When planning a ski trip to the Himalayas people usually have a lot of questions and open issues which they would like to address beforehand. On this page we are answering most aspects in a broad manner.
For more information you may always get in touch with us and should you book a trip with us you will receive a comprehensive description which covers all aspects of the trip in more detail.
Gulmarg is a small settlement that lies 60kms west of Srinagar in India’s Northern State “Jammu and Kashmir”. The ski resort is located on a mountain plateau at 2600 meters in the Pir Panjals, a mountain range at the western end of the Himalayas. The line of control or border between India and Pakistan is only about 20 kilometers further to the west.
Most foreign visitors reach India via Delhi and board one of the several domestic flights to Srinagar there. The flying time is approx. 1.5 hrs. At the airport in Srinagar our program participants are picked up and driven to Gulmarg by jeep, the drive normally lasts 2 to 3 hrs.
A number of different airlines fly from Delhi to Srinagar, either from the international airport (T3) or the domestic airport (T2). We recommend “Jet Airways” first because they have proven to be reliable and second because they leave from T3 and therefore don’t require a transfer to the domestic airport. Jet Airways
As in most cities in this part of the world finding the right hotel is a miss or hit challenge, especially if you are looking for a budget to medium price category lodging. For the comfort of our guests we propose two hotel options near Delhi airport, first the Radisson blu which is close to the airport and offers limousine shuttle service: Radisson blu Delhi Airport http://www.radissonblu.com/hotel-newdelhi or in the medium price category the Park Inn in Gurgaon: Park Inn Gurgaon, Delhi
Most foreigners visiting India need a Tourist Visa. For more information go to the website of the Indian embassy or consulate in your country of residence.
When embarking on a ski or trekking trip to foreign countries we highly recommend to check your insurance coverage and to make sure that evacuation and backcountry skiing accidents high altitudes above 3’500 meters are covered. Furthermore consult the list of exceptions for territories or sports that are not covered. If you have doubts on your coverage or no travel insurance then we recommend ihi Bupa: ihi Bupa Travel Insurance
To make sure that our guests enjoy good snow conditions our programs are offered from mid-January to mid-March. During that period we have a good ground coverage and the snow is mostly cold and dry thus offering perfect conditions to ski every day.
You should be an advanced to expert skier or snowboarder capable of riding backcountry terrain in all types of snow, from powder to crust and wind packed snow. We find runs with good snow conditions most of the time. On times we may have to hike up or walk out and nearly all runs require traversing, an aspect snowboarders need to be aware of.
Of course Gulmarg can also be visited by skiers who master all types of groomed slopes but have never skied off piste. However, we recommend that they come as a group of people with identical skills or book a one to one guided stay.
We ski at 4’000 meters above sea level and most of our off piste runs are in excess of 1’000 vertical meters therefore our guests need a strong physical condition to join our programs. You find recommendations on getting fit for the Himalaya on our blog on this subject: Fit for the Himalayas
While Gulmarg is called a ski and tourist resort by nearly everybody visitors, especially during winters, should be aware that most of the tourist infrastructure like ski lifts, hotels, restaurants or shops are far away from western standards. On the other hand the cable car accessible backcountry terrain and the amount of yearly snowfall of up to 20 meters far exceeds that of many big international ski destinations.
Avalanche control and snow patrolling is limited to the main bowl covers only approx. 10% of the available terrain. Many of the best runs are in the more remote parts of the mountain and require short hikes to access and return or jeeps when skiing to the valley floor. Sound skills in risk assessment and snowpack evaluation are therefore essential for people who venture out into the backcountry without a guide.
Across the golf course there are five short ski (baby) lifts which are mainly used by domestic guests for their first experience on skis or for beginner courses.
What interests the foreign visitor and the domestic non skiing tourists the most is the 6 seat cable car, the “Gulmarg Gondola”. It takes people from the village at 2’600m over two stages to 3’990 meters. Since 2011 there is also a quad chairlift from the mid station at 3’050 meters to Mary’s Shoulder at 3’500 meters half way up the main bowl.
For skiers the main attraction of Gulmarg is its vast backcountry terrain. It lies underneath the long Mt. Apharwat ridge and offers numerous access points to long and steep runs of 1’000 vertical meters and more. The highest access point is at 4’200 meters, the lowest exit point in the Drang valley is at 2’000 meters. A picture impression and terrain map you find here: Gulmarg Backcountry Terrain
The only truly groomed ski slopes in Gulmarg are those around the baby lifts on the golf course. In addition there is a small groomed run from the mid-station to the village. Occasionally also part of the lower part of the terrain near the chairlift is groomed. Visitors should therefore be prepared to spend 100% of their time skiing off piste.
Since 2011 heli-skiing is also available in Gulmarg and some of our guests have also booked some flights during the past years. Due to the location of Gulmarg close to the border with Pakistan visitors must however always be prepared that the operation will be put on hold for a certain time because of changed danger assessments by the army. In addition the permission to fly needs to be obtained every year and as usual the criteria to allow the operation to start varies from season to season. Due to changing danger assessments and complicated authorization processes the heli-ski season start has so far always been delayed and due to certain administrative complications been ended sooner than communicated.
As it is possible to ski in Gulmarg up to 11’000 vertical meters per day in untracked terrain heli-skiing is a nice to have option which guests can always make use of by booking flights when the weather and snow conditions are perfect and when the service is available.
Since the opening of the cable car in 2006 the number of skiers visiting Gulmarg has constantly risen and probably reached its peak in the winter of 2011. Since then the number of visitors has remained stagnant or has even gone down slightly which means that on peak days there will be around 300 skiers on the mountain. The high season starts usually around February 8 and ends around February 20.
At the top station of the gondola an average snowfall of 12 to 18 meters is registered each season. Most of the snow falls from mid-January to the first week of March. Snow storms happen regularly every 5 to 7 days during the whole season.
The snow quality changes with each fresh storm as in most other ski resorts and also varies at different areas of the mountain. In the period from end of January to the beginning of March you can expect mostly dry powder from the top of the mountain down to the valley floor. Exposed areas on the upper mountain can sometimes suffer from wind crust and on sunny days the lower parts of the terrain can become sun affected. At the end of the season by mid-March there is also a good chance for good corn skiing.
On average the day temperature in Gulmarg is at the tree line at 3’200 meters around minus 5 degrees and on the top of the mountain at 4’000 meters approx. minus 10 degrees Celsius. With the exception of the mountain ridge the terrain on Mt. Apharwat is well wind protected so wind chill is rarely an issue. The ski clothes you will wear when in at higher elevations in the Alps will therefore offer sufficient protection.
All ski areas that receive considerable snowfall are exposed to avalanche danger, Gulmarg is no exception and therefore the avalanche risk is usually high or considerable for one or more days after storms. Most of the time, however, the snowpack becomes stable quit quickly and the terrain can then be accessed. But even when the avalanche danger is considered moderate or low people should be aware that they ski in complex and steep high alpine terrain which always includes some dangers. More on the subject you find here: Gulmarg Avalanche Risks
90% of skiing in Gulmarg is done in the backcountry and at altitudes between 3’000 to 4’200m. Whereas today there are a number of so called “all mountain skis” on the market which are perfectly suited to ride off and on piste in developed ski resorts for Gulmarg only genuine powder skis with a width of 105mm to 120mm are recommended.
Snowboarders should bring big mountain or split boards and telescopic poles are must. Ideally also snowshoes should be part of the equipment to deal with flat traverses, flat areas and short hikes.
Transceiver, shovel and a probe of 300cm length are mandatory for participants in our programs and should be a must for everybody leaving groomed slopes, not only in Gulmarg! A first aid kit, a full drinking bottle of 1’000ml and some energy bars complete the typical daypack for Gulmarg. Some people may also include some additional clothing items and tools like screw drivers and a knife. The rucksack should have a capacity of 20 to 35l and include an option for ski/board strapping.
Avalanche backpacks should nowadays be the norm for everybody skiing in the backcountry. They are no guarantee for avalanche survival but are a sensible additional protection item in case something goes wrong. Today there are a number of different brands on the market and all offer more or less the same level of protection. For those who travel it is important to choose a brand which offers simple refilling options and who disposes of rental partners at your destination. From our point of view the best choice today are products based on the snowpulse technology (Mammut, Scott). For our guests we have a limited number of snowpulse cylinders for rent in our ski shop in Gulmarg and we have also the tools required for refilling.
For the participants in our programs we have installed a small ski shop in our partner hotels where well maintained skis and snow safety products can be rented. Good quality snowboards for rent are difficult to find in Gulmarg and also most other rental equipment offered there has been used for several seasons already. More information you find here: Skis and Avalanche Safety Equipment
Gulmarg’s backcountry terrain covers a large area and has lots to offer. To make the most of it, especially when you don’t have several weeks at your disposal, booking a guided program is the best solution. Our guides always find the best snow for you, they know where it is safe to ride and will take care of you on and off the mountain. More you find on this blog: Skiing in Gulmarg with a Guide
Our guest to guide ratio is four to one, however, we always try to keep guests who booked together in one group and not to mix participants provided skiing skills are identical. Groups of 6 or more skiers will always have two guides. We keep our booking numbers at a level that allows us enough flexibility to meet all expectations of our guests.
At the beginning of our program we run a workshop where we explain the risks on the mountain, introduce the different runs and do a step by step avalanche search and rescue exercise. This is to raise people’s awareness of the dangers when skiing in remote and unpatrolled terrain and also to refresh their avalanche knowhow and to familiarize them with the gear so rapid intervention in case of an incident is possible for all.
We have been travelling to Northern India and Nepal for many years and were not required to take any specific vaccinations. However, some people may be more concerned about some potential illnesses and should therefore read the advice on this website: Vaccinations and Health Issues
There is a small health point/hospital in Gulmarg with a medical doctor on call 24/7. They deal efficiently with all typical travel and altitude related illnesses and can do first level interventions in case of an accident, from diagnosis to pain killing and doing x-rays. Thereafter critically injured or ill persons will have to be transported to a hospital in Srinagar and then as soon as possible either to Delhi or preferably back home. In Delhi there are a few hospitals with competent staff and state of the art facilities.
There is no official rescue service in Gulmarg. Our guides are therefore equipped with all elements to assure first intervention on the spot and have also been trained on various methods to evacuate injured persons. We make people aware of the risks related to limited evacuation and treatment options and advise them to be prudent and not to go to the edge of their skiing abilities.
The meals served in Gulmarg are 90% Indian or Asian style. Our guests so far have been delighted with the food and only a few suffered from minor digestive disorders. In our hotel bottled water is available during meals and in the room free of charge. Some people opt for the water from the tap. Even though the water comes straight from the source we advise against drinking it. Soft drinks can be ordered at the hotels, alcoholic drinks and beer will have to be purchased upon arrival in Srinagar by the guests.
As we are spending the night only slightly above the AMS safe zone well trained and fit people will rarely be affected by the altitude. However, the thinner air will be noticed especially once people start skiing and hiking at 4’000 meters. For acclimatization we recommend to take it easy during the first two days, to drink plenty of water regularly and to keep alcohol consumption within reason. People who feel symptoms of AMS are advised to rest. More on the subject here: AMS Acute Altitude Sickness in the Himalaya
Whenever people plan a trip to Kashmir the question about security comes up. For more than 60 years foreign offices and state departments issue travel warnings and advise against travelling to this part of the world. However, despite the slightly higher number of politically motivated acts of violence than in other parts of the world so far hardly any tourists have been harmed during their stay in Kashmir. An increase of the danger level for the coming winter is not expected even with the rise in war activities in other parts of the Muslim world. The military and police presence in this border state is far too high to allow extremist groups to gain significant importance!
However, when planning a ski trip to Gulmarg the warnings should not be completely ignored and visitors should be aware that they enter an area that is defined as a danger zone and that they travel to a ski resort where most of the typical infrastructure for a winter vacation is only available in a very limited form and where most ski guides have hardly any knowhow on how to assess the risks on the mountain and where many of the so called “guides” don’t even have the skiing skills to keep up with advanced foreign skiers. More on risks and safety issues can be found here: Gulmarg Safety Considerations