MALAM JABBA, Pakistan -- Boys in tattered coats schuss down Malam Jabba's powdery slope on homemade pine skis. Galoshes nailed to the planks suffice as ski boots. Bamboo sticks serve as poles.
A few hundred yards away, jobless men trudge to the top of a snowy ridge to scavenge scrap metal from the mounds of rubble at what was long the country's only ski resort, a posh winter getaway that drew moneyed businessmen and European diplomats to this rugged northwestern region known as "the Switzerland of Pakistan."
That changed five years ago, when the Taliban temporarily took control of the Swat Valley. During its brutal reign in the shadow of the white-capped peaks of the Hindu Kush mountains, the Islamist militant group beheaded those they saw as opponents, burned down schools and forbade girls to attend classes.
The militants, who regard skiing as un-Islamic, set fire to the resort's 52-room hotel and destroyed its Austrian-built chairlift, snow-making machine and ski rental shops.
Although the government regained control of the valley in 2009, Malam Jabba remains virtually dormant, a symbol of Pakistan's floundering attempts to bring tourism back to Swat's velvet-green mountainsides and purling streams.
It didn't help that the attempt to kill 15-year-old education activist Malala Yousafzai in October brought world attention to Swat and heightened fear of a return of Taliban violence to the valley.
"The government has been telling us for years that they're going to rebuild the hotel, and it never happens," said Sabz Ali, 18, trudging up the slope with his Japanese-made skis over his shoulder. His family owns a small hotel nearby called the Green View, which pulls in about $20 a month, on average, from a smattering of guests. "The (big) hotel is the main thing. If they build it, people will come."
Pakistan is more than just a world of fundamentalist clerics and car bombers. The world's second-highest peak, K2, beckons mountaineers to the Pakistan-China border region. In southern Sindh province, the ancient city of Mohenjo-Daro opens a window onto the ancient Indus Valley civilization, with ruins that have survived for 4,600 years.
But the pinnacle of Pakistani tourism has been the 91-mile Swat Valley, about 140 miles northwest of the capital, Islamabad. Members of the Gandhara civilization dating to the third century B.C. left behind massive cliff-side carvings of Buddha and stone shrines that still stand. Some of the country's best trout fishing can be found in the meandering Swat River and its network of creeks and streams.
And then there's Malam Jabba, Swat's answer to Aspen.