Ayiken Jiashan - Spokesman for Altai skiing
Ayiken Jiashan, 41, the translator and guide who became the leading spokesperson for traditional skiing culture in the Altai Mountains and archaeological research into the origins of skiing, died February 8, apparently of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.
An ethnic Kazakh from the Tian Shan Mountains in China’s far western Xinjiang Province, Ayiken earned a teaching degree and worked as a middle school teacher in Urumchi, the largest city in Western China. Fluent in Mandarin, Uyghur, Kazakh, and English, Ayiken took on a part time role guiding and translating for foreign groups visiting the region. Beginning in 2005 he worked with Western groups researching the traditional ski culture of the Altai mountains. His language skills and knowledge of local customs were crucial in opening the door to this ancient ski culture. In 2007 he joined the ancient-skiing research group headed by Shan Zhaojian, the leading historian of skiing in China.
Ayiken guided many trips into the Altai. In February 2013 he served as guide and translator for a team that produced a National Geographic article and video on the Altai skiers (published December 2013). Along with Shan Zhaojian, organized the first ever International Ski History Conference in Altay City in 2015. He became the leading spokesman and supporter of the traditional Altai ski community, representing the indigenous skiers locally and internationally.
In 2016 Ayiken went to Norway for two years to earn his master’s degree in tourism development, and wrote a thesis on Altai skiing culture. He fostered links between Norwegian and European ski organizations and historians and their counterparts in China. Returning to Altay City in 2018, he continued this outreach work.
At the time of his death he had just organized the first ever 300km traverse through the Altai Mountains by a group of traditional skiers, an expedition documented by the Chinese television network CCTV.Looking forward, he was planning an Olympic torch journey for the 2022 Beijing winter games. The torch was to travel from Norway to the Altai Mountains, carried by traditional skiers from all the Northern Eurasian regions, an undertaking with seemingly insurmountable political and logistical hurdles. But if anyone could pull it off, it would have been Ayiken, with his impressive organizational skills, youthful exuberance and preternatural optimism. It was impossible not to like him and help advance his vision of unity among traditional skiing cultures, from Telemark across all of northern Asia. –Nils Larsen