Gulmarg, Kashmir, India
Hello - Ben here! For the last month, I have been taking some time to travel around the region while Rachelle has been learning the ways of yoga. I was seriously unsure where to go first until some locals in Rishikesh told me of a massive snow storm in the Himalayas & the record year of snowfall. To those of you that know me, it shouldn’t be surprising that I jumped on the first flight towards Gulmarg, India’s best kept ski resort secret, in the Kashmir state.
With the peak sitting at over 4050m, Gulmarg is the highest lift-served ski resort in the world & boasts an unmatched amount of backcountry terrain. Being so high, the resort also gets an unbelievable amount of fresh powder snow every year (normally Jan-Feb), which allows for more than 2000m of available vertical. Being fairly remote, the resort has no crowds, which is something completely unusual coming from long lift lines in the US. No rush for first tracks as they’re available for days all around the resort! There even is another mountain you can hut ski (camp in a hut overnight), but you must warn the police first or you'll be shot!
The Good News!
We had an incredible time skiing the resort for two days! With the help of SkiGulmarg, I got a guide for two days, equipment (clothes & all!), avalanche gear, & skins (for skiing uphill obviously) all for $350 USD – what a deal! My guide, Tiger (Facebook: “Tiger S Gulmarg”) was one of the best guides I have had. As a local, he grew up skiing Gulmarg & knows everything about the mountain. Above all, he was very professional & safe, Gulmarg is known for avalanche danger so getting a guide is critical if you have never skied the mountain.
The resort is full of all kinds of other things you would never expect coming from a ski resort that sometimes you just have to laugh.
The easiest way to get there would be to have your guide help put a package together & take care of all the logistics for you. Getting to Gulmarg can be a bit intimidating to say the least... I did everything myself & wished I had talked to Yanik at skigulmarg.com earlier. If you decide to do it yourself, most likely you’ll grab a taxi to a village called Tangmarg, located at the base of the mountain, since taxis typically cannot make it up the windy road to Gulmarg. Ask for the shared taxi in Tangmarg to Gulmarg (it exists even if they tell you it doesn’t) to take you to the top. In the shared taxi you will be bouncing & bumping with your 6-8 new best friends in a Tata Sumo for about 20 minutes up to the top.
It is best to stay in a nicer lodge near to the gondola; there you are generally guaranteed a good dinner, warm room, cold beer, and close walk to the lift – none of which I had staying at the “Welcome Hotel” in the village (not a great experience). While staying in the village offers a more unique & cultural experience, if there are not many people there, they may not run the heat in the hotel, which offers a poor experience when it is 10F outside with intermittent power outages. Hotel Hilltop is good or if you want a 5-star experience, the Khyber Himalayan Resort and Spa, is also an excellent choice.
The Bad News…
The experience in Gulmarg is unfortunately tainted by conflict. Kashmir has been a region of contention for hundreds of years due to its rich resources & proximity to China, India, & Pakistan. Particularly this past year has seen an increase of violence in Kashmir as they push for independence from India. In July 2016, mass protests erupted all over the region after the Indian Army killed Burhan Wani, a well-known Kashmir-based militant.
Even with an extraordinary year for snow, the conflicts drove away most of the tourists. Kashmir Heliski, a well-known local heliski company, did not even operate their helicopter once this year. When you see military all over the region & soldiers in turrets lining the roads to the resort, it does not create the most welcoming environment.
In talking with a buddy of mine, he spoke about how skiing can be a gateway to care about world issues; when conflicts like these arise, they shroud what could be an incredible resort & an economic driver for the region. Gulmarg has so much potential to be a globally well-known resort like Chamonix or Park City, but until the regional conflicts are sorted out, growth will be slow.
To visit or not to visit
All in all, even with the conflict, I had a wonderful experience at Gulmarg! Sure, it had its own difficulties, but if you want a truly different ski experience & to ski some of the biggest terrain in the world, Gulmarg is your place. I should warn you that it is not a place for beginners, however. Get a guide first to put your package together to ensure the best experience – I recommend Ski Giulmarg or contacting “Tiger S Gulmarg” directly on Facebook, either can help you get everything put together & have the best time possible!
Reasons to Visit Gulmarg: Huge terrain, loads of powder, unique experience, great people
Things not in Gulmarg: Après Ski, nightlife, decent internet, cell service