The mountainous valley of Hunza in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan hosted a winter sports competition in January 2022, building upon its short yet rich history of sporting achievement.
Prior to 2016, the region had been closed for sporting activities every winter due to harsh weather conditions, but hosted its first ice skating training programme five years ago, followed by an ice hockey training programme the following year.
Introduced by the Aga Khan Youth and Sports Board for Pakistan as part of its Sports Fellowship programme, renowned Ismaili ice hockey player Omar Kanji visited Pakistan and trained aspiring athletes in the region. Through such endeavours, AKYSB aims to keep sporting activities accessible, even in the remotest parts of the country.
Gulkhin, a village in Hunza, formed its ice hockey team following the coaching sessions and began competing in the National Championship in Naltar as well as the Sports Festival in Khalti Gupis. They won both championships in 2021.
This year, as per tradition, the winter games were organised in different parts of Hunza by the youth-led organisation SCARF (Sports Club and Rising Federation), the Ghulkin Winter Club, and the Pakistan Winter Sports Federation. Events were attended by thousands of spectators including members of the Jamat, Scouts, Guides, and representatives from AKDN, civil society, and the government.
Athletes demonstrated their refined skills and an admirable spirit of sportsmanship. The Winterlude games served as a way for youth to spend time and energy constructively and functioned as a platform for the community to coalesce, all while fostering economic development through tourism.
Aside from ice skating and hockey, highlights of the winter games included football and polo. A total of 20 mens and womens teams participated, with members from Hunza, Ghizer, Skardu, and Kashmir. The event also offered an opportunity for local women entrepreneurs to promote their businesses. Handicraft and food stalls were assembled during the festival, catering to participants and guests alike.
A parallel series, the Karakorum Winterlude Season IV, also organised by SCARF, took place the previous week and included fast-growing sports such as glacier hiking, mount-cycling, and ice-climbing, attracting a younger audience.
The Canadian High Commissioner in Pakistan, Miss Wendy Gilmour, attended the event and refereed an all-girls ice hockey game played between Serena Hotel and Ciqam. Delegates from the High Commission enjoyed playing ice hockey in the valley surrounded by the beautiful snow-capped mountains, and expressed their support for the initiative.
“It’s so encouraging to see communities themselves, the young people organising sports, organising opportunities for people to get outdoors,” Miss Gilmour said.