Grand Plans for Darbandsar Ski Resort
I recently heard some wonderful news that Darbandsar a private resort, a mere 60km north east of Tehran, has been extended, with a new cabin-car, and a new chair-lift that takes you all the way to the summit, heralding in more and better snow, longer pistes, a longer ski season, and most important of all, a beautiful view of Mount Damavand.
I was incredibly keen to experience this for myself and also, and with the rumblings of further and bigger expansion plans, was keen to talk to the resort management to find out more.
After a half day skiing in fabulous powder snow at the summit of Darbandsar, riding the new 12 person cabin-car, and a fabulous glimpse of Mount Damavand, I slalomed down toward the trendy young skiers and snow-boarders swarming the lodge at the bottom, and arranged to meet with Hossein Saveh, Darbandsar CEO, to learn about the resort and future plans.
Saveh, a pleasant, down-to-earth man, and despite his name, a local of the area, was keen to point out that “Darbandsar is an international resort,” adding, so it is only natural that we should be eager for better links internationally, and for the country to open its doors to a greater number of foreign visitors.
Politics has created some rifts between us and other countries, he said, but there is nothing stopping us from taking our own steps to improving relations. “Skiing provides a universal language,” but it is about making Iran attractive enough, for foreigners to choose to visit our ski slopes, over others, he asserted.
Saveh explained how Darbandsar is privately owned by majority local shareholders. It was established by members of the National Skiing Federation who were keen to create an alternative to Shemshak resort and made a bid to the government to allow them to install a chair-lift in Darbandsar. In 1978 the ‘Tele-siege Papa’ company was registered. ‘Papa’ I was intrigued to learn is the name of one of the mountains in Darbandsar. A second 2 person chair-lift was installed in 1982, and the slope functioned in a rather limited capacity for nine to ten years. “Skiing really started to pick up again in the late 90s,” Saveh said, and in 2005 the resort development started to kick off, when a 4 person chair-lift was installed, along with two ski-lifts. In 2011 we bought a snow-maker from Italy, “this gave us a cutting edge over other resorts. When other resorts suffered from a shortage of snow, we could make our own,” he said.
Darbandsar has 1000 shareholders, and over 5 million shares, said the CEO, adding this is a project that comes from the heart. “It is our passion. Everything we make, we reinvest into the resort.”
“The government is very happy with our developments and future plans, but when it comes to funding, there is nothing forthcoming,” Saveh said.
The 12 person cabin-car has been bought second hand, “we couldn’t afford to buy new.” The chair-lift that goes up to the summit, was constructed by our own engineers out of extra parts from existing chair lifts in the resort, he said.
We remain hopeful, however, Saveh smiled, adding, we have grand plans for the future. “There is a large slope to the valley on the other side of the mountain towards Dizin,” it has capacity for several new ski and chair lifts that will double our current capacity, and with much higher altitudes parts of it will run into the middle of spring.” This will be made operational in the near future, but ultimately we are looking to turn Darbandsar into a year round resort. As well as broadening our winter sports activities, we are looking at developing a cultural center, fair grounds for children, with plans for cyling and motor courses, a hotel and residential complex, and a new parking lot, he said. “We are planning a world class resort,” he said.
Incredibly pleased to hear about plans to extend the slopes, I asked “will Darbandsar become linked to Dizin,” which was a rumor I had heard. “We are already linked,” he answered. The small issue is that Darbandsar is a private resort, while Dizin is state owned. Although, with the new developments, he added, “we are optimistic these issues will be resolved.”
A recent article published in Vogue Magazine asks “Could Tehran (Yes, Tehran) be the Next Aspen?” My answer is, well, it is not quite there yet, but it very much has the potential. The biggest selling point for skiing in Iran, of course, is its very close proximity to the city, and once you get here, how inexpensive it is (a day pass will cost you around $20, and less than $20 to be fully kitted out). This is not going to be enough in the long-run, however, to lure foreigners to the slopes. While bigger, extended slopes are certainly a welcome; developers should not forget that another very important selling point for Iran is the beautiful, rugged landscape surrounding the resort. Any development plans therefore, should be highly sensitive of environmental concerns, should pay heed to sustainability issues, and added to the list, to health and safety standards.