Skiing with Royalty: From Crown Prince of Norway to Queen of Iran

Sara K |

skiing in iran

Dizin ski resort with Mt. Damavand (5671m) in the background

words and photo by Sara

When I first met Haakon Magnus in 1997, I had no idea that he was the Crown Prince of Norway. At the time, I was doing my undergraduate studies at Berkeley and competing for the Cal Ski Team. A mutual friend casually introduced us at a dinner party. He said he was from Norway, and like the majority of his countrymen (and women), he was more into Nordic skiing.

He wanted to know if Cal had a cross country ski team or club which he could join. I told him as far as I knew, it didn’t. But I encouraged him to come up to the Ski Team cabin one weekend and explore his options around Lake Tahoe. I couldn’t give him any concrete information at that moment, I said, but I remembered seeing some cross country signs around Donner Pass.


norway prince haakson
From L to R: My friend Mehrdad, Prince Haakon, unknown individual at Berkeley I-House


I also asked Haakon if he’d ever done any Alpine skiing. To which he answered with great enthusiasm that as a matter of fact, he had. He’d even had the opportunity to ski with two of Norway’s best female freestyle skiers once! The conversation drifted to other subjects, but never, not even once, did he mention anything about his royal blood. He looked like an ordinary European boy on an exchange study program at Cal.

So it came as complete surprise to me when later that night, as we were all huddled in my friend Mehrdad’s car to head over to a local pub and I realized Haakon wasn’t among us, I asked Mehrdad whether he was going to join, and if so, how come he wasn’t coming in the same car. Mehrdad replied: “Yeah, he’s coming, but he has to wait for his bodyguards”. “Bodyguards?!!”, I exclaimed. That’s when I was told that the person I was conversing with all night was a true royalty.

norway royal family ski
Prince Haakon, his wife Mette-Marit, and her son, Marius, join a racer in crossing the finish line at Ridderrenn cross country competition in Norway

Chelsea Clinton might have chosen Stanfurd, but we had a crown prince attending our school! Damn right! Funny thing is that I bet more than half of the students attending Cal didn’t even know it. I remember when I went to the political science commencement ceremony of 1999, to watch my best friend give the valedictorian speech that year, the audience’s jaws literally dropped when Haakon, having also finished his political science studies at Cal, was called on stage as “His royal highness, Crown Prince of Norway” in order to be handed his degree.

There was a Norwegian TV crew filming the whole ceremony. At that point, I had no clue that 7 years later, Norway would become a home away from home for me. After moving to Norway in 2006, I’d be telling my new Norwegian friends that I went to school with their prince. I would also tell them what a humble person he was, never showing off his status, and expressing gratitude for having the opportunity to ski with two gals from Norway’s freestyle ski team. I had always wondered who was more grateful: Haakon, or the two girls who got to ski with the Prince?!

shah iran snow ski

Empress Farah Diba and the Shah of Iran on a ski vacation with their kids

I never had the chance to see – much less ski – with a member of Iran’s royal family. I was only two years old when a popular uprising, later hijacked by the Islamists and dubbed the “Islamic Revolution”, swept the country and forced the Shah and his family to flee. Yet, I suppose how big of a role skiing came to play in my life is to a large part owed to the Shah. Having picked up the sport of skiing as a teenager while attending boarding school in Switzerland, the Shah of Iran dedicated himself passionately to building Dizin – Iran’s biggest ski resort – upon replacing his farther as the country’s monarch.

Although Reza Shah, the father king, had already built Abali – the country’s first ski hill – Dizin was Iran’s first true ski resort to get officially recognized by the International Ski Federation. With 3 gondolas, 2 chair lifts, 7 tow-ropes, and a vertical of 1000m (with the lowest point at 2600m and the highest at 3600m), Dizin became a popular destination among European skiers soon after its completion in 1969.

iran shah ski

 The Shah and Empress Soraya skiing in Iran

My dad and uncle have many interesting stories of their youth years, skiing with leather boots and on wooden skis which would get all wet and bent out of shape each time they used them. They even have memories of occasionally running into empresses Soraya (the Shah’s ex-wife) and Farah (the Shah’s third and last wife) while skiing in Abali or Dizin. I was impressed to hear that even though the Shah practically owned the entire resort at Dizin, it was not unusual to spot him and his family waiting in the lift lines like everybody else: no VIP, no special treatment.

Billy Kid and Suzy ChapStick skiing in Iran in 1978

One can get a glimpse of that down-to-earth attitude, not so different from prince Haakon’s, in this video from 1978, when American ski racers Billy Kidd and Suzy Chaffee (AKA Suzy Chapstick) ski with empress Farah Diba in Dizin. Looking at the video, it’s almost impossible to discern who is more excited at the prospect of skiing with the other: Suzy and Billy for getting to ski with a queen, or the Queen skiing with two world champions?

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4 thoughts on “Skiing with Royalty: From Crown Prince of Norway to Queen of Iran

  1. Shah of Iran and his queen were unrepeatable !!!
    What a pity. Our people lost them many years ago for taking freedom.
    But i think freedom was beside them and they couldn’t see it because They were spellbound!

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