Ski Terrain & Snow Conditions in Gulmarg
Ski Terrain & Snow Conditions in Gulmarg
Since the opening of phase 2 of the Mt. Apharwat gondola in the winter 2005/2006 the popularity of Gulmarg as backcountry and adventure ski destination has continuously risen. The number of visitors and participants in our programs has also increased during this time and every winter we welcome now several dozens of enthusiastic skiers and snowboarders from all over the world in the Himalaya and introduce them to the terrain and the incredible views on the mountains like on the 8’126m high Nanga Parbat on the picture below.
With the increased popularity of this winter sports resort it is important to give visitors an opportunity to inform themselves fully about what is expecting them in Gulmarg. In the coming weeks I will therefore write a number of blogs to address the relevant issues and begin first with a more comprehensive description of the terrain and the snow conditions including the related avalanche dangers.
The Ski Terrain on Mt. Apharwat, 4‘200m
The small settlement of Gulmarg is situated at 2’650m on a flat plateau below the Mt. Apharwat mountain ridge. The table-top shaped mountain with its long crest offers many opportunities for runs over open snow fields, along numerous long ridges and through wide gullies. With over 20 access points to runs of more than 1’000 vertical meters and a terrain steepness of 32° to more than 40° the Gulmarg ski area becomes one of the best destinations for unlimited powder ski pleasures.
Phase 1 of the gondola starts in Gulmarg at 2’990m and leads to the middle station “Kongdori” at 3’050m. From here skiers have access to a number of easy runs through the trees or to a groomed but narrow slope. We ski here sometimes during bad weather and on the first day of our program for the avalanche workshops. Sometimes we may also have to remain on this terrain with guests whose skills don’t match the requirements for the steep slopes on phase 2 and the tree runs.
Phase 2 of the gondola goes from the middle station to the plateau below the Mt. Apharwat summit at 3’990m. From here skiers can either return to the middle station by staying on the controlled and patrolled gondola bowl or traverse to the more distant access points on the southern and northern parts of the crest. Nearly every route offers options for powder runs with up to 1’000 vertical meters. In a slow hike of about 45’ the summit of Mt. Apharwat at 4’200m can be reached from where a number of long and attractive runs on the end of the northern ridge can be accessed. After a long traverse to the end of the southern ridge the access point to the long descent to the valley floor near Drang is reached. With roughly 2’000 vertical meters and a length of around 18km this is the longest run in the area and its completion also requires a certain amount of time. At the end of this long trip the skiers can chose to ride through a small settlement and interact with the local people; especially the young children love to see foreigners and to ride part of the way on the back of their skis!
Gulmarg is one of the best powder snow resorts of the world and thanks to regular and considerable snowfalls it offers all winter long perfect freeriding conditions. Today’s lift infrastructure is limited to the gondola and a couple of training t-bars in the village. In the winter season of 2011/2012 we expect that the chairlift from the middle station to Mary’s shoulder will be operational. As a consequence thereof part of the backcountry terrain on the main bowl will most probably be groomed and available for intermediate skiers and race trainings.
Skiers who decide to travel to Gulmarg need to be aware that they travel into a high alpine zone where the weather and snow conditions impact the terrain and gondola availability to a great extent. Avalanche danger, heavy fog and stormy winds often lead to the closure of phase 2 of the gondola for several days. During these days (approx. 30% of the season) there are sufficient alternatives to enjoy skiing on the terrain below the middle station, the touring terrain on “Monkey Hill” or tree skiing to Tangmarg and Baba Reshi.
The tree skiing in Gulmarg too is at par with the best tree skiing options of the world. The runs are not so long, approx. 400 vertical meters but very steep and challenging. Thanks to the afforestation speedy skiing between the impressive trees can be enjoyed. The return to the access points in Gulmarg is by jeep which in itself turns into a unique and adventurous experience especially after heavy snowfall with poorly cleared roads.
All in all I can say that the back country terrain in Gulmarg has lots to offer to all powder skiing addicts and therefore a ski trip to this exotic destination in the Himalayas should become a must in your holiday plans. The terrain maps below should provide you with a tempting visual impression. (Click on the picture for a larger view)
The Snow Conditions in Gulmarg
Usually snow falls are considerable in Gulmarg – when it snows then it snows a lot! It is not unusual that we get layers of fresh snow that exceed 100cm in a single night and after multiple days of snowfall we can count on a considerable amount of fresh powder in the upper zones. The winter weather In Gulmarg is characterized by strong storms that are mostly followed by stable periods of nice weather, mild temperatures, low winds and blue skies. However, in Gulmarg our guests will always be shown good runs independent of the weather conditions.
In order to make the best of their visit to Gulmarg we recommend to our guests to plan with extended stays. Although our standard programs include only 7 ski days and are adapted to the typical winter holiday periods of our guests we still recommend to book if possible 10 to 12 ski days.
During the season (January to March) we publish a daily weather and snow report with a picture here http://www.facebook.com/Gulmarg.Weather.Snow.Information To stay informed just like the facebook page and you will be updated automatically!
Avalanche Danger and other Dangers in Gulmarg
Nearly all runs in Gulmarg take us to wide open north and northeast facing terrain with a steepness of more than 30° and back traverses to the middle station along exposed areas below the ski fields. Most of the time the snowfall in Gulmarg exceeds 30cm and the terrain is exposed to strong and stormy southerly winds. These winds are part of the daily weather pattern in the Himalayas also during good weather periods. In Gulmarg we must therefore always count on some type of avalanche dangers! It is important that everybody takes these danger potentials seriously and only travels in the backcountry with sufficient knowhow to assess the danger levels and with the required equipment for search and rescue interventions. People who have no or only little experience in backcountry skiing and have only undergone a limited avalanche awareness training should book their trip with an established program operator or at least make use of a registered guide.
Since the opening of Gulmarg’s gondola in the winter 2005/2006 only 2 foreign guests have died in an avalanche, however, each season a number of skiers and snowboarders are caught in small avalanches and snow slaps. Up to now all of them were rescued in time and survived this horror experience. Some were however injured and had to end their holiday or even had to undergo treatment in a local hospital!
Besides the avalanche danger there are other dangers in Gulmarg that need to be taken seriously. We are all aware that freeriding is a risk sport with increased dangers for injuries and therefore we must always be prepared to deal with eventual accidents. Whereas in most ski areas the rescue of injured persons is organized and access to helicopters or at least professional snow patrollers is guaranteed in Gulmarg skiers need to be fully self sufficient! This means first aid on the spot and rescue/transport to the village has to be organized and undertaken by the group’s own means. In addition in Gulmarg’s mountain terrain there are no means of communication available, roaming for foreign/non Kashmiri mobile phones is blocked and the net coverage for local mobile phones is also limited. We therefore strongly recommend to always skiing in groups of minimum 4 persons and to carry all the necessary first aid components with you so that you can prepare the patient for the transport and get him to the valley on your own. A rescue from the ski area to the next spot where the patient can be picked up by jeep and undergo eventual first medical treatment lasts at best about 2 hours but usually quite longer. The transport to the next acceptable hospital in Srinagar lasts at least another 2 hours.
Another point of concern is the „loss of orientation“. Over the past years several incidents occurred which required the creation of search and rescue parties to find lost skiers who either ventured out alone into the unknown backcountry or went there in the company of inexperienced and unregistered local guides and/or simply followed tracks of other groups. Often these guests started their adventure runs late in the afternoon or failed to observe the changing weather patterns and were then caught by fog or early nightfall. On some occasions the guests were also forced to abandon the chosen route because the terrain challenges exceeded their skiing or snowboarding skills and this consequently led to a “loss of orientation”.
Another question that turns regularly up with regard to a ski trip to Gulmarg is about skiers’ safety in Kashmir. In 2009 I addressed this theme in this blog https://freeskihimalaya.wordpress.com/2009/07/04/skiers-safety-in-kashmir/ and the information is still valid today.
The ski and snowboard terrain in Gulmarg has a lot to offer and for trained and experienced freeriders the dangers are not bigger than in other similar areas around the world. However, it should never be forgotten that in critical situations the access to for most of us “normal” means of communication and rescue infrastructures is not guaranteed in the Mt. Apharwat area. In order to make the best of your often limited winter vacation and to make sure that you can take full advantage of the excellent terrain options in Gulmarg we therefore recommend that you use whenever possible the services of a qualified and experienced guide http://www.freeskihimalaya.com/About_Us/Snow_Guides/snowguides.htm or book a program with an experienced and established operator http://www.freeskihimalaya.com/Freeriding1/Freeriding_Program.htm .
More information on Gulmarg you find here: Free Ski Himalaya http://www.freeskihimalaya.com/Ski_Himalaya.htm