Skiing is excellent in Gulmarg
First of all: Heliskiing in Gulmarg is extraordinary! This is the Himalayas! Skiers are dropped off at altitudes around 13.000-14.000 ft. If you hit one of the days where you can ski all day, you will have the pleasure to reach 10 helicopter lifts with 1.000 vertical metres of pure powder each time. The best skiing you can imagine in the most dry powder snow in the world.
Gulmarg might be one of the best places for backcountry skiing in the world as well. Through its skilift which is the highest gondola worldwide, you have endless opportunities for tours down Mt.Apharwat. If you do so, you have to make sure your avalanche knowledge is excellent. There is only a very limited area (they call the resort) with snowpack, avalanche and ski patrol - you get an overwiew over the area here. Most days, you will find conditions with high, very high or extreme avalanche dangers due to fresh snowfall or unstable snowpacks. There is all levels of ski guides - make sure, you pick a good one as there might be several avalanches every day. And unfortunately rescue service is hardly existing. As Gulmarg is located close to the military border zone into Pakistan (Line of control), radios are jammed and the ski patrol in the Resort will not send anybody out for rescue if it's not safe.
If you are looking into going to Gulmarg for skiing, make sure you know what to expect. This is not only India. It is Kashmir. Forget everything you know about Western ski resorts. Gulmarg is an adventure on a backpacker level with hardly any service level you might assume. Kashmiri people are very friendly and proud about their country. But make sure, you understand some of the things, you WILL experience there:
- There are way too many people everywhere. Everybody wants to participate so expect to be asked for a sled ride, to buy Kashmirir khawa tea, coffee, chocolate or anything else at least two times a minute while walking around in the streets
- As Gulmarg is a tourist spot, there is no urban community. The male population is close to 98% so although it is very safe and everybody is friendly, women tourist don't always feel comfortable in Gulmarg
- Most people in Gulmarg are Muslem. So there is mainly chicken and mutton (sheep) for meals. There is only few alcohol available in some places and you sometimes even get beef. And although it's highly illegal, expect to smell the smoke of pot in every corner. It's very common for all the locals and the young freeride community.
- Service quality and standards are far off from Europe or the US. Don't expect anything to happen in time or in order, you are used to. Getting your breakfast scrambled egg about 15 minutes before your first cup of coffee is not uncommon
- Hotels are far away from international standards. Most of them would be considered backpacker standard. Central heating means that the heat up the rooms some hours a day but usually it's freezing cold for most hours of the day/night. Internet is controlled by the government so don't expect it to be fast or reliable, it's rather unstable and sometimes even shut of completely. Even though you might see tabs or even shower heads in the bathrooms, running water is not standard at all and if you want warm water when turning on the shower - good luck! 95% of the times, it will not happen! A good description by a local that also applies to most hotels can be found here. The only exception is the Khyber Hotel (they also have an excellent steak and NZ lamb chops)
- Prepare for power outages. Due to the bad power infrastructure, you can expect to have no power for hours or sometimes for up to a day. That means - no internet, no charging of electric equipment.
- Talking about cell phones: Your telephone provider might tell you that your phone works everywhere in India including Kashmir! It does NOT!! Kashmir has its own network so the government can control it and shut it down. You have to get a card there what can be tricky as you need a local contact. Also, they don't have prepaid iPhone cards so better dig deep and get one of the very old very simple phones out and take it with you.
- Food hygiene is sometimes not existing. Due to the low temperatures it is however better than in the rest of India and you can even use the tab water for brushing your teeth (some say even drinking, but this cannot be confirmed). Be prepared to have upset stomache days. . And remember, you will find mainly Indian food, which will be spicy - even if the waiter say "not spicy". Otherwise you better live on cereal :-)
- Make sure you bring your own ski equipment. There is plenty of rental equipment but nothing close to new and most of it rather worn out. Don't believe everything you might be offered by the agencies.
- Don't believe anything that is promised on their websites. Even if your contact is from Europe, NZ or the US. Expect the worst and be happy if it is a little bit better!
- Don't expect anything close to heliskiing operations in western countries. This is Kashmir! And even if everbody there tells you Kashmir is heaven, it is not!! Customer service sucks everywhere and the only positive things are safe helicopters and excellent guides from NZ. Pilots change every year and customer service at Kashmir Heliski is at least chaotic, most of the time non existing.