A Ski Bums Guide To Gulmarg

A Ski Bums Guide To Gulmarg


A Ski Bums Guide To Gulmarg


A Ski Bums Guide To Gulmarg

by, Sam Leitch 

Is it safe to go?  Yes.  It used to be sketchy due to the Pakistan India conflict but it has been totally fine for the last six years or so. This past summer, international tourists visited Srinigar and Dal Lake in unprecedented numbers.  For skiing go in January or February.  It’s a lot further south than most ski areas so the season is a bit shorter.  It’s an amazing cultural experience to visit Kashmir.  A night on a houseboat in Srinigar is like going back in time as you listen to the wailings of a mosque and watch the city go dark around the oily lake.

Is it as cheap as they say? Accomodation is $20 to $30 a night for a wood burning bhukari-heated room.  An extra person in the room only costs a few dollars more. Facilities will be basic with intermittent power and hot water.  The hotels closer to the Gondola base fill up first.  But there are endless options still within walking/skinning distance.  Many places have wireless Internet.  At posh Hotel Highland Park you can live like a king for $100 a night.

You can get a meal of curry chicken, rice, paratha bread and dhal for $5.  Riding the Gondola is complicated with different options for the first and second phase and also for the new chairlift.  It’s approximately $6 for the lower phase and $8 for the upper.  Typically most people fit in about three full laps a day

Can you get alcohol? Yes.  Kashmir is Muslim with locals preferring hash to alcohol.  But Gulmarg has succumbed to western influence and you can get a beer in most places. Cigarettes only cost a dollar a pack.  Unbelievably you can also bring your own bottle of spirits to some bars and just buy the coke!  In Srinigar you can buy bottles of whisky or rum etc for $6 a bottle through hidden backstreet holes in the wall.  Just ask a taxi driver where.  A bunch of kiwi boys last season purchased a hundred bottles before hitting Gulmarg for six weeks.

Unfortunately for potheads there is no weed in Gulmarg just lots of hash.  On the positive side its cheap and open.  We smoked it through a hookah at wild parties in bars organized by the party loving Russians.  Ah yes the Russians.  Russians flock to Gulmarg because its cheap and you can smoke cigarettes in your hotel dining room during breakfast.  They are more likely to have a Go Pro than a transceiver and tend to be surly.  However their parties are insane and many a western ski bum has met a future eastern European bride eager to escape the drudgery and alcohol abuse of her homeland.

And most importantly what do you need to know about the riding?   Gondola accessed backcountry in the style of Chamonix and La Grave but with mellower but fun terrain. But be warned.  The upper phase is closed a lot more than you might expect during and after storms.  After you get bored with the low angle tree skiing under the lower phase team up with others and hire a taxi that fits six for only $40 for the day and get them to pick you from laps down to the many villages below Gulmarg.  The Gulmarg village is at 2600m.  When the upper phase is open you will have locals touting as guides.  If you are considering this option be very careful that the guide is registered with the Gulmarg Snow Safety guide bureau administrated by American head of Patrol Brian Newman.  Otherwise you might be paying someone that knows less than you.  If the Gulmarg Snow Safety website is recommending that you do not venture out of the controlled area take heed.  Gulmarg tends to have an extremely volatile and avalanche prone snowpack due to its latitude. And the terrain?  Massive but not super steep.  You are more likely to encounter danger from avalanches than exposure or getting cliffed out.  Bring your fat ski’s or a long snowboard. The pow is pretty deep and there are plenty of flat spots to get through.  The weather patterns in jan/feb seem to be solid one meter plus dumps followed by a week or so of sun.

The Gondola was built for sightseeing not skiing and as a result the Indians neglected to clean up the industrial debris leftover from the construction. Be careful not to eviscerate your bowel on sharp metal junk.  Be careful of barbed wire in the trees.

There is a heliski operation is town run by local playboy Billa Bakshi.  The pilot and guides are kiwis that work to western standards and protocols so if you’ve got the cash go for it.

Obviously after reading this you can tell Gulmarg is somewhere for people who need to be able to manage and assess risk in the backcountry.  However do not let that deter you if you are an intermediate level rider. The terrain overall is friendly. And competent guiding is available if you need it.  A skiing holiday can be achieved cheaply and your money will go to a beautiful, appreciative community.  The unexpected reward of a skiing holiday to Kashmir is the exposure to such an exotic culture and open friendly people.

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