KOH-E-BABA, Afghanistan—Ten Afghan men jumped out front as the second international Afghan Ski Challenge championship began here on Friday.
Well conditioned to the air of central Bamiyan province, they "skinned" 1,500 feet up a mountain on foot, at the front of a zigzagging line of huffing contestants. At the top, they hit the downhill portion well ahead of their far more experienced Western rivals.
As the Afghan racers crossed the finish line one after another, cheers erupted from villagers and government officials. Even the U.S.-led military coalition put out a news release to celebrate the unlikely triumph of the Afghan athletes. "My brothers and sisters see me as a hero," exclaimed the champion, Khalil Reza, an illiterate 19-year-old who lives with his parents and seven siblings in a one-room mud hut.
Italian mountain guide Ferdinando Rollando, with two female clients in tow, was looking to recruit local trainees in the village. Mr. Farhang told Mr. Rollando he dreamed of getting an education in Kabul and then becoming an engineer. Mr. Rollando said he replied: "There are 5,000 engineers in Kabul. They do not spend every day skiing with beautiful women. My job is obviously better."