Curry powder! Photo: (c) Himachal Helicopter Skiing. It’s midsummer in the Kullu valley, northern India, in the Himalayan province of Himachal Pradesh – famous for its Hindu temples and Buddhist monasteries, and majestic hills covered with pine and woodland. deodorant and sprawling apple orchards. The plum and apricot trees are in bloom and the snow – at least at lower altitudes – is slowly melting off the slopes of one of the world’s most exciting heli-skiing sites: the Himachal Heliskiing based based in Manali, in the summer is a famous … center of backpacking. It is an extraordinary feeling to leave the busy streets of Delhi at dawn and dusk to find yourself near what was once called ‘the end of the habitable world’ – usually only reached during the summer months through one of the highest mountains and most remote roads on earth. Here, at the top of the Rohtang Pass – the desolate gateway to Lahaul and Spiti, rising to 3,915 meters – the only sound that interrupts the silent reign of the great snowbanks beneath the great peaks is the sound of airplanes. Helicopter reverberation of your helicopter. Before long, you’ll be soaking in the powder on some of the best ski terrain on earth, at altitudes sometimes reaching 5000 metres.
Photo: (c) Himachal Helicopter Skiing. I arrived in the bustling town of Manali by helicopter that took me from Chandigarh, the Punjabi capital, to the helipad outside the Himachal Helicopter Headquarters at ManuAllaya Resortspa in the nearby village of Vashisht, about 15 minutes away. minute walk to heli base – five minutes by car. Another recommended place to stay is Rock Manali Boutique Hotel & Spa. Last winter, Himachal Helicopter Skiing operated for five weeks (February 24 to March 31). Operations director and MD Manjeev Singh Bhalla said: “Regular snowfalls have kept the runs high, and there are many new lines safe to keep even the most dedicated powder hounds fun too.” Australian climber Roddy Mackenzie, who started the whole operation almost 30 years ago, said: “Even on days of global warming, we still seem to have a powder factory in this. Three legs aren’t always as perfect as new, but there’s almost always some good skiing.”
Photo: (c) Himachal Helicopter Skiing. These days, the Airbus H 125 helicopter (formerly known as the Eurocopter AS 350 B3 squirrel) is flown by two Swiss pilots, Daniel Lerjen and Peter Zurniwen. Andreas Lehmann, a helicopter engineer, also from Switzerland, took care of both helicopters for most of last winter. “He is joined by a team of well qualified and experienced engineers and technicians from Indian helicopter owners,” says Manjeev. “The local helipad crews are, as always, on hand for all the early warm-ups and long days to keep things running smoothly behind the scenes.” The core group of instructors, which includes instructors from New Zealand, Tasmania, Switzerland and Canada, rotates weekly. On my last visit, our group – two Swiss, one German and I – started with Chunni Thakur, the 1996 national champion skier, and the first Indian to become Helicopter instructor and – ultimately – shareholder and director. He honed his skills in Solang’s ‘Snow Wonderland’, a small nearby ski hill with just one lift. “I will take you into the hills and give it a try,” he declared. Followed by a real skiing adventure. Some of Himachal Pradesh’s great peaks line up to amaze you: Papsura (6451m) – ‘Evil’s Peak’ and White Sails (6446m) are the highest – but no higher than Mukar Beh, Indrasan, Deo Tibba and Shiukar Beh, all over 6000m high. We drifted down as easily as we could at about 4,570m, marveling at both the skiing and the scenery.
Snowboarding in Himachal Pradesh. Photo: (c) Himachal Helicopter Skiing. The next day, we went to the Pakhnoj and Jobri area with Olivier Houillot, a French guide. “Don’t rush it,” he said, as we approached a run, rather ominous, Destiny. “You’re on vacation.” The next run seems to have my name – or at least my tracks – etched indelibly though invisible into its thick, deep powder. It’s a wide couloir between two rock faces: Dead Horse Chute. “OK Arnie – do it,” Olivier said, allowing me to go down first. This is so generous. Usually heli ski instructors insist you never skid over them, and certainly not ahead of them. I don’t need to be told twice. I attack the couloir like a hungry man who has just eaten his favourite. Don’t stop – keep turning one turn after another. No question – it’s winter’s run. On our special weekend, we comfortably missed our normal minimum vertical target of 100,000 feet (just over 30,475 metres). The most extraordinary skiing week of my life is over.
Gulmarg in the early days. Photo: (c) K-Line Adventures. When I first arrived in Kashmir in 1988, all I could see was the serene beauty of the lakes and houseboats at Srinagar, the summer capital, and the majestic mountains that towered above Gulmarg. , the hill station where British troops came to escape the heat and dust of Delhi and also introduced skiing. There has been talk of erecting a gondola (an ambitious concept for the Himalayas), but nothing more. It was in Gulmarg, the only traditional ski resort in the Himalayas, that the British founded the Ski Club of India. Just before the Second World War, about 500 skiers took part in the Christmas and Easter races. For most of its skiing history, Gulmarg has relied on two pull-up lifts, catering to beginner and lower-medium slopes on the golf course, plus an antique double chair for skiers. higher level. Those who want wider slopes are obliged to climb the lower slopes of Mount Apharwat with a guide and porter cum ”porter” to carry their skis on a toboggan – which I myself did on my first visit, waking up at the crack of dawn to struggle as high up in the trees as my stamina allowed, before sliding down again on an old pair of La Croix skis had no edges, which made turning almost impossible.
Gulmarg gondola. Just like having a skateboard that was supposed to be in a trash can, my boots got tangled together with a fuse. Back then, this was the best gear the local ski shop could offer. Today, Gulmarg rental shops even offer specialized skis and powders as well as avalanche safety gear. The first gondola – secondhand for sure, from Courchevel – was a game changer. Despite the challenge of installing it in such extreme conditions, the mounts for the lower part were completed and the cables installed 10 years before the actual cabins were added in time in the winter of 1997- 98. Things are sure to continue, especially now that since 2005, the upper part of the exhilarating gondola is up and running, taking skiers to nearly 4000m: the tallest ski gondola in the world. With skiing opening up on such high slopes, so exciting and long yet so inviting, the resort has hired safety experts from New Zealand and a number of climbing guides Experienced professionals from Europe and North America also bring their skills here to help train and advise local guides and ski patrollers. Today, the Gulmarg Ski Patrol is internationally trained and certified by the American Avalanche Association.
Gulmarg skiing. Photo: (c) Paul Lalley / K-Line Adventures. The main gondola is 4.8 km long and cost 110 million rupees to build. (1.41 million pounds). The lower part of the gondola offers fairly gentle tree skiing, with only a roller coaster of rails for less experienced skiers. The all-important top section takes you to the upper reaches of Apharwat (just 3950m 175m from the summit), serving a range of gulls, ravines and rather steep ridges, with continuously challenging and varied elevations. . Although everything above this is off the beaten track, a large swath of terrain below the gondola is controlled by avalanches, leaving the flanks and beyond into uncontrollable open land. The upper section is subject to variations in weather (strong winds and/or blizzards), as well as the whims of the Indian army, which plays a major role in running (and building) gondolas. The lift recently received another upgrade, completed in winter 2017, including new red Poma gondolas. The scenery is breathtaking, Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest peak in the world at 8126m, looms in the distance, along with nearby peaks Haramukh (5142m) and Nun Kun (7135m). On a clear day, you can see K2 if Masherbrum’s Karakoram peak (at 7821m) is unobstructed! Masherbrum (also known as K1) is in disputed territory: claimed by Pakistan, but according to the Indian government, it is the 11th highest mountain peak in India.
Heevan Retreat Hotel. Gulmarg has dozens of hotels, guest houses and cabins. Traditionally, visitors will enjoy the old-world colonial charm of Highland Park (five stars by local standards), where your bukhari (a stove that serves as a fireplace) is lit every morning by a warm girl. This is where I stayed on my first visit. Next time was at the new Heevan Retreat, a local three-star hotel. There is now a new international five-star hotel, the Kyhber Himalayan Resort and Spa, nestled in the woods across from Sunshine Peak (a nearby destination for skiing excursions). The hotel has a gym, pool and spa along with a great restaurant. Sadly, the Commonwealth and Foreign Affairs Office currently advises against traveling to Kashmir as the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan makes it difficult to get travel insurance. But that hasn’t stopped a large number of Europeans, including British skiers and snowboarders, from enjoying the unique Himalayan skiing experience. Kline Adventures offers a Gulmarg ski package.
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