Overall Rating

Gulmarg Tour

Gulmarg Tour5/51
Gulmarg Tour5 out of 5 based on 1 reviews
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    100%
  • Would Revisit
    100%
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Gulmarg Tour - Reviews

Gulmarg Tour - Reviews

Gulmarg - An Adventure for the Experienced Powderhound

David Vincent06/03/2014
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • Age
    18-35
  • Ability
    Expert
  • Rider Type
    Skier
  • Country
    USA
  • Month:
    February

Gulmarg - An Adventure for the Experienced Powderhound

David Vincent06/03/2014
Skiing the Indian Himalayas in Gulmarg is, in a word, phenomenal. The highest lifted gondola in the world takes you to nearly 4,000m where you have an incredible vista of the Pir Panjal mountain range and an endless choice of untouched powder lines.

Gulmarg isn’t really for the faint-hearted or aspiring intermediate who wants to venture into the backcountry for the first time. Let’s face it - it’s a gondola that drops you smack bang into the Himalayan backcountry. It’s a serious mountain and isn’t really a “ski resort” in the typical sense of the term and probably never will be. There’s just no intermediate terrain in-between the advanced/expert steeps of phase 2 of the Gondola and the baby green poma slopes way down in the village. But for the experienced powderhound with the right gear, experience and attitude - it’s gotta be on the bucket list!

There’s avy control in the main bowl under the phase 2 Gondola but no grooming at all above the mid-station and the rest of the 5km ridgeline has endless steep bowls and chutes and is serious backcountry terrain. It’s massive - probably the size of at least 4 large ski resorts.

Having a trusted, knowledgeable and experienced guide in Gulmarg is absolutely essential. Even from the mid-station of the Gondola, you really can’t tell how massive and complex the terrain is until your up there in one of the bowls dropping into well over 1km of vert. There’s many reasons you’ll need a guide in Gulmarg - from terrain selection for avy risk, to route-finding so you don’t get lost or have unnecessary hiking, to avoiding avalanche poodles that drop in on you, to finding the secret spots where untouched fresh snow can be found over a week after the last storm.

I spent my two weeks in Gulmarg in Feb 2014 guided by Matt from the Adventure Project - http://www.theadventureproject.net/ - and would recommend them unhesitatingly. They’ve been there for over 5 years, have an unparalleled approach to safety in avalanche terrain, and know the mountain like the back of their hand. During my 12 days there, it actually didn’t really snow at all which is evidently very unusual, although 215cm of snow fell over 5 days the week before I arrived! Nevertheless, with a bit of skinning and an ‘earn your turns’ ethic, we skied untouched steep powder runs every day! The variety in terrain is unreal - steep chutes, open bowls, ridgelines, open spaced paperbark trees, steeps through ancient pines.

During my time in Gulmarg, the avalanche danger was mostly rated as Considerable (where statistically most fatalities occur) and one day there were 4 reported human triggered avalanches so our group really appreciated the wise terrain selection decisions and travel protocols Matt equipped us with to reduce our risk. We started our trip with avalanche and rescue theory, a full day of single and multiple rescue beacon training (in steep avy debris) as well as establishing group travel protocols. On the second day we practiced strategic shovelling (if you’re venturing in the backcountry and don’t know what this is then you need to) and dug a snowpit to conduct stability tests. We still got some nice skiing in during these couple of days (although it only got better) but you SHOULD feel scared for your life if your group doesn’t have these skills in Gulmarg. I had some of these basics beforehand but this trip was invaluable to develop a proper base of backcountry skills I will take with me and continue developing all over the world.

I can’t write a review of this place without mentioning my double ejection to front-flip and accidental airbag deployment at the run out of Shark’s Fin. Not sure if anyone’s seen this kind of thing before or heard of it but it was clearly a highlight. We skinned an hour from the top of the Gondola to the peak of Mt Apharwat at 4150m and then around to Shark’s Fin ridge where a nice 40 degree face awaited and I was pretty excited until I came across a compression in flat light that I just didn't see - https://vimeo.com/86899150

We stayed at the Khyber Resort Hotel and it was really nice. It’s the only 5 star hotel in Gulmarg, has great food in the buffet, and an amazing swimming pool with floor to ceiling glass walls giving a panoramic view of the Gulmarg mountain. Rooms are great (good shower pressure cannot be underestimated in Gulmarg from what I’ve heard!, the staff are friendly and helpful and the price overall is pretty competitive compared with other accomm options from what I’ve seen. Except for laundry - if you get laundry done at the Khyber it may well cost you US50. And it comes back to you in carved wooden boxes, with Khyber branded cardboard in each t-shirt.

Finally, Gulmarg has all the quirks and fascinations of being an Indian town in the Himalayas. Many military bases (some with angry dogs that want to chase you around the hill); super friendly locals in traditional Kashmiri attire (many selling chocolate and water); dudes walking around rocking AK-47s; INSANE driving (the horn is THE means of communication over any road rules that may or may not exist - if you ain’t honking you’re invisible); interesting lack of snow clearing on the roads makes for fun (slightly fear for your life) taxi rides back up the hill with slot-car like ruts your local driver will navigate amongst the plebs without chains or a clue; beer with alcohol content labelled as being between 5.25% but not exceeding 8.25%; and make sure to stay on the houseboats on the Dal Lake, Srinagar at the end of your stay - super chilled way to relax and check out the floating vegetable markets where the locals trade “a large rock’s worth” of parsnips.

As a powderhound, it’s safe to say, I’ll be returning to Gulmarg.