Gulmarg Winter 2013 – A Review
Sunny days, perfect snow conditions and mostly low or moderate avalanche danger levels on one hand and inner unrest, frequent strikes and curfews on the other hand were the distinguishing marks of our 8th ski season in Gulmarg, Kashmir.
Despite these few disturbing events outside of Gulmarg our 180 guests were able to fully enjoy their stay in Kashmir, have completed numerous powder ski runs on Mt. Aphawat and got a comprehensive impression of this exceptional ski area in the Himalayas.
Snow and Weather Conditions
The snow and weather conditions in the past winter were ideal, compared to previous years we had less frequent but instead more intensive snowfalls and also considerably longer fair weather periods with lots of sunny days = 60% of all season ski days! Furthermore the fair weather conditions helped to create and maintain a stable snowpack which allowed us to fully exploit the ski area on Mt. Apharwat and to access runs which usually can only be skied at the end of the season in March. In addition our guests were also able to ski the Drang runs more frequently than in previous years and skiers interested in short touring excursions benefitted from more opportunities for trips deep in the backyard of the terrain.
In the winter 2012/2013 the snowpack was already at the beginning of January sufficiently strong to make skiing possible on all areas on Mt. Apharwart. From January 17 onwards we were enjoying regular snowfalls with more than 100cm fresh powder. During the few bad weather days the snow conditions were perfect for skiing the tree runs to Baba Reshi and Tangmarg. Despite the fewer days with fresh snowfall and the extended good weather periods we were still able to take our guests nearly every day to fresh and unexplored terrain.
Gulmarg’s degree of popularity has risen considerably over the past years and consequently an increasing number of domestic and international guests visit this freeriding destination now in the winter season too. Despite the growing number of guests the available lodging capacity of winter suitable rooms has remained more or less constant and therefore all hotels offering a certain comfort level are fully booked well in advance. It looks as if this situation will remain unchanged for the foreseeable future as authorities have imposed a temporary building ban, requested the establishment of a zone planning system and made respecting of certain construction rules mandatory. In addition it is planned to address the important issues of garbage disposal and sewage drain before new building permits are granted.
For visitors looking for lodging options that offer a high comfort level the recently opend 5* hotel could be a good choice. However, with more than 300 USD per night the room rates are at the high end but room rates in Gulmarg have increased considerably anyway over the past years and the rates for hotels that offer western comfort in winters are also in the USD 200 area or above.
Since the winter season 2009/2010 our guests always stay in the same hotel, we are happy with their services and today this hotel corresponds best to the comfort expectations of our international guests. In addition I personally invested a lot of time and energy to gear the staff towards the expectations of the international travelers and I am proud to say that today the mantra of providing “total guest happiness” has been understood by most employees and is applied day in day out during the winters. The service provided by the staff in our partner hotel today exceeds in many areas the level of the new 5* hotel in Gulmarg and other 5* hotels I visited in India. There is of course always room for improvement, especially in enhancing the comfort level in the rooms and also in increasing the variety of food items which is due to the location and accessibility of Gulmarg/Kashmir in winters a more challenging task.
During the winter season 2013/2014 our guests will be accommodated again in our existing partner hotel and we hope that the promised improvements in the rooms/dining room will have been made by then! Without improvements and a renewed price increase of 20% for the 2014/2015 season the new 5* property could of course become a viable option.
More information on hotels in Gulmarg you find in our blog Hotel Accommodation in Gulmarg
Gulmarg Ski Guides
Since the start of our activities in Gulmarg the number of participants in our programs have steadily risen and in the past years we were pleased to welcome every season more than 150 guests from all over the world in this exceptional ski resort. In order to provide a competent and professional guiding service on the mountain we had of course to find and train the required staff which proved in Gulmarg to be a challenging task. Despite the fact that the lower part of the gondola and the T-bar ski lifts in the village have been running for several years there are still only a few persons with sufficient skiing skills to accompany guests on the mountain and who dispose of sufficient language skills to hold a conversation in English with them.
However, despite the limited resources we succeeded in establishing a professional team of 6 highly motivated and well trained guides who all have several seasons of working experience on the mountain and dispose of excellent terrain knowledge. All our guides have completed a multi day training which is based on the course modules of swiss snowsports for their education of “freeride guides”. Besides the theoretical part the guides also participated in practical workshops on the mountain and attend a season kick off training every year before their work with guests starts again. In addition 2 ouf our guides have already completed the training courses of the “Gulmarg Avalanche Center” and passed the required tests to be accredited by them as “registered guide”. The remaining guides will complete this training in December 2013 provided the local authorities don’t find some non-comprehensible reasons to again hinder the proper execution of this training.
Some back ground information on the subject of guide training you find in the annual report of the “Gulmarg Avalanche Center”: GAC Annual Report
Besides a good education and profound terrain knowledge a professional guide needs also to be equipped with products that offer the same technologies and protection as those their guests are using, e.g. freeriding skis, functional ski wear and state of the art avalanche search and rescue items, all products which are impossible to find in this part of the world. We therefore decided to import the needed items and to equip our guides with them at our cost or to let them buy the products at subsidized prices. Consequently our guides are now all equipped with modern freeride skis, dispose of the needed avalanche material and receive every season new uniforms.
As avalanche backpacks are in the process of becoming a standard equipment item for back country skiers we decided to equip all our guests with this type of product too. Since the winter 2012/2013 all our guides are equipped with a Mammut/snowpulse avalanche backpack and dispose of the necessary knowhow to use it in emergency situations and if needed to instruct their guests in its use or to verify that the backpack is properly strapped to the body of the persons in their group.
Equipping our guides with new products on a regular basis is only possible due to the support of our equipment partners Salewa, Völkl, Mammut/snowpulse and Huwiler Sports, Muri and we would like to thank them here for their assistance.
More on guiding in Gulmarg you find here: Skiing in Gulmarg with a Guide
With the rising number of guests who come to Gulmarg for their winter holiday also the demand for rental material has increased (freeride skis, transceivers, probes, shovels, cylinders for avalanche backpacks etc.). There are of course a few local shops that offer some of the products but often it is material that was handed over to them by former visitors at the end of their stay and which is no longer meeting the standards people are looking for today or the material is in a state that makes it impossible to rent it to our demanding guests.
We decided therefore to purchase our own material and renew it regularly with the newest models. Since the season 2012/2013 our program participants can rent from us skis (Völkl Gotama or Völkl Katana with Black Diamond poles), avalanche gear (Ortovox 3+ transceivers, probes, shovels) and cylinders for Mammut/snowpulse backpacks. As the number of items is limited early reservations are recommended.
The rental material is exclusively at the disposal of participants in our programs as part of the full service package, except the cylinders for avalanche backpacks which can be rented by all Gulmarg visitors. If needed we can also fill or refill snowpulse cylinders on the spot.
Safety in Kashmir
A season report from Kashmir would be incomplete without some comments on the present security situation and on skiers ‘safety. Last winter there were indeed a couple of disturbing situations which made some guests cancel or delay their trip to Gulmarg and which disturbed the transfer of our program participants from and to the airport in Srinagar. However, overall it was “business as usual” for Kashmir, no guests were harmed, all our guests have reached their return flights on time and skiing operations in Gulmarg were never impacted by the various strikes and curfews. So far there are no real reasons not to travel to Kashmir during the winter and to miss the opportunity to discover one of the most attractive powder ski areas in the world.
The observations I made in a blog on safety issues for Kashmir some years ago are still valid and can be read here: Skiers’ Safety in Kashmir
Outlook Winter 2013/2014
The ski season 2012/2013 in Gulmarg is over and we are already preparing for next winter. First inquiries and a few bookings have already come in and also the new products for our rental service have been ordered. The hotel too is planning some improvements and renovations in order to make the stay of our guests in Gulmarg even more comfortable.
We are ready for new adventures and look forward to welcoming again many participants in our programs and to sharing with them the hidden powder runs on Mt. Apharwat.
More on us and on our programs you find here: Free Ski Himalaya