The incredible conditions here continue. Check out this video from snowcat skiing a couple of days ago.
The incredible conditions here continue. Check out this video from snowcat skiing a couple of days ago.
When skiing in Kashmir, one can find themselves in some unique situations. In search of powder snow, we have shared tea with the Indian Army’s High Altitude Warfare Batallion, swapped hand gestured stories with local villagers, traversed ancient sheepherding trails and boarded helicopters. With a high pressure system that has failed to produce any significant snowfall that is typical of Gulmarg, we have still have had good luck finding incredible powder skiing and amazing terrain.
Last week, we chose to take a few days off to explore the Kashmir’s summer capital of Srinigar. Situated in a valley surrounded by the Pir Punjab range of Kashmir and the Himalayan foothills of Ladahk, all river drainages flow into a lake system that supplies most of the valleys farmers with water. One of the largest is Dal Lake, the main tourist attraction to Srinigar. One can think of Srinigar as an Indian Venice. Before the turbulent war-torn conflict in the 80′s, Srinigar was a haven and retreat for many travelers and ex-patriots. In lieu of purchasing land, British ex-pats built intricate houseboats that were permanently docked in Dal Lake. In its heyday, hundreds of these houseboats created a community employing floating market vendors, Shikara (boat) drivers, housekeepers and more. By cruising these waterways, it is clear that it was the bustling and lively epicenter of Kashmir tourism. Presently, there is still an air of tourism, but nothing compared to the pre-war times. In the 60′s and 70′s yearly houseboat registers added up to the thousands compared to the 100′s presently. Still the kindness and hospitality shown by the proprietors of this area make this experience magical.
Before retreating to the freshly snowed mountains, we spent a day exploring the open air markets, historical mosques and taking in all the sights and sounds of a typical Indian city. Next was picking up our guests to ski with for the coming weeks. Driving back up to Gulmarg, we were frothing at the tracks laid in deep powder off the road. Ski travelers with bright colored clothing and high tech gear looked out of place as we pass roadside army bunkers and soldiers. The new 3 foot storm boded well for the upcoming week.
The next day we took advantage of the lower elevation snow by skiing road runs to the village of Babareshi. Just like Teton pass, just a bit shorter in vertical and more challenging to arrange a ride up. The following days, we used the mid elevation chairlift to access perfectly spaced birch trees with bottomless powder which ended in the village of Drung. Upon reaching the apple and walnut farming village, we were greeted by curious children wanting to take rides on the back of our skis. While our crew shared tea with a local family, I pulled off my ski boot shells and let the kids have a try at my modern equipment. Children were laughing and playing tug-of-war with the gear as they were all eager to give it a try. Such excitement knowing that skiing could be a future profession.
One challenge that every ski traveler is experiencing in Gulmarg is the operation of the upper gondola. As the main attraction for skiers, the operational difficulties are becoming more complex. Weather challenges asides, Kashmir constantly struggles with a steady power supply and now Gulmarg Snow Safety is having difficulty securing explosives to keep the Gondola bowl safe for skiers. Beaucracy and political debates shroud this endeavor as one can imagine the challenges in obtaining civilian owned, weapon grade explosives on the Line of Control between Pakistan and India. However, each day that the gondola hasn’t opened, we have climbed to some incredible skiing in the surrounding area.
Two days ago, we used my favorite mode of travel. A B-3 Helicopter. We contracted Kashmir Heli Ski Guides to drop our group deep into the high backcountry where we had an amazing 5000 ft descent through previously slid avalanche paths and knee deep powder trees. Toward the end of the day we followed a tributtary river for 4 miles back to the village of Drung. Along the way we skied by a remote Indian Army post, where the sergent offered our group Chai tea. We happily obliged and shared stories about Gulmarg, cricket and skiing. A very unique experience indeed.
Yesterday, we finally got the call from ski patrol that explosives had arrived and they were going through with opening the upper gondola for skiing. First thing in the morning, a queue formed at the gondola entrance and two hours later, 300 powder hungry skiers were assembled and eagerly awaiting the opening. Once we got clearance our group were the first guests on the mountain, shredding the knee deep wind buffed powder. Each guest carving their own signature in to the mountain…some short controlled turns, other fast and long arcs. An incredible first run. Throughout the day we chose fresh lines just outside the ski area boundary, picking our way through perfectly spaced birch trees and open bowls. Although, we were skiing with a very large crowd of tourists, we felt isolation and a true backcountry experience just off the gondola ski area. This is why we are here.
Day 10, Gulmarg
After 10 days of continuous powder seeking and skiing, a welcomed rest day. With a combination of long resort runs, and extended back bowls coupled with amazing cultural experiences, its nice to take a rest and soak it all in. We have had clear beautiful days with views of the distant Himalaya. Nanga Parbat (the 8th highest mountain) oversees our travels and provides an beautiful landscape where ever we go. For the past 10 days we’ve had a couple of snow showers but not the typical dumps that Gulmarg is known for. That is all about to change tomorrow. 2 meters of snow are expected for the next three days. The snowpack remains unstable but hopefully enough load will refresh the entire area with deep stable snow.
We have been taking advantage of the clear long days by taking extended tours. Each morning we are given box lunches that sustain us for the entire day. We venture just off the beaten path to seldom traveled areas. Each day, my guest and I see terrain that many of the ski tourists will never see. Long bowls of fresh powder in all directions. Yesterday, we ski toured down to the local village of Drang. We are greeted by curious children and hardened women who keep the Kashmir valley in line. While the men congregate in Gulmarg in search of the tourist dollar, the women care for the home, feed the kids and take care of the livestock. It is a somewhat rare sight to share stories with the women of Kashmir.
Again, I am reminded of the incredible opportunity that skiing has provided for the people of this valley. It has transformed this otherwise quiet and uneventful winter into a mecca for traveling powder seekers, which in turn brings more money and opportunity to the people.
To many people of India and the developing world, skiing is a foreign thought or luxurious lifestyle. While to the people of Kashmir it is a life sustaining necessity.
Settling into the Kashmir valley of Gulmarg, I anticipate the powder frenzy ahead. With a large group of Ex-pat ski bums coming from all over the world, the fresh tracks are harder and harder to find. Brian Newman and Gulmarg Ski Patrol have installed an instrumental avalanche control program to keep the slopes of Gulmarg safe. However, one can imagine the difficulties of obtaining explosives and being able to implement this program one 4 miles from the Line of Control between the highly politically fragile area between India and Pakistan.
While the Ski Patrol waits for explosives thus the upper phase of the gondola opening, me and my co-guides explore the lower elevation trees and some touring options below town. We find pillow lines of fresh snow atop downed trees and rock bands. Excellent skiing quality given the refresh of snow each evening. Despite the top ups every evening, we still feel very skeptical of the stability in the alpine regions but given the terrain we have plenty of options. Each night, we return to our cozy rooms heated with the wood fired bukari’s and dinners that please the palette.
On my fourth day of skiing at altitude, me and my crew decide to take a rest day. As I settle into a good book and a mellow afternoon, I am startled by shaking windows and a bellowing that rocks the Gulmarg valley. I tune into the Ski Patrol radio and quickly they are through most of the their bomb routes and quickly anticipate opening the upper phase of the Gondola. A 3000 ft pitch of open bowls and keep deep powder. I instantly dress up, run out the door and get up the mountain to join the other powder frothers. The energy is at a fever with a stoked international group of riders. Game on in Gulmarg.
Two days later, we still find fresh tracks in the controlled bowls of the ski area, but decide to tour to the summit of Mt. Apharwat to take in the views of the Himalayas with Nanga Parbat towering over the Kashmir valley (8th highest mountain in the world). We find an isolated bowl with fresh tracks in all direction. We are humbled by the tower mountains all around us and find solace in the silence that they provide us.
A large storm is on the horizon which is what we all look forward to. All in all, a perfect experience thus far……
Field Report from David Marchi
Returning to Kashmir is, again, a thrilling experience. With the prospects of high-altitude snow covered mountains and the Gulmarg ski resort, my anticipation in seeing old friends and meeting new travelers has my nerves on edge. While this privileged traveler has been here before, I know that my senses will be challenged and expanded. I leave behind a loving family and the comforts of home, to experience a whole other familiar experience from 2006. As a founding member of the Gulmarg Gondola Corporations ski patrol, I return to old friends who have had their lived changed by foreign powder seekers.
Gulmarg is situated on the Line of Control on the border of Pakistan and the occupied territory of Kashmir (India). The village is littered by Kashmiri men donning the tradition Pheran dress, keeping warm with a coal filled Kongri made of wicker and terracotta. The smoke in the air indicates cold nights and the typical challenges of living in the mountains. In the near distance, though obscured by the smoky air, is Mt. Apharwat, the highest point of a jagged ridgeline, holding incredible ski terrain.
I am here as a guide. While I look forward to the challenges and rewards of showing foreigners my old playground, I fear the incredibly touchy snowpack not to dissimilar to the what the Rockies are experiencing at the present moment. As I settle into the Highland Parks Hotel, I take a walk to work off the dead legs presented in a 31 hour travel day. A necessary stopping point in the stroll is to visit with Yassin Khan. A true Kashmiri mountain man, he endured the turmoil and strife in the 80-90′s when Pakistan and India exchanged bombing throwing rituals daily. He saw family and friends leave their homes in exile or to take arms and join the Liberation Army. All the while, he held onto his dream of being a mountain and ski guide in the area. He lights up his hooka and we remember old times and share in memory of our mutual friend, Kip Garre. In the evening, the familiar sounds of crows filled the night sky. Tomorrow we ski, the most familiar component of this entire experience.
In the morning, I am woken by room attendants filling our Bukari wood stove and quietly lighting it. I am reminded of the unique experience that Kashmir is. A contrast of hardship and kindness among the locals, delivering travelers seeking powder a truly unique experience.
I feel gratitude for my time here.
The Alaska snow just keeps falling and it’s coming in light and dry. As a result, early season snowcat skiing and snowboarding has been nothing short of phenomenal. Our snowcats are running and you should be on one. Check out this video from two days ago by guest Kevan Dee. Right now, we are holding the best snow in the country. Come celebrate the goodness!
As all of the snow on the planet seems to be falling in Alaska and Europe right now, it’s great timing to see the latest episode of Salomon Freeski TV featuring the Glacier Express. This is such a cool way to explore the European ski experience.
The Glacier Express is Switzerland’s most famous train route, running from the foot of the Matterhorn in Zermatt to the playgrounds of European royalty in St. Moritz. Between, it passes through a dozen of Europe’s “little areas that rock.” The train works it’s way through the Alps’ finest terrain, allowing passengers to hop off in prime spots to explore gems like Andermatt, Arosa, and eventually the famous endpoint, St. Moritz.
You can join us and Epic Europe ski guru Jack Shaw on the Glacier Express this season. Combining this kind of access with the right guides and the local knowledge to find the secret stashes is really one of the best ways to tour and ski Europe. Check out Salomon Freeski TV below and enjoy!
With the CPG snowcat area opening on Saturday, December 24, Henry Munter, Rob Durnell, Andy Ballou and the rest of the crew have been busily preparing to make our current gift of deep powder available to the public. From the footage Henry took yesterday, it looks like things are really shaping up nicely. The crew spent some serious hours in the area this fall with chainsaws improving the glades and making the tree runs better than they’ve ever been. You know what they say about all work and no play. Check out “Play Time” for Henry and the crew below. The early season conditions in Alaska are “All Time” right now. Snowcat starts this week and heli skiing begins February 12. There is still space in the early weeks and the first week of heli is discounted. Time to get some POW!
September is almost here and we’ll soon be judging the submissions from the GoPro video contest. If you have been putting together video for our GoPro contest, don’t forget that the deadline is September 1. You could win a free heli trip! So get your edit on and submit before it’s too late. Check out this entry from Dave Cohen.
A reminder about the contest:
WIN A FREE 2012 HELI SKI TRIP WITH EPICQUEST AND GO PRO
Make a video, win a trip. It’s that easy.
Through a unique and generous relationship with GoPro, we are excited to offer all package guests the use of GoPro wearable HD video cameras for the entirety of your stay at no cost to you. We’ll make sure you leave with a copy of your video data so you can share with friends and relive the memories of your trip.
When you return home, get creative and make an edited video of your experience.
The best submission of a fully edited video that captures your trip as a whole will win a free 2012 heli ski trip in Girdwood!
The Grand Prize winner will receive:
• Round-trip ground transportation from the airport to Girdwood, AK.
• Six (6) night stay in a deluxe room at The Hotel Alyeska.
• 50,000 – 60,000 vertical feet of heli skiing for one person
• Snowcat backup for “no-fly” days
• Use of Mammut Pulse Barryvox avalanche transceiver.
• Use of Salomon power demo skis.
• A full Go Pro Hero video Camera Setup
• A Mammut Pack, Probe and shovel kit
Runners up will receive:
• (1) Mammut Pulse Barryvox Beacon, Nirvana Ride Pack, Alugator Light Shovel, and Probe Light.
• (2)Full Go Pro Hero video camera setups
Submissions must be received by September 1, 2011. Submissions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed on disk to Chris Owens at Chugach Powder Guides, PO Box 641, Girdwood, Alaska 99587
As we enter our last week of Kings and Corn and wrap up our Alaskan skiing for 2011 with a crew from Warren Miller, we’re already starting anticipate the high altitude powder to be found in Valle Nevado Chile. While it’s been great skiing world class corn, the prospect of powder around the corner is just too exciting to ignore. We’ll be heading to Valle Nevado from late July through September, running 3 heli ski sessions with EpicQuest guide Greg Harms.
We love Valle Nevado for a lot of the same reasons we love out Girdwood operation. Not only is there hundreds of thousands of acres of world class heli skiing served by a ultra professional guide corps, but there is fantastic lift served skiing for days when there is inclement weather that can keep you from flying. Of course, the Chilean wines are ridiculously good and that doesn’t hurt either. Greg Harms recently put together this collection of photos from Valle Nevado. Check out the slide show. We’re ready to head to the southern hemisphere and the high country of Chile. We hope you can join us for deep, dry powder as we continue to Live the Epic Life.