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  1. #1
    doughboyshredder Guest

    TR : Gulmarg Late Feb 2007

    I have been lurking here for awhile and always get stoked reading the trip reports. I posted this over at snowboardseattle, but I figured I should give back some stoke. I hope you all enjoy.

    Oh, and thanks to TGR for sponsoring the trip that I read about in Snowboard Journal.

    I first read about Gulmarg in The Snowboard Journal. Something about the combination of powder, no crowds, an exotic location, and a new Gondola made me want to go. I dreamed about it for a year and then found a tour operator out of Australia that was planning trips to Gulmarg. After a bit of back and forth I made the decision to go for it.

    Pretty much every nations travel advisories say to avoid the Kashmir region at all costs, due to the political instability and consistent terrorist attacks. Through the internet I was able to deduce that most of these attacks were directed towards Indian tourists, and were typically targeted towards buses and public markets. Gulmarg itself is well protected and has never experienced an attack. While nervous, I didn’t feel that the security situation warranted not going.

    The flight there was tough. I flew out of Sea-Tac on Friday in the morning and headed to New Jersey. Flying across the great lakes during the middle of winter was pretty cool. I also spotted a bunch of tiny little ski hills as we crossed the Midwest. I had about 4 hours to kill in New Jersey. I took care of changing my money over in New Jersey. This ended up being a pretty good call. 1,500.00 USD is a buttload of Indian Rupees. I ended up with a stack of cash 5 inches thick. I know this would have been a lot more stressful in the Delhi airport with hundreds of people at my shoulder trying to get a tip.

    I flew to India on a 777 operated by Continental Airlines. As far as flights go it wasn’t really that bad. The seating was relatively comfortable for coach. Still 15 hours on a plane is rough. I had to fight with the flight attendants because they didn’t want me to enjoy the scenery. It seems they like to keep the airplane a dark box for 15 hours. Oh well, fuck em. Flying over Russia with clear skies was intense. Hundreds of miles of flat snow covered land with a few straight roads all leading to Industrial areas with a few homes around them. The oddest features were the moraines. All over the place there were these sharply eroded canyons. They looked really out of place, and like they would be fun to play on with a little bit more snow.

    Arrival in Delhi was pretty standard surprisingly. Customs was a breeze. Baggage retrieval was a bit more intense. I thought Americans were rude. Indians are on another level. Standing 2 feet away from the baggage carrousel, waiting for my bag that is about ten feet away, and I am literally forced out of the way by the locals. Nice. I managed to get away from the masses and grabbed my bags at the very end of the conveyor belt. The first thing I noticed as far as the airport was that it was falling apart. Nothing is level, plumb, or square, everything has a layer of dirt on it. Ceiling tiles are falling out, and there are dead lights all over.

    I made my way to the prepaid taxi booth and paid a few dollars to get to my Hotel by the regional airport. I followed the guy from the booth out to the Taxis and cringed as the driver tied my gear to the top of the car with one piece of frayed twine.

    Driving in Delhi is absolutely hilarious. It is hard to put in to words how completely insane of an experience this was. In India it is your responsibility to make sure that nobody hits you, not that you don’t hit anybody else. Traffic lanes are for reference only, and if your horn is broken you might as well stay home. In half an hour we were almost in 50 plus collisions. Need to take a right turn? Just honk louder and start turning. It is the other guys responsibility to not hit you. Of course being in the passenger seat meant I was inches from death every time we did this. I was so scared I was laughing hysterically.

    The Airport Hotel was actually quite nice. Marble floors, comfortable bedding, and great service. In the morning on the way down the stairs I took a nice digger and almost broke my foot. I immediately iced it and took a painkiller I had brought with me.

    The Hotel driver drove me the ½ mile to the Airport and then bitched at me when I gave him a small tip. He said that since I was an American I should give him more than 10 rupees. I looked at him with disgust and walked away.

    The domestic airport terminal is tiny. It runs surprisingly efficiently though. You have to go through an initial security screening to get into the terminal. Then you check your bags, and wait for your flight to be called. You can then go through another security screening into another holding room. Then you have to wait for your flight to be called for checked baggage claiming. At this point you walk out of the terminal and you have to point out your checked baggage. It is noted that you pointed out your bags. If you don’t double check your baggage it doesn’t go on the plane. You then have to go through security again before being bussed to the airplane on the Tarmac.

    Flying to Srinagar gives you an amazing view of the way the people live. Neighborhoods (villages) are all packed tightly together with huge expanses of farm land until the next neighborhood. From the air it looked like little islands all over the place. As we got closer to the mountains of Kashmir the farming techniques adapted to the land. All of the hillsides are terraced, all the way up to snow line.

    Landing at Srinagar airport is like landing at a military base. Everything is camouflaged and there is barb wire everywhere. Security is no joke here.

    Most of the people at the airport were Japanese tourists. They looked no different than the Japanese tourists in Alaska, or anywhere else for that matter. Making it out of the airport was a lot easier considering that I already had a driver and a guide. Everyone wants to be your guide. Our driver was waiting right outside the airport with a sign for us.

    There were 5 skiers and myself with all of our gear crammed in to the smallest little 4 wheel drive jeep type thing. Everywhere we looked there were soldiers and stray dogs. Srinagar is pretty much the nastiest dump on the planet. The roads are covered in shit. Both human and animal. There is garbage everywhere. Any body of water is covered in a toxic slime. I don’t understand how anybody can live here. Everyone is staring at us as we go by. A group of white guys and girls driving through some dump in the middle of nowhere is sure to grab some attention. Amidst all of this poverty is a sign that is advertising the Gondola. Completely surreal.







    Just outside of Srinagar it started to snow. Still it was evident that there was not enough of a snow base to make the runs to baba reshi and tangmarg without having to do some bush wacking. Besides the military checkpoints driving up to Gulmarg wasn’t all that different than the drive to Baker.

    We got in an accident on the way up the road. An Indian tourist in a two wheel drive car with bald tires was coming down too fast and they slammed into the back of our truck. After an argument with our driver the other driver just took off, while our driver was screaming at him and running down the road after him. Hilarious.

    Gulmarg is on a large plateau, which is a Golf course during the summer and a Ski area during the winter. The ski area on the plateau is all flat and served by platter pull lifts. Snowboarders are not allowed on these lifts. The main clientele is the Indian vacation tourist with a full setup straight out of the 80s. This makes for some real “warren miller” moments. It took us almost an hour to go a couple miles due to the pedestrian and vehicle traffic.




  2. #2
    doughboyshredder Guest

    continued

    We arrived at the base of the walkway to our hotel and were told that we could leave our bags and they would be brought to us. We all looked at each other and just stayed with our gear. After some cajoling we left and walked up to the hotel. Every one of us was out of breath immediately. Walking uphill at 8,500 feet above sea level is not easy.

    The hotel Pine Palace is one of the nicest hotels at Gulmarg. It is centrally heated, has hot running water, actual toilets, and HBO in every room. There are still rodents running around, but nothing is perfect. My reservations called for sharing a room. Luckily Neil scored us the Suite for the same price as our reservation. This room was tight. Comfortable beds, actually radiators for heat, a big table, loveseat, and a couple big comfy chairs. I found out that everything at Gulmarg is just a call to room service away. Of course the more you use the system the more you are expected to tip at the end of your stay.





    I met Peter Robinson and found out that he had been carried in an avalanche a couple days previous. One of his clients, Al had also been carried in the same slide. This incident was discussed in depth for days by many people. They were lucky enough to have ended up on top of the slide after being taken for about a 1,500 foot ride! Peter lost his skis and poles. Al was on a snowboard and actually started the slide. Peter had stopped and called Al to drop in. Peter had not stopped in a Safe Zone and when Al dropped in the slope went.

    The first morning I woke up to some clearing and broken clouds. I hooked up with a few Aussies and a couple guides and we headed to the gondola. The ski path from the hotel goes right past where the Hotels dump their garbage each night. This happens to be a great place for a pack of stray dogs to call home. This little path was a true “no fall zone”. Youssef, one of the guides fell one day and his jacket ended up being ripped to shreds before the dogs were chased off.

    Lift Ticket sales are incomprehensible. You have your choice of a single ride ticket or a daily ticket. Single rides make the most sense, because if the top opens, that is where you want to be. We all got our single ride tickets (100 rupees) and headed to the mid station. The top gondola doesn’t run until 11 a.m. At that time Patrol heads up and does their ski cutting and slope evaluation. A 1 pm opening is not uncommon. We dropped into the top section of the lower mountain and it was great. About 12 inches of dry fluff on a carveable base. I was about 10 feet behind our guide and he stops right at the start of a long flat. I just kept going, and followed the obvious tracks. I ended up coming down underneath the old double chair. This little short shot is probably the best section of the lower mountain. I got to the gondola base and waited. I waited for awhile and then told the guide when he got there that stopping on flats while guiding snowboarders just wont fly. I spotted Neil and his friend Nick so I bailed and went out with them. They showed me the hike/ traverse out skiers left from the mid station. Off of this traverse there are about 10 different shots that all have a good 30 degree starting pitch, averaging 25 degrees and then getting flat quick. The majority of the lower mountain is a boarder cross / snake run, mini shred playground. Think technical green runs with no grooming and fresh powder , and then little short steeper sections with pillow drops and banks. When I say short I mean 50 feet long. Short.





    While eating lunch we heard that the cornice in the main bowl off the upper gondola had dropped and started a small slide. No top runs today. My foot was still killing me from the incident at the hotel so I iced it and hung out with the hookah for a couple hours.

    The food at the Pine Palace was gourmet Kashmiri. The flavors were outstanding, even though everything is very spicy.

    For the second day the guiding situation was smoothed out a bit. While waiting for the upper gondola to open we sessioned the lower mountain. Compression is the name of the game here. If you don’t pump for speed you will have to unstrap and hike. There are so many flat sections that speed is essential. Also on a lot of the lower angle stuff if you fall the snow is too deep to get going again. Super fun as long as you keep your speed up.

    The upper gondola finally opened at 1 pm. We made it up to the top and it was a mad rush to get strapped in and get to the pow. We traversed over to check out a possible run and were disturbed to see a nice rubble pile. Needless to say we turned around and worked the main line down the ridge and into the second of the main bowls. After regrouping again I asked if I could meet them at the bottom. The main area terrain is pretty straight forward. I dropped in and pointed it straight for awhile and then dropped in to a 150 foot heelside carve. I cranked out a couple more turns before dropping in to the main gully in the center of the main bowl. There were two tracks in the gully, a safe exit to the right and I was going about 50 plus so I wasn’t to worried about getting hit by a slide from above, but it was still a risk. 1,500 vertical feet of wind consolidated sugar in a perfect natural half pipe was the reward. Sickness. The 193 was made for this terrain. I got the mid station and waited for longer than I should have for the rest of the group. The gondola was shut down. I am not sure if it was weather, lack of power, or lack of interest. I think it was mostly because the top was completely socked in. Zero visibility. There were about 80 people waiting and no word on when the top would re open. We hiked out to far skiers left and got perfect untracked fluff all the way to the hotel. One run from the top and all I can think of is how I want more.




  3. #3
    doughboyshredder Guest

    continued

    The third day I woke up to a snowstorm. It was dumping a couple inches an hour. By the time we made it to mid station there was at least a foot of new fluffy dry snow. Reports were 3 feet up top, and no chance of an opening for a couple days. One of the guides, Shabir, and I worked the lower mountain for a few hours. The gondola was closed for an hour because of high wind at mid station. When we were hiking the wind was hitting us at about 50 mph. As soon as you dropped in to the runs the wind was gone. The snow down low was light and fast so the snake runs were perfect. Low angle terrain is only fun for so long though.

    The fourth day we decided to take a run down to the Babareshi shrine. During the long skate to the drop in point we were able to see the entire ridgeline that is accessible from the gondola. Everything had slid. Every ridge, every face, every gully, every aspect. Frightening. The top of the runs to Babareshi are all super fun. Nice steep tree chutes with fun rolls and pillow drops. The lower part of the run is another story. Gulmarg had an awful snow year. Typically there would be 6 feet of snow at Babareshi. This year there is about 6 inches. The runout is parallel to a creek bed, and was absolute garbage. A few inches of slush on top of pine needles and rock.

    I bailed on a second run. Partly out of lack of interest and partly because my bent metal toe strap plastic snapped in half.









    While walking past Hotel Raja I met Olly and Ryan, a couple guys from New Zealand. We shared a kashmiri cigarette and drank Rajas excellent tea.

    The fifth day and it is finally on.
    I met up with Olly and Ryan and we made it to mid station right as the top gondola opened. Great visibility and avy danger was only at considerable. We cranked out a couple high speed runs down the ridge and then into the trees on skiers right. Untracked perfect pow. It was a bit creepy riding the ridgeline as directly to our right you could see the fracture line of a sizeable slide that ran the length of the gully to lookers left of the gondola line. We then hiked up a bit so that we could traverse over to the second gully. Hiking at 13,000 feet above sea level is brutal. Each step is tough. The main bowl of the second gully had about 20 cut tracks across the top of it and seemed stable so I mobbed the main line and then immediately cut back up towards the ridge in the lower bowl and then mainlined it back to the gondola station. All perfect untracked powder. 3,300 vertical feet of it. We made the hike again and traversed along the ridge until we got to the entrance of a line that we had scoped from the gondola. There were no tracks in it, but it had been traversed across a few times. It was the aspect least likely to slide and had been wind compressed throughout the storm. There were quite a few rocks so there were some anchors. Olly hit the line first and radioed from the bottom that it was all good. The entrance was a blind rollover so we couldn’t see if he was ok until he called us. I dropped in second and rallied it to where Olly was waiting. We radioed up and Ryan hit it. Absolutely sick. At the bottom of the gully we pointed it over to the debris field from the third bowl. The size of these slides is overwhelming. After taking a few pictures we pointed it across the field. This was actually a blast. Ribbons of powder and windblown crust until the lower mountain which was still perfect fluffy pow pow. 5,000 vertical feet of great powder turns. Completely stoked.




  4. #4
    doughboyshredder Guest

    the end!

    Sixth day I was worked. Diarrhea, headache, just felt like shit. I drank 6 litres of water and tried really hard to rehydrate myself. It snowed on and off all day and the top was closed.

    Seventh day and the top gondola was actually open around 11. Unfortunately it was really socked in. I couldn’t see much of anything. It opened up a bit towards the bottom, but it was rough. I only took one run because I just couldn’t see.

    The eighth day there was a foot of new and the wind had buffed everything back into good shape up top I had a few great runs riding with Billa. Billa is a local Kashmiri ski guide that completely rips. He has a great attitude and personality also. He skis a pair of K2 pontoons like they are missiles. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t see through the fog because I just kept my eyes locked on Billas back and went for it. Our runs were broken up buy the gondola not running because of losing power. As we waited for power to come back the visibility got progressively worse. I opted not to take a fourth run, and I am glad I didn’t go for it anyway. As soon as the gondola left mid station visibility got even worse and it started snowing heavily. I worked the lower mountain down to the hotel. The lower runs were a sticky icy mess. The weather is warming up significantly. It started to snow heavily and by the time nighttime came around there was already another 8 inches on the ground.

    Day 9.
    Not a bad day considering. There was about 18” of new heavy wet snow at mid station. Of course the upper gondola was not running and there were reports of 6 feet of new at the top. Basically it was 3 or 4 high speed turns at the top and then single track all the way to the gondola. Turn off of the single track and you just would lose all of your speed and sink. Full on cascade concrete. Top mountain is going to be off limits for a while. Avalanche danger is extreme and everything is loaded up with another 6 feet of snow on top of the ice layer.

    Day 10.
    Olly, Ryan, Dave and I made the trek up Monkey Hill. Olly blazed trail through 2 feet of new wet snow. We hiked for about 45 minutes and then dropped in to a nice steep tight tree lined chute. The snow was about 3 feet deep of super wet concrete. We headed over to the gondola and found that it was still dumping up top with another 3 feet of snow at the top. The whole lower mountain was pretty much unrideable with the massive amount of wet glop. Between the warming trends, massive amounts of new snow, and extreme avalanche danger it is time to go. I made my decision and then found out that the entire main bowl of the ski area had slid.

    All in all it was a great trip and a great adventure. The avalanche hazard was real and kept me from riding the lines that I dreamed of. It was still an amazing experience and I did get to ride powder for 9 days.










  5. #5
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    ^Yowza, holly terrain trap.

    Very cool adventure and thanks for sharing. India is definitely not a place I will forget either.
    He who has the most fun wins!

  6. #6
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    Wow, that was awesome.


  7. #7
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    Tremendous trip report! I've been waiting for a good one like this to come across on Gulmarg, thanks for the x-post. Enjoyed all the little details. That Jersey-Delhi flight is a whopper at 7,323 miles. Good read.

    Glad you made it home safe from what looked like one hell of a sketch week. Way to get it!

  8. #8
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    Wow indeed. I would like to go back there.
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    Thumbs up

    Great stoke, thanks for sharing.

  10. #10
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    Thanks, that was a great read. That Avi is huge!

  11. #11
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    is there a complementary nugg with every room?


    very nice indeed.

  12. #12
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    really useful, thanks!

    I have to decide whether to go first in gulmarg or in las lenas.....

  13. #13
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    Huge, nice writeup! Well played.
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  14. #14
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    Thumbs up

    Awesome. I was looking at all those wide open lines in the early pictures and thinking how great they would be, but there may have been disaster waiting to happen. Great Stoke man and welcome to the shit show.
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  15. #15
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    Wow...... quite some avy action going on.

    Nice adventure!

  16. #16
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    Looks like an awesome adventure, thanks for sharing.

  17. #17
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    Wow. Very cool trip.

    If you don't mind sharing, what did this cost altogether?
    Quote Originally Posted by powder11 View Post
    if you have to resort to taking advice from the nitwits on this forum, then you're doomed.

  18. #18
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    great tr, looks nice. and the room hookah looks like it was perfect apres ski.

    also:

  19. #19
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    Thats some dedication. Sounds,and looks,like it paid off.
    I'm gonna have to check my old Snowboard Journal's for that article.

    Nice TR.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by doughboyshredder View Post
    Ok, this picture makes me happy in the pants.

    And is it just me, or are they using Aspen's old gondola cars? (or similar ones)
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  21. #21
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    Hot damn thats an extensice TR, good work.

    Im pretty sure the "new" gondola at Gulmarg is really an old used one from the 70's. Any truth to this rumor?
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  22. #22
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    Nice TR man and some good pictures, but would it really hurt to tip more than Rs. 10 ($.25)?

    Quote Originally Posted by AdironRider View Post
    Im pretty sure the "new" gondola at Gulmarg is really an old used one from the 70's. Any truth to this rumor?
    It just took forever to install. It's a POS clamshell POMA that they started building in 1991.
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  23. #23
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    Nice TR, that place looks huge!

  24. #24
    doughboyshredder Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by El Chupacabra View Post
    Wow. Very cool trip.

    If you don't mind sharing, what did this cost altogether?
    Airfare is the most painful part at about 2 grand from Seattle to Srinagar.

    Total cost including lodging, guiding, food, lift tickets, nuggs, and airfare was about 4000.00

    It is doable for alot less though, depending on how rough of conditions you can handle.

    Next time I will probably go the cheaper route. Stay at hotel raja and definitely skip the guide service.

  25. #25
    doughboyshredder Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by cj001f View Post
    Nice TR man and some good pictures, but would it really hurt to tip more than Rs. 10 ($.25)?


    No it wouldn't have hurt at all. Attitude had alot to do with it. Also, everyone expected a tip. I mean everyone. Planned 3 week trip, limited funds, and realizing that I had already tipped out more than I had spent on anything else also contributed to it. Wages are much lower in India as well. Generally I tried to tip very well when treated in a friendly and helpful way. Upon leaving the hotel in Gulmarg, I actually tipped out more than half of what I spent the whole time I was there, and then was informed that I forgot to tip out the kitchen staff! This was in addition to the goggles, gloves, and ski socks that I left. Being a novice international traveler I really didn't know how to quantify what kind of a tip was appropriate, and seeing that Rs. 10 has the buying power of 1 USD I didn't think he deserved any more for driving me one block, and not even attempting to be friendly.

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