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June 21, 2016

Gulmarg 2016 Season Review

by Chris Werren

“The winter season 2016 in the Himalayas had again a lot to offer for enthusiastic backcountry skiers and confirmed that Gulmarg has remained the insider tip for skiers in search of an exceptional winter holiday destination.”

I arrived in Gulmarg by mid-January 2016 and was pleased to find the ski area already covered with sufficient snow to ski all the runs on Mt. Apharwat. Contrary to previous seasons also the snowpack was stable early in the season and as a result thereof we were able to take full advantage of the terrain right from the beginning of the winter.

Freeriding Paradise Gulmarg

The Himalayas in the Winter in Gulmarg

However, the earthquakes in Nepal and the wider Hindukush made people reluctant to visit this part of the world last winter. And as if this was not enough the various acts of terror and violence by Islamic fundamentalists and undisciplined juvenile men, in some parts of Europe and worldwide, increased the fear of visiting areas with a mainly Muslim population, especially when these areas were blacklisted in travel advisories.

Consequently, the number of guests visiting Gulmarg during the ski season 2016 was at a ten year low and business results, therefore, unsatisfactory for most operators and hotels.

On the other hand, there was hardly any queuing at the gondola; it took longer till the terrain was tracked out, and this created a very relaxed and enjoyable ambiance for all.

Another Season with Happy Guests and Great Skiing

As part of this season review, I would like to share the feedback of two of our guests from last winter.

Tania from Germany wrote:

It´s a while that we were in Gulmarg. But I don´t want to miss the opportunity to thank you for the wonderful time. We enjoyed the conversations with you and your team, the comfortable hotel, the skiing in the snow covered Himalayas, the encounters with the monkeys and the tasty food. We could spend a little time far away from our daily business, and that means a lot.”

And Olivier from France sent us this comment:

“What a pleasure it was to ski in Gulmarg in your company, your kindness and professionalism have inspired us and turned our ski trip into an exceptional experience. The weather during this week was perfect and provided us with the opportunity to enjoy this remarkable Himalaya ski terrain fully. Thank you for these unforgettable moments.”

Himalaya cable car serviced backcountry skiing

Brian and Tony enjoying Gulmarg’s intensive snowfall

I would like to thank Tania and Oliver for their feedback, and express my gratitude to all the guests who visited us in Gulmarg last winter and the years before; it was our pleasure to guide you and to contribute to making your stay in Gulmarg a memorable experience. More on what our guests have to say about their stay in Gulmarg can be found on this page: Gulmarg Skier’s Testimonials

The new Chairlift Lift and groomed Slopes make Freeride Camps for Beginners possible

Over the years, we always had guests from the age of 20 to 70 years visiting us. This season, however, we broke the record in the young age category with Victoria from Switzerland who joined our programs already at the age of 10!

As Victoria has undergone in-depth ski training in Swiss ski schools and passed all the tests for the “black princess” title successfully, she was well prepared to start off-piste skiing. After three days training in the terrain and skiing in less than ideal powder snow conditions, she mastered the steep backcountry runs on the lower part of Mt. Apharwat like a true freeriding champion.

Freeride Beginner Camps in Gulmarg

Victoria with Nanga Parpat (8’125m) in the background

For years, I have been reluctant to encourage backcountry skiing beginners to book a program with us in Gulmarg. However, since the cable car staff has now started to groom the runs from the mid-station to the village and from the top of the chairlift to the mid station daily, the main obstacles for running beginner classes have been removed. We are, therefore, proposing from 2017 onwards four new Himalaya Freeride Camps for Beginners, two courses in January and two courses in March.

Statistical Information on the Weather, Snow Conditions and Cable Car Run Times 

To complete this short season review I would like to share some statistical information on the weather, the avalanche danger situation, and the cable car opening times in Gulmarg:

  • Total snowfall January 1, 2016, till March 31, 2016: 459cm
  • Nbr. of days chair lift open: 73 out of 86 possible days***
  • Nbr. of days phase 2 open: 66 out of 86 possible days**
  • Nbr. of days phase 1 open: 86 out of 86 possible days
  • Nbr. of days with high avalanche danger: 02 out of 86 possible days
  • Nbr. of days with considerable avalanche danger: 08 out of 86 possible days
  • Nbr. of days with moderate avalanche danger: 76 out of 86 possible days

*** closed for 13 days because of snowstorms, ** closed for 18 days because of snowstorms, 2 days because of strong winds

As one can see from the above statistics lifts and cable car were open for most of the season. Of course, the lifts being closed for 13 to 22 days during the typically short ski season in Gulmarg seems a lot. However, the ski terrain is located in the high alpine zone at altitudes of 3’050m to 4’200m where changing weather situations are normal and where skiing in critical conditions (poor visibility combined with considerable avalanche danger) is highly dangerous.

Ski Lifts in the Himalayas

Gulmarg Gondola Mid-Station at 3’050m

It is important to point out, however, that closed lifts in Gulmarg are no drama as we have one of the best tree skiing terrains in the world where people can enjoy an unlimited number of steep and exciting runs too, even in bad weather and with poor visibility.

Concerning the snow conditions and the avalanche danger two points need to be mentioned, we only had a few days with heavy snowfall during the whole season and because of this, the avalanche danger remained moderate for most of the season. However, it must be pointed out that 2016 was an exceptional season, in normal winters we get fresh snow at least once a week and, therefore, the avalanche danger usually remains considerable for at least 30% of the possible ski days.

Gulmarg Ski Season 2016 – My Conclusion

To conclude, I would like to say that the 2016 ski season in Gulmarg has offered us many good ski days and a lot of enjoyable moments with our guests, on and off the mountain. The fear of terror incidents and earthquakes has kept some guests away, but fortunately, nothing bad has ever happened to foreign visitors during the past few years which shows that Gulmarg is as safe as any other spot on this earth.

Whereas many people have already forgotten the earthquakes, the fear of terror remains and may even be increased by what has happened and is happening around the world, mainly in our part of the world. I will, therefore, write a blog on “travel and terror paranoia” shortly, and hope this will help potential guests in their decision-making process.

Himalaya Panorama in Gulmarg

View on Sunshine Peak from Gondola Top-Station at 4’000m

Despite the fear inflicted travel behavior of holiday makers we will be running our ski programs in Gulmarg in 2017 again. It will be our 12th ski season in the Himalayas and to better meet guest expectations we adjusted our freeride and backcountry skiing offer for 2017 to the changed market demands and are pleased that first bookings for 2017 have already been confirmed.

The whole FSH guiding and hospitality team is looking forward to welcoming you in the Himalayas in 2017 and is promising you an exceptional ski holiday and an unforgettable cultural experience in Kashmir.

 

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