In the winter 2012 I have discovered this backcountry skiing terrain on the 4’200 m high Mt. Apharwat in Kashmir and was part of a small group of international skiers who were the first to explore this exceptional ski area in the Himalayas. Since then I have returned to Gulmarg every winter and enjoyed many beautiful and extraordinary days there in the company of our guests and our guiding team.
Over the past years, I have shared my experiences and impressions of this remote ski area in my blogs. With this blog, I describe the situation today and share some pictures of the ski resort.
Backcountry Skiing at 4’000 Meters above Sea Level
Besides a few tracks on the bowls near the cable car, the terrain on Mt. Apharwat at 4’200 m was still virgin soil in 2012. On one hand, it was paradise and, on the other hand, it was quite challenging; steep terrain exposed to the north, regular heavy snowfall, no avalanche and rescue service, no known routes, etc.
Now 4 years later a few routes have been established along the 18 km long mountain ridge, a more or less competent avalanche forecasting service has been created to look after terrain near the cable car and a good dozen local guides know where to ski on the mountain.
Those who undertake a ski trip to Gulmarg now are no longer entering virgin soil, however, they can still look forward to an exceptional back country skiing experience which cannot be made elsewhere on this planet.
Tree Skiing in the Forests of Tangmarg and Baba Reshi
Skiing over wide open and untouched powder snow fields is an exceptional experience, skiing in steep forests and between huge pine trees is at least as exciting. In my opinion, the forests in Gulmarg offer some of the best tree runs in the world.
A special experience is a return to the village by jeep. The vehicles are barely equipped to drive in winters and the roads are often poorly cleared, especially after the snowfall.
Ski Lifts in Gulmarg – A Heli-Skiing Experience by Cable Car
Visitors of Gulmarg should not expect to find a transport infrastructure with several cable cars and numbers of ski lifts. For good skiers there are only 3 options available, the cable car from Gulmarg at 2’650 m to Mt. Apharwat on 4’000 m, the chairlift from the mid station at 3’050 m to Mary’s Shoulder at 3’500 m and jeeps for tree runs.
There are also no groomed slopes, there is, however, a small groomed track from the mid station to the village which is mostly used by beginners and local skiers.
Despite the limited offer of lifts the ticket and ski pass prices have been increased by 70% to 100% over the past few years. At present day passes cost between 30 and 50 Euro depending on the chosen option.
Hotel Rooms and Accommodation Options in Gulmarg
Gulmarg has remained primarily a tourist destination for summer vacationers. During the summer, visitors remain in Gulmarg just for one or two days. However, most hotels and all other accommodation options are sold out during the period from mid-March to mid-October. During the summer, guests are willing to accept the elementary lodging options and are prepared to pay the high room rates.
Summer guests also accept to wear winter clothes to keep warm inside the unheated hotels and are happy if they have electric blankets in their beds to cope with the cold nights, and hope that power failures don’t occur or remain short.
During winters, however, guests stay for a week or longer and the temperatures are below freezing level, especially during nights. Foreign guests, therefore, expect heated rooms, hot water to take showers and similar comfort levels as they would find in modern winter sports resorts at home, not for a limited time but 24 hours a day.
Even after 4 years of welcoming guests during the winter not a single hotel in Gulmarg is offering adequate comfort levels. Our partner hotel “THE FSH LODGE” and two other lodging companies have improved their service offering to a level which meets minimum comfort expectations of winter tourists, these hotels have also changed their approach in dealing with foreign guests. Together these 3 hotels offer roughly 150 rooms which guarantee an acceptable comfort level.
The remaining hotels, huts and other lodging infrastructures have a long and expensive journey ahead till they reach the comfort level foreign winter guests are expecting. The only change all lodging enterprises have in common is price increases, over the past 10 years costs for hotel rooms have increased between 80% and 140%.
Despite the limited comfort offering prices in winter suitable hotels are at present between CHF 150 to CHF 300 per room and night.