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August 15, 2010

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Gulmarg Cat Skiing – Winter 2010/2011 in the Himalaya

by Chris Werren

Gulmarg Cat Skiing – Winter 2010/2011 in the Himalaya

As we enter the second half of 2010 it is time to share our information on the coming ski season in the Himalaya with all interested parties, the new types of programs on offer, the lodging options available and the safety situation in Kashmir.

At present Free Ski Himalaya is actively monitoring all the different elements that need to be considered when planning a ski trip into the Himalaya Mountains. With this blog we would like to share with you what new skiing opportunities can be expected there next winter and what could impact your travel plans.

So far Gulmarg remains the only winter sports destination in the Himalaya that offers real skiing opportunities. Of course there is also a reasonable infrastructure with ski and chairlifts available in Auli in Uttaranchal, and Manali in the Himachal Pradesh offers besides excellent heli skiing terrain some basic lift serviced skiing options too. For true powder skiing and exciting freeriding experiences, however, Gulmarg is and remains the primary ski destination in the Himalaya. In 2011 Free Ski Himalaya will run its programs for the 6th season in this Kashmiri winter sports resort. Since the season 2005/2006 we have seen a constant growth in the number of guests booking with us; this is first thanks to the professionalism of our team but also due to the quality of the service we and our partners provide and of course thanks to the safety record of our guided programs, both on and off the slopes. For the coming season we are pleased to see that already a fair number of new guests from all over the world have booked with us and also several reputed international mountain guides and adventure travel companies are partnering now with us for the reservation and the management of their required lodging facilities and the jeep transfers from and to the airport in Srinagar. For more information on client satisfaction you may also consult our “Gulmarg References” site.

Himalaya Cat Skiing – Gulmarg’s highlight in 2011! Whereas last years’ announced Heli Ski proposition didn’t turn into reality because of a number of different reasons we now put a lot of hope into the recently announced Cat Skiing offer for 2011. This operation, a joint initiative between Swedish powder ski addicts and Kashmiri winter sports entrepreneurs is planning to run Cat Skiing from early January 2011 to mid March 2011. Free Ski Himalaya is partnering with them and therefore launches its new “powder ski programs with cat skiing option” with immediate effect. For those who have already booked their program with us for the coming season it is of course possible to upgrade their booking with this option, and also for those who are hesitant to choose this program now can book a Cat Skiing day when in Gulmarg provided free spots are still available. The loading capacity of the Cat is 12 to 14 skiers plus guides and driver.

Free Ski Himalaya’s Cat Skiing groups will always be accompanied by our Swiss ski instructor and mountain guide with several years of working experience in Gulmarg’s ski terrain and/or with one of our accredited and trained local guides. Our guests are therefore guaranteed the same safety level as for our freeriding programs in the gondola serviced area. The minimum group size is 4 skiers and/or snowboarders, the maximum group size for us is 8 people but we can also run private tours with smaller groups (1 to 3 people) against a “small group surcharge” or reserve a full day exclusively for our groups.

In addition to the Cat Skiing service Heli Skiing is once again proposed in Gulmarg this winter and the operators are pretty confident that they will be able to offer flights during the coming season. Free Ski Himalaya has therefore decided to continue offering its two programs “freeriding programs with single flight options” and the “Gulmarg Heli Skiing Set” with 4 freeriding days and 3 heli skiing days. Interested guests need, however, to be aware that we cannot guarantee the availability of this service as in this part of the world things can suddenly take unexpected turns. The same applies of course for Cat Skiing also.

As Gulmarg has in the meantime become quite well known for its outstanding powder ski opportunities and remarkable adventure skiing possibilities the number of groups and individual visitors is constantly growing and this results in shortages in winter suitable quality lodgings especially in February. To assure suitable accommodation for its guests Free Ski Himalaya has added two new partner hotels to its existing lodging partner for next winter. All our partner hotels are of the same category, they have been tested by us and offer identical service and lodging quality. The hotels are located close to each other and offer easy ski in and ski out access. As already now we can see room shortages coming up for February we advise interested guests to inform us of their intended travel dates as soon as possible so that we can block rooms for them and if required increase the reserved lodging quantities.

For people planning a ski trip to Kashmir next winter “skiers’ safety” will once again be a key concern. It cannot be denied that acts of violence have increased in Kashmir over the past few months and as responsible operator we should not keep silent about these facts but instead share our honest assessment of the present situation with all interested parties. We must provide all the necessary information to our future guests so that they can plan their ski trip well informed and start their journey to the Himalayan Mountains without fear for their safety.

Due to a more aggressive communication style of a variety of different groups some potential visitors could get the impression that the situation in Kashmir has become more conflict prone than in the past years, however, from our point of view there are no reasons today to question your travel plans for Gulmarg next winter. On the contrary Kashmir needs the support and the solidarity from the people outside the state today even more than before. A little more than a year ago I already wrote a blog on “Skiers’ Safety in Kashmir” and from my personal assessment of the present situation all the comments I made then and the related advice I gave continue to remain valid. However, due to the somehow more fragile situation I strongly advise potential visitors only to travel in small groups and to make use of well established operators with international staff on the spot. Also using local contacts recommended by former visitors is another sensible way to travel safely in Kashmir. Gulmarg is a very small village located far away from the potential trouble spots and can therefore be considered as reasonably safe.

To minimize the risks for our guests we will, however, keep the time we spend in Srinagar to a strict minimum and avoid spots with large gatherings of people when driving to the mountain. With this approach we will be able to eliminate most potential dangers and avoid unnecessary fear creating incidents for our program participants. After more than 10 years of experience in organizing and running programs in so called “conflict zones” in this part of the world (Kashmir, Nepal, etc.) we advise visitors to always respect the following code of conduct: Refrain completely from expressing opinions or making comments on all political and cultural issues, stay away from and avoid  public places with large people gatherings (bus stands, markets, bazaars, government buildings, military camps, police stations, etc.), respect the local habits and adhere fully to all rules and regulations in force at the visited area – by rigorously applying this “code of conduct” we have so far never run into any troubles!

After in-depth study of what is going on in Kashmir, extensive information exchange with people on the ground concerning the current situation and taking into account our several years of experience as program operator in Kashmir we are convinced that our guests will be able to fully enjoy remarkable skiing adventures in a reasonably safe environment once again next winter and we are therefore looking forward to welcoming numerous enthusiastic powder skiers and snowboarders from all over the world in Gulmarg from December 2010 onwards. For any questions you may have on the skiing area or on our programs, lodging possibilities and safety aspects we are of course at your disposal. Send us an email to info@freeskihimalaya.com and we will come back to you.

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1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Oct 16 2010

    in the winter it may be difficult to travel from jammu to srinagar by road, it is better to fly, flights are cheap. from srinagar you may take the public bus or taxis to go to gulmarg.

    Reply

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