Gulmarg, Kashmir: the Best Skiing You Can Do Without a Helicopter

Posted By: Zeke Piestrup on July 8, 2009 12:13 pm

If Pipeline on the North Shore of Hawaii were off the coast of Nigeria, would you still go?  If St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf, were not in Scotland, but instead Honduras, would you still sojourn there to play a round?  For the shop-a-holics, what if Rodeo Drive ran right through downtown Tijuana?  Would you feel comfortable enough to flash the plastic?

Well, the Pipeline is not in Nigeria, St. Andrews is not in Honduras, and Rodeo Drive is nowhere near a donkey show, but possibly the greatest skiing you can do without a helicopter is found in the Himalayas of Kashmir at Gulmarg.   Once a resort for kings, later a holiday destination for Brits stationed in colonized India, today Gulmarg is for reality-defying skiing conditions.  Massive, wide-open bowls of endless powder lines.  It’s heli-skiing without the helicopter.

Kashmir, to the college frat kid, is a Led Zeppelin song.  Kashmir, to the reality of our combustible world, is a tense stare-down between two nuclear-armed countries.  Control over Kashmir is an ongoing jilted-love triangle between China, Pakistan, and India.  But it is the latter two whose hostilities have erupted most in the past.  Kashmir is an up-to-the-minute gage on relations between India and Pakistan.  Sparks are always flying in Kashmir.  Which spark will by chance cause another eruption between India and Pakistan is anyone’s guess.

The pictures of Gulmarg tell the story best, but a few stats to ponder Gulmar’s magnificence.  The two-stage Gulmarg gondola tops out at 12,293 feet at the Kongdoori Station.  A short trek up to Afarwat Peak will take you to 13,780 feet for a total vertical of 5,250 feet.  One mile of vertical!  For comparison, Whistler has a vert of 5,020 feet, Jackson Hole 4,139.  Ah, but there’s always the Aiguille du Midi of Chamonix and its 9,200 feet of vertical.  But, in the no-harness-required category, Gulmarg’s vertical is stupefying.

From the top of the Gulmarg gondola, there are several bowls to either side.  The slopes are completely uncrowded.  Fresh lines for days.  There’s only one section of the upper mountain that is avalanche controlled.  This is off-piste skiing, and you must come backcountry prepared.  Skiing with a guide is a necessity, albeit in Gulmarg, a relatively inexpensive one.

It’s also important to realize you’re no longer in Kansas, Toto.  Power outages and water shortages at the various accommodations are common.  Understand that your trip to Gulmarg is an adventure and not a pampered holiday.  Bring the right attitude and sense of adventure to Gulmarg, and your reward will be Ski Heaven.

There are plenty of sites that offer advice to travellers, a list of dos and don’ts.  Ski Himalaya and its guides, the Kashmir Powdercats, have been operating in Gulmarg for four winters now.  This past season, Ski Himalaya employed twenty locals, a much needed economic shot in the arm to twenty families of the local communities.  Check Ski Himalaya out for your trip to Gulmarg.

True there are army troops ever present, but so are the smiles on the faces of the locals.  Warren Miller and TGR have both made their way to Gulmarg.  It is an endless search on a mighty big globe for the best: the best wave, the best course, the best whatever for your sporting religion.  For the skier and snowboarder, the endless search stops at the end of the skiing rainbow and a pot-of-gold reality known as Gulmarg.

all photos courtesy of Michael Nixon except bottom photo: SevenDescents.com.au

Zeke Piestrup ( More Posts)

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