There are very few options for skiing in India unlike Europe and the US. Manali and Dalhousie are accessible but the quality of the snow is poor and the experience is sub par. Auli offers some breathtaking slopes but it is terribly inaccessible. Therefore, inspite of the political unrest and militancy in J&K, I choose to go to Gulmarg quite often.
Well, this year the intention was to try out some off piste routes from the top of Afarwat. A subrange of the Himalayas which stands between India and Pakistan, the Afarwat is 4200+ meters at the highest point. And there are some awesome routes from the top to Gulmarg which sits at 2600m. There are some really steep slopes upto the tree line and even below the tree line the routes are quite challenging.
Sadly, the precipitation this year was really high, which was unexpected. The Avalanche expert at GDA, a veteran skier from New Zealand, suggested that all activity (Skiing, Snowboarding etc) from the top of Afarwat be banned/suspended till the authorities incite an artificial avalanche, to counter the risk of a natural avalanche, which would endanger the lives of the athletes who throng Afarwat.
The news was devastating but I guess I have a habit of seeing the glass half full. The next option was Kongdoori which is at 3400m. Kongdoor is a flat area spread over a few acres and even boasts of a restaurant. A steepish off piste slope of a few 100 meters, joins a long winding ski run with intriguing gradients thrown in for good measure. The run from Kongdoor to Gulmarg is almost entirely below the treeline and hence skiing through the woods is quite an experience. I took Dorje, an instructor at JIM & WS and an avid adventurer, along with me for company. We negotiated the initial off piste part of the route using short, jumpy waddling turns and the remaining part of the route through some high speed stuff. The cold breeze from the woods whizzing past ones ears was freezing and ever so often there would be a surprise in a sharp bend or a bump. Edging the skis only made the action faster. One has to be there to experience real speed. Exhilarating stuff — really.
Afarwat can wait for a year I guess. If Auli remains inaccessible, may be I will return for Afarwat next year depending on the precipitation and climate. Good bye Gulmarg.