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Chilly Choman welcomes international skiers to Kurdish mountains

By Karwan Faidhi Dri 2/2/2019
CHOMAN, Kurdistan Region — In a bid to raise awareness about the types of tourism opportunities available in the Kurdistan Region, international skiers participated in the Winter Festival in Choman on Friday.

"Today we will participate in the second annual Iraqi Kurdistan ski rally which will take place in these beautiful Kurdish mountains," Slovenian ski instructor Ana Tasic told Rudaw English.

Choman is located about 93 kilometers northeast of the Kurdistan Region's capital of Erbil.

"The idea of the festival is to bring international skiers that come here to compete in a race and to put on a festival, to put on a show," said James Willcox, a British co-organizer of the event. 

Around 30 skiers are expected to compete in the race from nine countries. The skiers come from across Europe, the United States, the Kurdistan Region's Penjwen, and from the IDP and refugee community. 

He works with Untamed Borders, an organization that aims to bring tourists to some of the more untouched places on Earth.

"We hope that this festival will grow and grow, and attract people from all over Kurdistan and all over Iraq ... and international people," said Willcox.

Suzy Madge is one of the international participants from the United Kingdom.

"There is a really good potential for helping other people come to Kurdistan," she said. 

Madge lauded the hospitality, friendliness, food, and safety of Kurdistan. 

"The mountains are wonderful for skiing, for hiking..." she said.

Driving to Choman, especially in the winter, can take hours because of winding, narrow roads and steep inclines.

As the race was set to begin, snowfall and winds picked up.

"This is what winter sports look like — sometimes it's sunny, sometimes it snows. So despite the bad visibility, we had a good festival and ski race. The people are having fun in the snow, so I think we had a good day in the beautiful Kurdish mountains," said one of the estimated 100-150 participants.

The first snow festival in Choman dates back to 1952.

Additional reporting by Bakhtiyar Qadir

Update: 2:09 p.m.

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