About 8 years ago a friend of mine lent me a ski DVD he had just bought in the summer. I had just moved from Hong Kong to England and even though I had been skiing for 14 years I didn't know that ski DVD's existed! The name of the movie was "The Tangerine Dream" and was the catalyst for my ski movie addiction and travelling the world in search of an adventure.
Amongst the many mind boggling segments, the one that stood out to me the most was when Micah Black, Dash Longe and co visited Gulmarg, India. The place looked wild, the people looked friendly and on top of all that, the snow looked out of this world! And this February, 8 years later, my brother, a group of friends and myself were on a plane and heading to this dream destination.
Before getting to Gulmarg, we spent a day in New Delhi to experience the craziness of India that we'd been told about. They said it was wild, and it was nothing short of that! 10 minutes after getting picked up from Delhi Airport our taxi took a wrong turn off the highway and instead of trying to find a way back on in the right direction, the driver stopped, did a 3 point turn, and headed back down the opposite side of the highway, weaving in and out of oncoming traffic until we were back on track. He then asked for our hotel phone number so he could get directions. Yes, he did say he knew where the hotel was when he picked us up, but after fighting for our services with 5 other taxi drivers at the airport, I'm sure he was bluffing, just like all the others! 2 minutes on the phone and he hands it over to my brother. "Yup", "OK", "Uh Huh", "OK", is all I hear until my brother hands it back and says, "So Obama is in town and is staying in the same district as our hotel, soo... the whole area is shut down and we need to find a new hotel." Cheers Obama. By this time it is 11.30pm and we just want to get to bed. 100% sure the hotel we just checked into has ripped us off, the alternative of looking for another just doesn't seem worth it.
The next day we set off around Delhi to take in some of the sights, the highlight being Old Delhi, which is India in a nutshell. Traffic, thousands of people, monkeys on the street, people showering on the road or hassling you in the street, cobras, temples, shops selling weird and wonderful things, the list goes on. We went the the Red fort, a few other temples, which were all nice, but really we just enjoyed getting stuck into the chaos.
The following day we set off for Gulmarg. The journey from Srinigar Airport to the mountain was unlike any other ski mountain road we'd travelled. We wove in and out of crowds of people going who knows where, in between dogs, cows and horse carriages and past members of the Indian army posted on the corner, of every road, building, farmhouse and rice field. By the time we got to the bottom of Gulmarg we thought we had pretty much seen it all until family of monkeys ran across the road. When we arrived in Gulmarg, however, our fears were confirmed - there was barely any snow on the ground. 3 weeks prior to leaving we'd received an email from our accommodation explaining that they were having the worst ski season for a long time and they had no snow. But we were there now and couldn't back out, but as a few storms were forecast we were hopeful.
The 1st day we spent skiing over rocks and trees. Our skis got f*cked, moral was at an all time low and I was questioning leaving. That night though, it dumped, and continued to dump for the next 2 days. It wasn't enough to cover all the rocks and twigs completely but was enough to have a good time! When it dumps you can't go up the hill as the avi risk is way too high so you stay down the bottom. This is fine as you take hot laps with a van you hire for the day. You either ski Bababreshee, which is the forest you see on the drive up to Gulmarg or Monkey Hill which you skin to. Both are awesome tree runs with a ton of pow. With more snow cover, these places would be epic in a big snow storm.
After the snow stopped, the whole place became bluebird and stayed that way till the next storm (which only took 4 days to come). After the storm ski patrol bombed the upper mountain so you could only get about three-quarters of the way up the mountain. You can get some awesome skiing off the lift but when you start skinning away, that where it gets good! You will get fresh lines all day, long pitches, tree runs, cliffs all with perfect weather. The snow for us, however, was quite heavy straight after the snowfall. We were told that its normally much lighter but this season has not been good for them at all. Thankfully after a few days it got colder and the snow got better.
Due to the lack of snow, avi danger was high and the 2nd gondola was only opened on our last day (2 days after the 2nd storm which brought about 50cm). If you can get up here though, its incredible. You're not advised to go out of bounds, but everybody does and this is where we got the best snow - deep and light. However, its pretty scary out there as you can hear avi's happening around you. We were just standing a 50m traverse from the gondola when ground beneath us did a huge "whomp" and it felt like we'd dropped about a foot. Needless to say I'm glad I was wearing black pants instead of white... The guides, however, were pretty unfazed so we carried on, but very slowly and very carefully. It was all worth it when we got past the first scary ridge - it was heaven - the best run of the trip.
We stayed in a local hut right by the hill. The staff were the most hospitable people I've ever met at a ski resort and the food was beyond incredible. We had fires to keep up warm at night but they went out at around 3 or 4am (unless you kept adding wood) so you would often wake up pretty damn cold. If I was to go back I would stay here again, much better than a hotel other than appalling wifi and having to shower out of a bucket - but thats the whole fun of it right?
To sum it up. When it snows... it really snows. There are no small, 5cm days, its always big so you will ski at the bottom in the trees where there is plenty of snow. When its stops you can ski the middle in bluebird where the best runs require you to skin. After the ski patrol have bombed for a couple days the top gondola may be opened and then the options are endless. You just have to be really safe then and have a guide with you the whole time, preferable two for safety and for filming.
However, why read this when you can watch a video...