Snowsafe gives you the lowdown on Powder Skiing in the Himalayas and off-piste skiing in Kashmir– we tell you where the avalanche hotspots are, share information on mountain guides and mountain patrollers and reveal the best backcountry areas to ski.
The ski season runs from mid-December to mid-May but the best time for really deep powder is February and early March. This is because the days are longer and the snow is both deep yet powdery (and not dry) which makes it perfect for off-piste skiing.
Gulmarg, in Kashmir – known as the ‘Meadow of flowers’ – sits at an altitude of 3,950m and is one of the best backcountry skiing areas in the Himalayan region, even in bad weather. Due to the protection of the magnificent forests, there is great snow quality even in the off-piste spots.
Mountains surrounding the village of Zanskar also offer some great powder slopes for backcountry skiing.
There aren’t as many cable car or chair lift facilities as you would find on European slopes, but there are a few that drop you off at certain designated points. Gulmarg has five international-level Poma ski-lifts on the lower slopes and the Gulmarg Gondola (one of the highest cable cars in the world) which takes skiers to a point at 3,980m, almost to the top of Mt Apharwat.
The Solang Valley has only one Poma ski-lift and the cable car goes up only 500m on Mt Phatru.
Auli in Uttarakhand has only one Poma ski-lift and one chairlift.
The ‘powder’ on the Himalayan ski slopes is comparable to the finest in the world. The snow is soft and fluffy.
European snow is common for being Wet, Liquidy and often Icy, Although many off-piste resorts also have some of the finest powder in the world.
Gulmarg receives over 14 meters of snowfall annually, and with slopes averaging 38 degrees, avalanches become a possibility. Skiers should be aware of the fact that 99% of Gulmarg is off-piste territory and isn’t ski-patrolled.
Only one of Gulmarg’s 18 bowls – Gondola Bowl (Mary’s Shoulder) – uses explosives to control avalanches, so the rest of the slopes are at risk of avalanches. In recent years, avalanches have occurred in the Sheenmai bowl and on Mount Apharwat’s ridgelines.
The Himalayan mountain ranges of Annapurna and Kanchenjunga are also notorious for avalanches, and these can be fatal.
A question on most off-piste skiers minds: Is there a ski patrol or mountain rescue base in the area?
It must be noted that 99% of Gulmarg is off-piste and not ski patrolled;
In fact, only one of Gulmarg’s 18 bowls is ski-patrolled.
However, there is a rescue service provided by Gulmarg’s Ski Patrol team, who are trained to be able to rescue anyone off the mountain and provide first-aid.
As there is lack of mountain resuce teams in Gulmarg, Kashmir, we recommend you and your ski compansions have the right kit before heading out, All members in your ski group should wear:
Off-piste skiing is a risk on any mountain range, and the Himalayas are no exception. Regular ski slopes that are part of ski resorts come under the ‘green zone’ and are patrolled and monitored, and are considered safe and avalanche-free. The other areas are referred to as ‘backcountry’ which are basically off-piste slopes that are more prone to avalanches and aren’t patrolled.
One must check the Avalanche Risk Level and carry appropriate avalanche safety equipment before venturing out onto the slopes.
It is recommended to hire an experienced local guide when going off-piste as they have years of experience and know the area (and potential avalanche hot spots well). They can also be of great help during an emergency.
Off-piste tours begin from approximately 2900 euros per person for a 10-day tour and this includes the guide’s fee, accommodation and transport during the trip. It doesn’t include the flight to and from Srinagar. You can read the full itinerary here.
Popular guides and tours:
It’s important to stay safe and have the correct training when skiing or snowboarding off-piste please check out further blogs below:
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