I have been raw with emotion the last nearly two weeks. Today, I am just numb. For days I’ve been working with an incredible group of folks around the world to get Afghans who fought for their country by building civil society, making art and music, and expanding access to the outdoors for men and women in Afghanistan’s gorgeous landscapes to nations where they would not be at such great risk.
My heart is broken for Afghanistan. The fracturing began as news that the Taliban was storming back to power throughout the nation and then swiftly into Kabul. I never deployed to Afghanistan, despite getting orders twice as a soldier. I was so excited that my first time would be with skis in partnership with filmmakers Ben Sturgulewski and Jason Mannings in 2019.
It was glorious.
I remember Ben and me staring out the windows of the plane as we flew over the Hindu Kush and then into the Koh I Baba Range – turning to each other, smiling, and shaking our heads in disbelief at the beauty and opportunity for new lines and brave descents. Everywhere we turned was heart-achingly beautiful.
We spent almost three weeks skiing and getting to know the people and valleys around Bamyan. Each morning we walked out of our hotel and stared out at the massive empty creches where once stood stone Buddhas as tall as downtown buildings. We headed into the mountains as easily as driving into Big or Little Cottonwood canyon from Salt Lake City for a day of swooshing around on snow. When I got back to the States, I told people I felt so safe that my wife and I could have dropped our daughter off in any of the small villages along the way to the skiable lines, spent the day in rapturous powdery bliss, and returned to find our daughter well fed and exhausted from play.
I had turns so deep, fluffy, and wonderful they rivaled ski turns I’ve taken in Japan. The local ski scene was incredible. Hundreds if not thousands of Afghans spread throughout endless valleys and peaks steezing it out on leftover international ski gear or homemade wooden skis with bases pounded out of empty gasoline and oil containers, bindings made of empty bean cans.
There were ambitious plans for a chairlift.
Skiing, so important in my own life, feels so small and insignificant now. I know joy is an act of resistance, but joy, and I fear hope, is being crushed in Afghanistan. Along with both joy and hope being crushed here.
Adventure now, in America or abroad, is an exercise in wading into the chaos of the world. Summits and descents have never been guaranteed. Now even getting to the trailhead is in serious jeopardy. Canceled flights, regime change, raging fires, overwhelming floods, and the pace of development throwing up towns and no trespassing signs are shutting off what has been available to generations, or, like Afghanistan, for the short window after the early years of the American invasion until now.
I am thankful I had the chance to visit and get to know a little about the strength, resilience, and beauty of the Afghan people and their landscapes. Their generosity was overwhelming, their sense of humor dark and sharp. These were some of the strongest and most resilient men and women I have ever met. I hope I can return with my family in our lifetime. I worry now though, about what will happen to those who, like the mountains themselves, cannot leave. How we do support those who got out? How do we work to ensure nothing like this happens again?
I can see the Wasatch Mountains out my front window today. Thanks to the smoke from the worst wildfire season to date miles to my west, this has not been a daily guarantee. As the nights finally begin to cool, when I am not occupied with thoughts of Afghanistan. I begin to dream of skiing in those peaks. What will this season bring?
So sits an Afghan child perhaps, confused as to the recent change, anxiety, and flurry of activity in his home, comforting themselves with dreams of ski season in the mountains. Perhaps he is in a foreign land now, or a refugee camp, or wondering why his sister or brother, father, or mother, were taken from home. Like me when I’m anxious and stressed, dreams of ski season and past glories standing on slippery sticks brings him peace and comfort.
What happens to that dream?
Photos by Stacy Bare