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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hair Let Down on Iran's Slopes

DIZIN, Iran -- You know you are skiing in the Islamic Republic of Iran when: (a) men and women wait in separate lift lines; (b) the dour woman tented in black standing next to the man checking the tickets tells all women wearing just ski hats on their heads that they are flouting Islamic dress codes and should find a head scarf, quickly; (c) with a $5 lift ticket, a skier can spend all day floating down through virgin powder -- never compelled to ski the same slope twice -- or stick to wide, somewhat groomed slopes similar to those in the Rockies or Alps.

In recent years, with the advent of the more open-minded outlook of President Mohammad Khatami, the more rigid aspects of sexual segregation that once defined skiing at this high, sunny resort have eased. Dizin used to have two ski patrols -- the regular kind, looking for broken legs, and the second, vigilant for loose morals.

Skiers now no longer face choosing between 30 lashes or a $100 fine for infractions like skiing with members of the opposite sex. It is just one example of how the Iranian government is trying to satisfy the aspirations of this country's restive youth -- about half the nearly 70 million people are under 20.

The slopes at Dizin, a two-hour drive into the Alborz Mountains from Tehran, serve as a kind of barometer for the edge of social change among the educated and affluent.

"There is no fun in Iran -- we don't have that much freedom," said Orash Musadege, a 23-year-old who spends weekdays helping his father sell plastic piping in the sprawling Tehran bazaar. "There have been major changes since Khatami's election. It's good, but I hope it gets a lot better."

A decade ago, skiing on a Friday, the Muslim holy day and the one day a week pretty much everyone has free, tended toward the grim.

Men and women were forced into separate slopes and restaurant sections as well as lift lines. Women not only had to wear head scarves, but somewhat abbreviated replicas of their forehead-to-ankle street covering. The nylon billowed behind them like spinnakers as they tried to speed downhill.

One skier remembered a friend so desperate to ski with his girlfriend in those days that he resorted to cross-dressing -- shaving extremely close and donning a scarf and long nylon coat so that at a distance he looked like a woman. He was detained a lot.

The mullahs were initially hostile toward skiing, seen as an activity of the decadent rich, not least because it was a favorite pastime of the shah. For years after the revolution, Dizin remained frozen in time, the equipment and the buildings barely touched. That changed gradually, especially after some senior officials' children took up the sport.

Today, slogans on the sides of buildings tout an Internet service provider. Women tuck away their hair at the bottom of the slopes, in front of the monitor, but many let it unfurl when they alight on top.

"This is a rendezvous place for young couples to meet," said Farnoosh Mahzar, a 22-year-old graphic designer whose long auburn hair spilled out over her shoulders from her red-and-white fleece hat. "We can show a little bit of hair, which is really important."

Hair is hardly the only transgression. Chest-hugging sweaters, shots of illegal liquor from hip flasks on the gondolas and the occasional nuzzling in public remain unseen elsewhere in Iran. Although lift prices are cheap compared with those in the rest of the world, they remain out of reach for most Iranians.

If there is one complaint about the place, it is the utter lack of apr?s-ski parties. Some wakes are more exciting, although one ski web site speaks of an exotic underground party circuit in private condominiums.

"We call this hotel 'The Shining,'" said Peter Alguren, a 33-year-old Swede, standing in front of the Hotel Dizin, a blocky cement structure erected by the French 30 years ago. "It's scary."

"At 5 p.m., when everybody has gone to Tehran, there is just us in the hotel with the staff and a cup of tea," interjected his friend, Peter Ekwall, also 33. A web site description of the slopes prompted them to vacation here and on that at least, they wax rapturous. Alguren pointed out a series of S-turns carved in slope after slope. "All those tracks up there are ours," he crowed.