Skiing in Gulmarg
The snow was late in Gulmarg in the Kashmir this year, but it came, and a really great week was had by all. It felt great to be back in India, back in the Himalayas and back amongst the friendly culture of Gulmarg skiing.
India is perhaps my favourite travel destination. India is vast and diverse but also friendly and english speaking. And your money goes a long way, giving respite from ever rising prices in Europe. We landed in the brand new Delhi airport, built for the Commonwealth Games, a huge, gleaming and impressive structure which shows us how the India and the east is changing. Most of the group overnighted in Delhi, giving the opportunity to dine in a fine and authentic Indian restaurant. This is the first of many exciting dinning experiences throughout the trip!
Next is the internal flight to Kashmir’s provincial capital Srinagar. This flight must be one of the most spectacular on earth. From the dusty, sun baked planes of Northern India; we fly towards a monumental wall of snowy peaks stretching thousands of miles in both directions. It’s remarkable how abruptly the mountains rise up from the planes. And then into the range itself, a sea of snow covered mountains, with no sign of habitation. With a keen eye it is possible to locate the Gulmarg ski area. In Srinagar we are greeted by local staff and transported to Gulmarg, which is around 2 hours by road.
We are often asked about how safe the region is for tourists, Kashmir being the epicentre of the long running feud with Pakistan. Within 3 years of running trips to Gulmarg, we haven’t experienced any difficulties or interruptions. Unrest has always been located in the centre of Srinagar, and our local agent is always very well informed. With the present status quo, the area doesn’t pose problems for the experienced traveller.
The town of Gulmarg is situated on a snowy plateau at 2600m. There are a mixture of shops, hotels, cafes and restaurants. Our home for the week is the Highland Park Hotel. This is not only the best hotel in the region but also has a long and distinguished history, having been visited by Presidents, Prime Ministers and visiting royalty. It is spread over 8 acres and provides a memorable stay. All guests have there own bungalow, complete with attentive staff and log burning stoves. Every meal time is an event in the Highland: the tables are filled with Kashmiri, Indian and western inspired foods. Although perhaps the best part of the Highland Park experience, is the colonial inspired bar area. This is a beautiful room tastefully furnished with antiques, old photographs and chandeliers. This is a great meeting place for après ski and before and after dinner drinks. There is an excellent ‘scene’ in Gulmarg which is warm and friendly and good friends are always made.
And what about the skiing?
The main ski peak is called Affarwat, the geography of which is perfect for back country skiing. It is a fairly flat topped peak, the highest point being around 4150m. The northerly facing aspect represents the main ski face and is approximately 3 miles wide and most descents have between 800 -1500 m of vertical. The north side, which is the front face of Affarwat offers an extensive choice of couloirs, faces and ridges. Cliffs of any size are rare, so virtually the whole terrain is skiable. The predominant angle of the main face of Affarwat is between 25 -40 degrees, again, perfect for skiing. The terrain of Gulmarg is beautiful and on a large scale and it’s not uncommon to ski fresh powder for the full vertical distance of 1500m, that’s hard to match anywhere in the world. To get an idea how this looks, please look at the photo below. Some of the powder faces in Gulmarg are truly enormous, and nothing beats the feeling of standing on the top of Affarwat, looking over the edge and seeing over 1000m of untracked snow in almost a continuous slope.
Gulmarg has a good snow record, but like any region, it does vary. We find that moderate snow falls, rather than heavy dumps, lead to the best skiing, and at the same time, keep the avalanche danger low. Typically there are between 50 – 150 people skiing at Gulmarg, this isn’t many considering the area’s potential. That means the snow is slow to be ‘skied off’, and the adventurous skier has plenty of chances to make his/her first tracks.
Ski touring opportunities abound, however skins are generally used simply to gain fresh tracks, by getting further away from the most popular slopes.
From 2011 a heli ski operation has opened its doors. This gives access to neighbouring peaks: Sunshine and Triple Peak. Several group members did 2 heli drops, and they reported it as an excellent day and very professionally run operation.
For me the Gulmarg trip is a unique experience and one that will stay fresh in the memory for a very long time. The skiing is first class but it’s also about the travel, the magic of India, the Himalayas and the friends made along the way.