peak.
As a village boy, he learned to race on skis that he chiseled and planed out planks hewed from forest firs and beech trees. He tied the strips of wood to rubber boots.
For the poor son of a troubled nation, where a corps of Olympic believers was determined to make history by sending the first Pakistani athlete to a Winter Games, Malam Jabba might have been an ideal training ground. But the Taliban seized the mountain, 150 km north of the capital
Islamabad, in the summer of 2008. By year’s end, they controlled the whole Swat valley.
The Talibs’ severe reading of the holy Koran permitted no place for a ski resort. They torched the luxury hotel and lifts, built with Austrian help, sending up in flames any hope that Malam Jabba would be a world-class site for alpine competition.
Swat, once a place so peaceful and stunningly beautiful that tourists called it the Switzerland of South Asia, suddenly had more in common with the ruins of Bosnia.
Short URL: http://tinyurl.com/yz4lgvz