With more than 75 international awards in skiing under his belt, Arif Khan is sliding into oblivion, thanks to official indifference. Saima Bhat tells his story
Twenty-six-year-old Arif Khan’s first memory with snow goes back to when he was barely four. Born in Hajibal Goiwara area in Tangmarg, he has lived most of his life looking at snow-covered peaks of Gulmarg. Barely 12 km from his home, Gulmarg is special for Arif in more than one ways. With 75 international titles under his belt, Arif is the new face of skiing in Kashmir.
Arif’s journey as skier started after his father, a businessman who rents out winter sports gear and operates a travel agency named Kashmir Alpine, hosted some English friends who regularly used to visit Gulmarg for skiing. This developed Arif’s interest in the sport. Following those footsteps, Arif was sent to Gulmarg to learn ski of his own, without any teacher. It continued till 1998 when Gulmarg hoisted national games event.
“By then, I was familiar with slopes and curves in Gulmarg. And I started playing under the sub-junior category,” says Arif.
Arif’s winnings at the local level helped him get a berth in junior-level competition at Auli, Uttarakhand. “There were 44 skiers from across India,” says Arif. At Uttrakhand Arif won one of the two medals bagged by team Kashmir. “This was my first national level competition.”
“After my success in Uttrakhand my father felt I should continue with this game for Kashmir,” Khan said.
The same year Arif’s father, using his business contacts abroad, sent him to Europe for professional training in skiing. “The training helped me to take my game to the international level,” says Arif, who passed his Class 12 exams in the meanwhile.
In 2005, Arif participated in Manali, under junior’s level category and won with a gap of 6 seconds. This win helped Arif qualify for the next level. The next stop for Arif was China. “I end up among the top ten there,” says Arif.
There was no looking back for Arif since.
He has participated in skiing competitions in Japan, Korea, Lebanon, Iran and China. “I travel to train under international coaches working with federations,” says Arif.
For Arif, 2008 was the busiest year so far. He travelled to Switzerland, France, Italy, Germany and Spain for skiing races. “I deliberately interact with people while travelling so that I can learn about their cultures and tell them about mine,” says Arif. “I tell them that Kashmir is more than just a place with conflict. I tell them that Kashmir is an ideal place for winter sports.”
In 2013, Arif became first Kashmiri to participate in World Skiing Championship, Austria – the second biggest skiing event after Olympics. Two years later, Arif participated in World Championship in the USA. “This time my story was carried by Swiss National TV. I was pleased to know that Swiss people know Kashmir,” says Arif who became first Kashmiri to make it to the finals in the USA. Unfortunately, Arif missed Olympics because of a back injury he sustained during training in France.
Arif regrets the fact that despite his achievements his work is not appreciated in Kashmir. “I bought so many laurels to Kashmir but still sports council speaks against me.”
Arif’s training and travels cost around Rs 20 lakh a year, which he says he has to manage on his own. “I started with second-hand equipment mostly arranged by my contacts abroad as skiing gear is very expensive,” says Arif. “Now I have got fresh gear worth Rs 5 lakh.”
Arif, an internationally famous skiing player now, earns his living by teaching skiing to Delhi’s who-is-who. “They come in their chartered planes to learn skiing,” says Arif.
Despite instant stardom, Arif managed to graduate in sports science, and then went on to do an MBA from Sports University Switzerland.
Fed up with the government’s indifferent approach towards sportsmen, Arif has decided to quit skiing. “We have potential to produce one thousand international level players across sports, yet only three have reached there. Rest loses steam because of the sports council’s attitude.”