Asheville-based tour operator Iran Luxury Travel is launching a new package intended to introduce Iran to the world in a new way: as a world-class skiing destination.
Travel to Iran has long been possible for the adventurous. After all, the country is home to 19 historic and culturally significant sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list, and is such an art-lovers dream that even the Metropolitan Museum of Art has offered guided tours. But this is an opportune time for Iran tour operators. With the international nuclear deal reached last week and the loosening of visa restrictions in Tehran, the Guardian has reported that officials there expect to see a spike in tourism.
Steve Kutay, CEO and founder of Iran Luxury Travel, says he hasn’t exactly seen that flood of new tourists — anyone who wants to see Iran probably falls into the adventurous category in the first place, he says — but he believes it’s important for people to travel to Iran and dispel any myths or unrealistic views they might have had of the country. The Iran that he met when he first traveled there in the 1970s was a sophisticated and friendly country, a place where people actually like Americans despite the whole “Axis of Evil” thing. That’s why he and his wife and business partner Pat Kutay launched their first tour of Iran — an overview of the country’s historic and cultural centers — just a few months ago. And now they’re aiming to dispel a few myths about Iran’s geography.
“When you say Iran, people think of the desert,” Kutay says. But really, he explains, Iran’s Alborz mountain range offers skiing and snowboarding that are akin to the Swiss Alps: open skiing rather than trails, powder that lasts well into the spring, plenty of black and double black diamond runs, and lifts that reach up to 12,000 feet. “They have serious skiing over there,” Kutay says, noting that ski and snowboarding filmmaker Warren Miller has filmed in Iran.
That ski culture has attracted Europeans for years. In 2008, The Guardian declared, “Iran’s biggest secret: the skiing is great.” And Iran Luxury Tours points out that the country’s biggest resort, the Dizin Hotel — built for the former Shah — is friendly to anglophones thanks to their English-speaking staff and ski instructors. Dizin is the main focus of these new packages from Iran Luxury Travel, though they are fully customizable, meaning you can add a trip to the nearby Shemshak ski resort to try the triple-black-diamond trails out there.
All packages from the Asheville-based company start with a minimum of two people, with services including a driver, private car, a guide, and help with visa arrangements. A four-night package for two at the Dizin ski resort runs at $950, which includes a daily breakfast but not airfare. Kutay also recommends that clients tack on one of the company’s broader sightseeing tours of Iran to help grasp the culture beyond just the apres-ski life in the Alborz range. The Highlights of Iran tour runs you $2,400 for a week of travel around the country.