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Lexi duPont Participates in a Cultural Ski Mission to Kyrgyzstan
Posted on June 13, 2016

The locals in the the landlocked but mountainous former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan.

This past winter, Eddie Bauer skier Lexi DuPont joined a goodwill mission to Central Asia spearheaded by globe-trotting splitboarder, dreamer, and documentary filmmaker Nayla Tawa to the landlocked but mountainous former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan. Donating fifteen hundred of pounds of ski gear, providing guide and rescue training, and connecting with the locals through basic ski and snowboard instruction, their crew landed deep in a cultural exchange between two very different snow sports cultures. The impact they made, and the connections they experienced, left both the locals and the visitors forever changed. In the story below, we excerpt duPont’s powerful journal entries from the journey and discover Tawa’s very personal motivation behind the Return to Krygyzstan expedition. —LYA Editor

Lexi duPont with the elders in Kyrgyzstan

Words and Images by Nayla Tawa, Images by Jerod Anklam and Jon Mancuso

Four years ago, a friend invited me to ride the untouched powder of the Tan Shan Mountains in Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia, and a country that is both cold and eighty percent mountainous. Our final destination would be Arslanbob, a village on the Uzbekistan border that lies at the edge of the world’s largest walnut forest and at the base of the towering Fergana mountain range. Through local contacts at 40 Tribes Backcountry Adventures, we uncovered the story of Hayat Tarikov, the coordinator of Community Based Tourism (CBT) in Arslanbob, who was working with the Swiss NGO to promote sustainable tourism, yet maintain local community control of the process.

For the past ten years, Hayat has been developing his dream to bring a winter economy to Kyrgyzstan through sustainable tourism such as ski and splitboard touring, in a land where chairlifts are absent and—to this day—the locals either walk or use horses to pull children up the ski hill. It was a valiant effort in a rapidly changing ski scene, where—just ten years ago—Hayat was teaching his fellow CBT guides to make their own skis out of wood from the walnut forest, with rope as bindings.

Fresh out of documentary film class, an idea quickly took shape to turn the trip into a film profiling the effort, the culture and the region. However, the universe had other plans for me. Just three days after landing in Kyrgyzstan, on the way to Karakol, our cab driver hit a patch of ice and flew off the road at 60 mph into trees. In the blink of an eye, I found myself on a whole different adventure.

Horse-accessed splitboarding.

 

Accidents are never easy and those in a Third World country are a completely different story. Instead of paramedics, local villagers brought us to the nearest “hospital.” Instead of running water, there was no water. Instead of clean sheets, there was blood on the bed. After a three-day struggle of pain, tears and anguish, which included being duct-taped to a snowboard as a backboard, stitches with no anesthesia, and screaming at the local doctors to prevent them from using intravenous pain medications with potentially dirty needles, we were med-evacuated out. Just like that, my film ended before it even began.

Four years and one long, painful physical and mental journey of recovery later, I landed back with Eddie Bauer skier Lexi DuPont, photographer Jerod Anklam, and cinematographer Jon Mancuso on a much larger mission to bring training, equipment and a few ski tourists to the town. Kyrgyzstan had engulfed me like a disease, and Hayat and I had stayed in touch. He cheered me on as he watched my recovery, just as I cheered him on as I watched his dream slowly come to fruition. We both knew that one day, we would meet. I had to go back.

The right equipment makes a big difference. Gearing up day on the mission.

We arrived bearing gifts, successfully delivering over 1,500 pounds of donated ski and snowboard equipment from San Francisco, California, all the way to Arslanbob, Kyrgyzstan, and into the hands of Hayat Tarikov and his son, thirteen-year-old splitboard guide Demir Tarikov. Providing essential tools to help bring economic prosperity to a mountainous community that has an 80 percent unemployed rate during the winter months is a job the government should do that could have a significant effect on the economy of the country as a whole.

The locals were also in dire need of training, so we helped educate the guides in mountain rescue and avalanche awareness. With the expert knowledge of backcountry ski guide and instructor Donny Roth and physician and medical trainer Charles Tawa (my father), I headed back to Kyrgyzstan to finish what I never got to start. We gave ski and snowboard lessons to over seventy local children and we taught the local guides basic first-aid skills. This is not to say we did not have challenges. For one, it never snowed, even though we were in one of the coldest regions of the world historically. And secondly, we came to realize that our biggest challenge by far was the cultural difference with respect to women.

Transceiver check, the same in any language. Mandatory guide training on the small green hill.

 

In Arslanbob, women for the most part are invisible. Yet DuPont and I were two young women leading our entire exchange project. Our goal was to incorporate the local girls, which proved difficult at every turn—from being told girls don’t ski to more subtle curiosity about the role of women in our world. One day, talking to a local high school class, DuPont was asked what the main difference between America and Kyrgyzstan was. Without any hesitation, she firmly, but graciously answered, “In my country men and women are equal, and that is not the case here.”

Silence came over the classroom as the students and teachers tried to process what she had just said. They were already trying to comprehend that I, a woman, was leading this project, with four men on my team. Then my father stood up and described how he had raised his son and daughter in exactly the same way. Coming from an elder and a doctor, both of which are very respected in Muslim societies, we could see that everyone was listening and taking it in.

Even with all the training and cultural exchange, we could see that our greatest accomplishment—and one of the most important parts of this story—would be inspiring girls and young women to stand up for their rights and their place in society, with the consent and acquiescence of their fathers, their husbands, and their brothers. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the village doctor’s daughter snowboard down the hill in her skirt with her brother holding her hands to help her.

Lexi and Nayla feeling the warmth of the experience.

Learn more about Nayla Tawa’s Return to Kyrgyzstan project and film at ReturnToKg.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author: - Monday, June 13th, 2016
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