A Nation With Some Of The World's Highest Mountains Is Finally Starting To Ski : Parallels Despite Nepal's wealth of mountains, downhill skiing is not a popular sport. It's expensive and there's a lack of infrastructure for it. But enthusiasts are encouraging young people to try the sport.
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A Nation With Some Of The World's Highest Mountains Is Finally Starting To Ski

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A Nation With Some Of The World's Highest Mountains Is Finally Starting To Ski

A Nation With Some Of The World's Highest Mountains Is Finally Starting To Ski

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Nepal has some of the world's highest mountains, but it doesn't have a whole lot of a ski scene there. The snow line is extremely high, something like 15,000 feet. So getting to the powder takes either a lot of effort or a lot of money. As Danielle Preiss reports from Kathmandu, some enterprising young Nepalis are trying to change that.

DANIELLE PREISS, BYLINE: It would be a stretch to call Kalinchowk a ski town. The village, at about 12,000 feet, is famous for a temple to the Hindu goddess Kali that sits on a ridge across stunning views of the Himalayas. On this Friday night, the town's wooden lodges overflow with young people dancing around campfires.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: (Singing in foreign language).

PREISS: A recent storm has brought both snow and Katmanduites to play in it. Twenty-three-year-old Utsav Pathak is determined to get some of them on skis.

UTSAV PATHAK: In Nepal, nobody ski, I think.

PREISS: Pathak, who was born here but now lives in Kathmandu, runs Nepal Ski and Snowboard Foundation and is trying to convince Nepalis to take up the sport. He started skiing two years ago after seeing pictures on a German friend's Facebook page. Now Pathak envisions Nepalis creating a new industry.

PATHAK: Because everything should be started with the locals. So, like, if I also haven't started out saying these things, then maybe someone would have done long time.

PREISS: Just a handful of mainly foreigners currently ski Nepal's jagged peaks through a few foreign companies. Getting to the snow requires either trekking for days carrying equipment, something called ski mountaineering or paying for a helicopter drop. The country doesn't have a single ski lift. But Pathak and others see potential.

CHRISTOPHER POLLAK: It's not going to look like a Chamonix, like, France, or it's not going to look like, you know, a Tahoe by any means.

PREISS: Chris Pollak is a Marine Corps vet and co-owner of Colorado-based adventure company Myrmidon Expeditions. Last October, he joined a local company to snowboard Mera Peak, a 21,000-foot mountain in east Nepal. The group hiked up for four days and then skied down in 45 minutes. But Pollak says Nepal's lack of infrastructure offers a rare treat for adventurers.

POLLAK: You could go pretty much anywhere in Nepal, you would be the first one ever to ski that slope or that peak.

PREISS: Companies are exploring new terrain and higher peaks. But the high elevations come with safety concerns, like altitude sickness, which can be fatal. To support these trips, Nepal needs to turn its local climbing guides into skiers, guides like Mingma Sherpa, who helped on the Mera Peak trip but is more often on Everest.

MINGMA SHERPA: I joined seven expeditions in Everest, but I did summit just five times.

PREISS: The 27-year-old sees skiing as a money-making development not just for guides, but for the whole tourism industry, which largely shuts down in the winter.

SHERPA: Every hotel is closed because not developed winter sport in Nepal.

PREISS: Back in Kalinchowk, about 70 new skiers slide around and cheer each other on.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: (Cheering).

PREISS: Fifteen-year-old Doma Hyolmo is getting on skis for the first time.

FENCHOKE SHERPA: Move your leg. Make a pizza shape.

PREISS: Fenchoke Sherpa, giving her tips, has only skied a few times herself. The 22-year-old instructor rarely gets to. The snow in Kalinchowk will melt in a few days, and getting anywhere with more reliable snow is at least a weeklong excursion.

SHERPA: In Nepal, it's very hard to ski often due to the infrastructures. And all the skiers are - I mean, we have to take it.

PREISS: Utsav Pathak hopes young Nepalis get hooked and drive the demand to set up the infrastructure here. He's engineering a rough ski lift and envisions snow machines in the future. For NPR News, I'm Danielle Preiss in Kathmandu.

(SOUNDBITE OF GHOSTFACE KILLAH AND BADBADNOTGOOD SONG, "SIX DEGREES")

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