Skiing in Gulmarg gives rise to a number of questions which, in order to be fully answered, would require pages of text. On this site, we concentrate on a few essential points that need to be respected for avoiding that your winter holiday in Gulmarg will result in a nightmare and end in a fiasco.
Without a competent guide the tree skiing in bad weather and the long descents to the valley floor in Drang may become risky and adventurous undertakings. All our guides speak reasonable English and are capable of leading groups of all skiing and snowboarding proficiency levels.
Our programs are managed by a Swiss ski instructor and mountain guide who speaks German, English and French.
Our guides have been recruited from the small pool of 18 officially registered snow guides in Kashmir. Their basic training was completed by a specially designed "powder guide training" based on the specifications for the free riding guide training by Swiss Snow Sports. Besides the increased safety for our guests, the cooperation with local guides has some other nonnegligible benefits, especially in critical situations such as avalanches, accidents or other difficulties on the mountain.
Besides the 18 officially registered guides there are numerous "pseudo guides" and mountain companions hanging around in Gulmarg. Most of them lack the required skiing skills and have never guided groups in the terrain above the middle station or through the trees down to the valley floor. They lack the essential skills to provide the clients with safe backcountry runs and are often not adequately equipped for performing a professional guiding job. For independent skiers, it is therefore important to run an in-depth check on the person they plan to hire and in the case of doubt to consult the list of registered guides at the tourist office.
For extensive information on guiding in Gulmarg read our blog "Skiing in Gulmarg with a Guide"
The biggest safety concern of skiers in Gulmarg are avalanches. Despite the fact that over the past 5 years there were only 2 deadly avalanche accidents in the Mt. Apharwat area the mountain needs to be approached with great caution. Most of the skied terrain is located in sector north (N - NE). Over 80% of the terrain has a steepness of more than 35° and is often affected by strong winds from the south and west. The snow patrol establishes every day a full avalanche bulletin based on the tools available, their main concern, however, is to make the main powder bowl under the gondola safe for skiing. For skiing the remaining area (90%) each skier has to rely on his own skills for proper risk assessment and management.
Based on the risk definition of the today's avalanche training the terrain at Mt. Apharwat must be considered as a high danger zone and skiers must at all times be aware of what they do. Especially with the emergence of the "Kamikaze" skiers in the past winter unguided skiers can no longer rely on the assumption that first tracks were established by experienced guides and can therefore be considered as reasonably safe! The pictures below should give a comprehensive impression of the volume of typical Self-triggered avalanches, even in situations when the avalanche bulletin described the danger as low (1) or moderate (2). (Click on the pictures for a larger view).
Everybody who decides to ski in uncontrolled terrain must be aware that he is engaging in a so-called "risk sports" activity. The pictures above show that skiing the slopes of Mt. Apharwat without sound avalanche know how and without a trained and the experienced guide may rapidly turn into in a suicidal adventure with fatal consequences. An overview of the Gulmarg ski area and its different runs you find on this map: Gulmarg Ski Terrain Map
To fully enjoy their powder snow skiing trip to Gulmarg skiers should be in excellent physical and mental shape, dispose of a sound powder snow skiing technique and the capabilities to ski safely in all types of snow and in challenging terrain. We recommend that skiers take some time for preparing themselves already on the slopes at home and complete some free riding runs at altitudes above 2'000 meters before leaving for Gulmarg. Further advice on fitness concerns with some training examples can be found here: Fit for the Himalaya
When skiing and free riding in the high alpine terrain of the Himalayas organizers and participants must be aware of the following risks:
All our guides participated in a "first aid" training and dispose of an emergency kit with the required utensils for first interventions on the spot (bandages, pain killers, disinfects, emergency blanket, etc.) More on fitness and health issues you find here: Fitness/Health
When travelling to Kashmir and Gulmarg three potential dangers need to be carefully assessed:
The issues regarding avalanche dangers have been discussed before. Besides a serious training and a competent guide, an appropriate ski/snowboard equipment and a "safety pack" consisting of a small back pack, an avalanche transceiver, probes and shovel are mandatory for safe trips into the back country. More on adequate equipment you find here: Equipment
Even though Gulmarg can also be reached by public transport we strongly advise against it. We recommend instead to use jeeps. In order to reduce the risk of traffic accidents, it is important to select an experienced and responsible driver with a vehicle that is well equipped for the narrow, often snow-covered and poorly cleared road to Gulmarg. For competent drivers with well equipped vehicles the same applies as for experienced guides; they are few in numbers and hard to come by, most of them are booked well in advance by program operators.
The political situation in Kashmir results in a common assumption that it is a risk zone and for decades foreign offices of the respective countries of origin have been advising their people to avoid all travels to this part of the world. We operate now since 2005 in Gulmarg and Kashmir and were never confronted with any situation that gave cause for serious concern. Occasional strikes, political manifestations and other forms of expression of the people's unhappiness can, of course, occur like in many other places in the world.
One needs, however, to be aware that especially in this part of the world everybody is on his own and that the "helpful advice." of the many local advisors can only be trusted in a limited way. Contacting hotels or other local services most of the time becomes a nightmare. Mobile phones, even with Indian prepaid SIM cards don't work in Kashmir and public phones are scarce. From our point of view the dangers of a Kashmir visit are in general highly exaggerated, and we can assure interested visitors that the risk here is not higher than in other parts of India or in countries like Nepal, Thailand, Philippines, etc. - provided one knows his way around or uses the services of experienced international operators with their own staff in Kashmir.
New information on the security in Kashmir and the conflict situation you find here: "Skiers' Safety in Kashmir"
More information and an individual proposal you receive by sending an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org