SKIING AT GULMARG
At an elevation of 3950 metres, Gulmarg is the world's third-highest ski resort and known around the world for its powdery snow runs. ... Still, the ski town's endless slopes and fantastic snow conditions are reason enough to head there for a few days of skiing or snowboarding. Gulmarg – nestled in the Pir Panjal Range in a cup-shaped valley, based at lesser Himalayan region. Gulmarg has been specially touched by nature’s splendid hand and is a place which the Gods would also love to visit. Gulmarg offers its fair share of thrill & adventure to the experienced skiers. Skiers can also enjoy a Gondola cable car ride which is unforgettable views of mountains and valleys. The Himalayan Khyber resort and spa built in architectural heritage of Kashmir is perfect stay while skiing in Gulmarg.
Program: Nature / Photography / Adventure Sport / Skiing
Do’s and Don’ts
Gulmarg Skiing and Snowboard Terrain
All the Gulmarg ski action takes place on the Pir Panjal range of the Western Himalayas, of which the most obvious highpoint is Mt Apharwat at around 4,200m. The range and views are breath-taking. Few things that you need to understand before you Ski Gulmarg:
- Gulmarg Ski Resort is an advanced snow riders’ hill. Beginners and intermediates need not apply.
- To get to the goods, Gulmarg skiing, and snowboarding requires a certain amount of hiking beyond the main inbounds terrain. Skiers and boarders that can’t or won’t walk up a hill in ski boots or on skins need not apply.
- Much of the high alpine terrain is highly avalanche prone. In addition to snow stability issues at certain times, many of the alpine bowls funnel into chokepoints creating potential avalanche terrain traps along their entire length. This is not the place to skimp on safety and using a quality Gulmarg guiding service is essential for first time visitors.
- Things do go wrong in Gulmarg. Some days the gondola will open late or not at all, or it will snow 120cm in two days and the avalanche danger will be extreme in the high alpine. This is all part of the Kashmir adventure, and regardless of the gondola and avalanche hazard level, there is always a safe place to slide down and have some fun.
Ski Gulmarg – Gondola and Lifts
Up the side of Mt Apharwat are the two phases of the Gulmarg gondola, and adjacent to the mid-station of the Gulmarg gondola is a quad chairlift. Down on the flats near the village are three pomas.
The Gulmarg gondola is split into two phases. The first phase starts at the grand Kashmiri building at 2,650 metres and goes up to the mid-station (Kongdori) at 3,050 metres. The 2nd phase of the Gulmarg gondola that goes up to 3,980 metres. Heading up just shy of 1,000 metres of vertical, it accesses some gob smacking lines.
Long lift lines can develop for the Gulmarg Gondola, in part due to very inefficient loading. The cabins are designed to seat 6 but the loading area is short, and it takes a little time to get skis in the narrow racks. Unlike at developed ski resorts, none of the staff assist in loading gear, so often only 2 or 3 people can make it into the gondola before the doors close.
The detachable quad chairlift provides about 500 metres of vertical rise and is a particularly handy lift for days when the top gondola is not operational.
The final important “lift” is the local taxis. The taxis do backcountry pick-ups from any accessible location and will either return you to your hotel or back to the gondola for another run. Your local guides will arrange taxis.
Gulmarg Skiing Zones
The lifted terrain at Gulmarg ski resort is best described as three separate zones. There are three pomas for beginners on the flats, the forested slopes of the phase 1 gondola and surrounds, then there is the quad chairlift and the huge high alpine accessed by the phase 2 gondola.
Zone 1: Pomas
There are three poma lifts around the Gulmarg village, that are probably best left to the visiting Indians and for transit around the village. One poma services a mellow beginner run, and the other two are intermediate runs, however the oft poor snow conditions can make them for experts only. The runs aren’t groomed each day and the grooming tiller is rather pathetic, and when the snow is firm it feels like skiing on coral. You often need to wait until the sun has softened the snow.
Zone 2: Phase 1 Gulmarg Gondola
The terrain accessed off the first phase of the Gulmarg Gondola services the Groomer Run that is groomed occasionally, and 400 vertical metres of flattish naturally gladed terrain where it’s a free for all. Boarders should note that the phase 1 gondola has flat sections that may require some effort, extendable poles and plenty of wax to get through. You’ll want to go fast anyhow, as wildlife enjoys the protection this area affords, and you don’t want to become snow leopard bait!
Summer huts from the local herders dot the hillside through the trees and make an interesting distraction, or a jump when there’s enough snow.
Zone 3: Chair Lift & 2nd Phase Gondola
Like Zone 2, this area is patrolled and avalanche-controlled by ski patrol.
The chair lift provides some fun off-piste lines that are ideal for advanced riders, and a couple of narrow trails are groomed part way down to facilitate return to the chair lift or gondola.
Skiers’ left off the top of the gondola is also in-bounds, which offers some fun lift-accessed alpine and sub-alpine terrain. As to be expected, this in-bounds area doesn’t take long to track out after a storm.
Zone 4: Gulmarg Backcountry
It is the Gulmarg backcountry that makes the place shine. By using the gondola as access, most of the hard work is done for you. Bowls stream off the main ridgeline north and south of Mt Apharwat (4,200 metres ish), giving endless possibilities for muscular meltdown. To the south of the top Gulmarg gondola station, the spurs and bowls run east for miles into a deep valley, emerging at the town of Tangmarg, several kilometres below Gulmarg. To the north, it’s possible to get within shouting distance of Pakistan.
The Gulmarg skiing terrain on the northwest side of the summit can be glacier-like, but without the glacier. Many of the lines to the extreme north of the range are less frequently skied, so it’s still possible to feel like a pioneer. The terrain varies from steep chutes to beautifully pitched glades.
During blizzards, delightful gladed terrain can be skied off Monkey Hill or below Gulmarg leading to local shrines. At the end of a backcountry day, aside from all the skiing and snowboarding, you might have only used the Gulmarg gondola once, skinned a few kilometres, hiked a few kilometres and taken a taxi for the rest of it.
Gulmarg continues to gain in popularity and skier and rider numbers are on the increase. Having the mountain to yourself is a thing of the past, so the usual rules of starting early and earning your turns apply. The passes for the gondola and chair lift are different to those for the pomas, which are run by J&K Tourism.
Gulmarg Snow and Weather
Whilst the powder is generally not described as “dry”, Gulmarg Resort is normally blessed with unbelievable amounts of snow. The average annual snowfall at Gulmarg is not well documented, but it is thought to be about 14 metres, whilst some seasons have scored an amazing 20 metres of snow! Much of the Gulmarg snow comes from north-westerly storms from Afghanistan, whilst the Himalayas further to the east tend to get less snow.
The Gulmarg weather during winter is typified as intense storms followed by a period of fine weather, so it’s generally either snowing or sunny. During storms, falling snow, high winds and poor visibility at the top of the range will generally close the phase 2 gondola, meaning the trees (or the market) beckon. After a few fine days, the lower elevation south facing slopes tend to become crunky, whilst upper north aspect snow remains good where there isn’t wind crust. Knowing where to look for primo snow is key.
Temperatures at Gulmarg are not super cold. It’s generally milder than the toe numbing frigidity of interior Canada and the USA.
Gulmarg Avalanche Risk
Avalanche danger in Gulmarg is at times extreme. A beacon, probe and shovel, plus the knowledge to use them, is standard attire. The main bowl under the gondola is the only area controlled by the ski patrol, and they are now able to use blasting without the fear of a neighbouring country mistaking their intent. Other areas are at the mercy of Mother Nature and people from the Eastern bloc. One of the biggest challenges in Gulmarg is avoiding an avalanche triggered by any number of mad Russian or Ukrainian folks dropping in from above!
Ski Gulmarg - Beginners
One of the pomas down the bottom of the hill services beginners. The expanse of terrain is very limited and is predominantly occupied by the Indian tourists.
Intermediate Gulmarg Skiing
Gulmarg is a great place for intermediates to get injured, and experience shows that you don’t want to end up in the hospital in Kashmir. This is not the best mountain for intermediates.
There are no man-made terrain parks in Gulmarg. Put your shovel to good use and build your own kickers, or there are plenty of natural and man-made features to break bones on.
Ski Gulmarg - Advanced & Expert
Advanced and expert terrain are lumped together because the off-piste Gulmarg ski terrain basically requires competent skills wherever you go, and the difference between an advanced or expert line might be a matter of metres left or right.
The main bowls under the phase 2 Gulmarg gondola offer fast lines down a number of spurs. There are even some pitchy trees skiers’ right of the lift line above the mid station restaurants.
A short hike halfway towards the summit and one can access the North and South Apharwat bowls via a traverse. They can also be accessed via the summit proper. The skiing here is sublime. The bottom half of the North Apharwat bowl is so good that you can do massive super-fast GS turns down it.
Beyond the summit the possibilities are endless.
For the Luxe Skiers
Local knowledge, or the ability to access it via a quality guide, is the essential ingredient here. Be it Monkey Hill, North Apharwat bowl or something beyond that.
When it has dumped and the gondola doesn’t look like running, Baba Reshi shrine is a cracking long run through gorgeous gladed terrain. If one starts early and the taxi at the bottom is on time, a competent group should be able to get in two runs before anyone gets a look in...
Again on gondola closed days, skiing Monkey Hill can be great. It is located between the gondola base and the market area. It has some lovely steep trees and gullies and one can skin to the top via easy ridgelines from either near the gondola base or at the entry gate near the market. The market side climb goes through several interesting stone ruins.
Is a guide required? If you’re a complete backcountry legend then you don’t need a guide, but for the rest of us, having a Gulmarg guide is ideal because the terrain navigation can be a little difficult, the avalanche risk can be high and there are a lot of terrain traps. Some of the benefits of going on a Gulmarg ski tour include:
• Ready access to slopes with the best snow without spending multiple days experimenting
• Avoid getting lost
• Knowledge of the snowpack history and which slopes typically slide
• Guides can sort your lift passes out
• Arrange taxis for when you pop out of the lower backcountry
• Support with airport transfers and orientation to Gulmarg
Itinerary at a Glance
Day 01: Delhi
Day 02: Delhi – Srinagar (By Air) – Gulmarg (52 Kms – 02 Hrs)
Day 03: Gulmarg
Day 04: Gulmarg (Skiing)
Day 05: Gulmarg (Skiing)
Day 06: Gulmarg (Skiing)
Day 07: Gulmarg (Skiing)
Day 08: Gulmarg (Skiing)
Day 09: Gulmarg (Skiing)
Day 10: Gulmarg – Srinagar (52 Kms – 02 Hrs)
Day 11: Srinagar – Delhi