Skiing in India is not a well known activity and when I announced to people I would be doing this it was met by surprise. The largest mountain range in the world, the Himalayas towers above North India and thus there is skiing.
Gulmarg, Mt Apphawat, is a “ski resort” that has been established for more than 10 years, with a gondola for the past 6 years. This area is not well known as it is actually not a ski resort as we know it to be. It’s a back country heaven! If you come here expecting easy ski in/ ski out slopes, you are kidding yourself. And even with a large amount of reading and research, it’s difficult to prepare yourself for a mountain of this size and terrain variety.
Never have I seen snow so fresh, mountains so wide, and so much ski-able terrain. Above tree line in the alpine region on the sharp peaks and deep bowls or below tree line amongst the grand pine trees, you will be kept busy with many runs. Not for the beginner this area, however there are areas in the lower grounds with smaller slopes and T-bars for those ready to dabble in skiing. As an international skier, I would not fly all this way if I were not intermediate to highly experienced.
Information is difficult to find and often vague. You really have to be specific in your search terms and trying to put a package or trip together yourself can be difficult. You need to think about transfers, hotels, guides (this is avalanche country and it’s strongly recommended), equipment transfer, avalanche packs and beacon training, food, lift passes and navigating the terrain. I went with a Ski tour company and I am so happy with the decision!
Ski Himalaya (www.skihimalaya.com) is a full tour operational company specifically for Gulmarg. Australia Peter Robinson has been running this business since 2002 and has a lot of experience with foreigners visiting Gulmarg. Peter partnered with Kashmir Powder cats, guides and touring company. Together they arranged my pick up from Srinagar airport, transfer to Heevan Resort (the hotel they organized for me which included breakfast and dinner), ski hire and avalanche equipment hire, A guide each of the 6 days I’m there and transfers in and around Gulmarg and Tangmarg when skiing and then back to Srinagar. Also they helped to organize my last night in Srinagar at a lovely house boat on Dal Lake and then return to airport the following morning.
Peter was great in regard to communication and I only booked with the company after numerous emails had gone back and forth. He made sure I would be competent for the terrain and they had the facilities to cater to my stay. He arranged all of these details and payment was made in Australian dollars well before attending. Learn more about Peter and how he started Ski Himalaya .
When I arrived I was met by the wonderful Mushtarq, driver extraordinaire. He is a safe and competent driver. He was very sweet in answering all my questions about what we saw on the way and gave me updates on what we were seeing and which areas we were passing through which was great. He ws my driver throughout the 6 days and on one day picked me and my guide up after our run through Babarashi and took us to Tangmarg to check out the village, he then drove me and the rest of our group back up the hill in tricky conditions and even assisted other cars who were blocked. Mushtarq made me feel safe at all times and kept me well informed, all you want in a driver.
Bashir is the main man on the ground in Srinagar and is partners with Peter from Australia. Bahsir called me when I arrived, met with me the following day and arranged my trip back to Srinigar. He was always happy to receive a call and helped where he could in giving information and checking my stay was comfortable. Kindly Peter had told him I was a special guest and must be taken care of so he took this to heart and even met me in Srinagar on the way to the airport. His care and attention is appreciated and the communication lines between the guides, himself and the drivers is very effective and prompt, this is always good in these higher risk areas.
The star of the show however is Fayez Sheikh, head guide of Powder Cats and my personal guide for the predominant amount of the week. Fayez goes over and above to ensure the safety and enjoyment of his guests at all times. He assesses your ability, takes you on runs to suit you but also challenges you. Most importantly, first thing in the morning he checks your avalanche beacons and on one afternoon early in the trip he and another guide went through Avalanche search and digging procedure with us. No matter what time of the morning or evening, Fayez will be there for you. He is easy to talk to, fun and caring. He took care of me as a friend and I trusted him 100% with my life – when in avalanche situations, you must trust those around you. Spend at least one day of your trip with Fayez as he is the man! A brilliant skier and a wonderful human being.
To ensure your trip is safe and to have less worries, I would go with Ski Himalaya as a guiding and touring company for your ski trip. Especially for your first trip. Do your research, read up as much as possible, and eliminate as many risk factors as possible – best way to do this is with this package.
Enjoy the snow, be safe and remember to check in with Gulmarg snow safety for weather reports and terrain information daily. www.gulmargsnowsafety.com
Please also see my previous blog about Ski Himalaya which has information on an average week at Gulmarg. More posts to come re accommodation, activities and my daily experiences of skiing in Gulmarg, Kashmir.