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Gulmarg 2014 Trip Report - Page 2

post #31 of 79
Butter chicken at the Downhill, Matt? Good to have ski dog with you, I guess.

post #32 of 79
Thread Starter 


  Ha ha, I didn't have the Butter Chicken today but one of the guests did and really enjoyed it. I'm just getting over a bit of a funny tummy (TMI!), so chicken fried rice for me! I felt sorry for the dog, she followed us all the way for miles, probably thought she was going to get a treat but no one had any food for her. We left her on the road back to Tangmarg, near the new hydro plant, asleep in the snow.



post #33 of 79
Thread Starter 

The latest episode of the Soulryders "Line of Control" has just hit EpicTV. You can find it here at http://www.epictv.com/media/podcast/deep-powder-and-deeper-adventure-in-kashmir-|-lines-of-control-ep-2/273487. It looks really good. I even make a sneaky appearance in one scene, getting onto the gondola......

post #34 of 79

Great report!  Looks like a great time.

post #35 of 79
Thread Starter 

One of the funniest moments of the trip so far, this video was posted by my good friend David Vincent from Australia and he asked me to share this. Vinnie was skiing a nice line down the Shark's Fin when he went for a high speed turn to straight run out and unfortunately hit a massive, hidden compression. The resulting double ejection and full front-flip caused his airbag to prematurely deploy. Once I'd ascertained he was ok, I have to admit, I may have had a little chuckle....... http://vimeo.com/86899150. I've never seen this happen before.



post #36 of 79
Thread Starter 

Finally back in the US after 3 weeks in India, it was a memorable trip that's for sure! I will post the rest of the updates I have backed up. Then I'll put up all the photos and vids we took, so plenty to come still. Episode 3 of "Lines of Control" was released today. Here's the link - http://www.epictv.com/media/podcast/if-india-is-the-last-place-you-think-of-for-amazing-skiing-think-again-|-lines-of-control-ep-3/274043?header_b=1.


post #37 of 79
Thread Starter 

Tuesday 18th February


  If we wanted to find untouched powder, then we really had 2 options; the north or south ends of Apharwat. Since there were still plenty of fresh lines to be had in Drang and one of the guests had not experienced the area yet, we decided to go back to Drang. At least then we wouldn’t have a big hike at the start and it was relatively downhill all the way back.


  This time we wanted to ski the middle ridge line that is kind of hidden away. I thought the lower north-facing, steep, treed- faces should still have good snow on them and they are rarely skied. We’d have to follow the main ridge line down and then get into the trees. Any good skiing along the way would be a bonus.


  We had to get to the small knoll way out past the army base. The stray dogs were out early this day, they came running out to us and started barking like crazy. They never seem to bother the soldiers at the base, I’m sure they keep them well fed; I’ll bet they have a good old laugh watching their dogs chase all the foreign skiers and boarders.


   We made it up to the knoll and we needed to take the ridge line directly in front. This ridge can be a little deceiving, it’s easy to get distracted by an open face and then not make it back onto the ridge. Anyway, we followed the ridge line down and found a nice open, north-facing lightly treed face with only a couple of tracks down it. We could make 15 turns or so before we needed to get back to the ridge to continue heading to the lower faces. The turns were great, well worth it. There was already a nice traverse line back to the ridge which we took and headed further out skier’s right.


  As we headed back onto the ridge line, we passed several steep, treed faces that looked good but had some tracks on them. We knew that if we kept going, we would surely find an untouched line. It didn’t take long, maybe the next face over; then we found a great line that had no tracks on it. The snow still looked cold and dry, so we dropped in one at a time, about 10 nice turns of untouched. We could have taken the line all the way to the main Drang drainage, but didn’t want to commit to entering the main gully too early, so we decided to stay high and traverse right again to find another line.   


  There was another open glade, this time we would ski it all the way down to the main gully. The top of the line was untouched with light snow. You needed to ski around some big trees in the middle of the run and then you could let it run a little. The snow get progressively firmer the lower down you went, but it was still good skiing.


  Once we were in the gully, the skiing was pretty bad; re-frozen sun crust nastiness on the left side and avi debris everywhere else. The best strategy was to stay up on the right side of the gully and do a fast traverse/sideslip. It was maybe slower but easier as you didn’t have to make any turns in the nastiness. Unfortunately, one of the guests was not able to stay on the sides and kept getting caught in the gully. After a couple of near-misses, they finally had a decent crash and the result was a sprained ankle.


  The guest could still put weight on it (he is a physician) and suggested it was probably not broken as he could still put weight on it. This is not the place to get hurt as we still had several miles of skiing and a hike before we would be out of the drains. We do carry a portable rescue sled for exactly these kinds of scenario’s, but the client did not want to make a big deal out of it and insisted on skiing out. No worries, we’d take it nice and slow and eventually we’d make it out. The best strategy was to keep side-slipping on the right side of the gully (the sore ankle was the right one) so bearing most weight on the left foot was going to be ok.


  I kept in front of the client, side-slipping a smoother path, with Dawood behind just in case. It took us a while, but we made it out. There were a couple of walking sections as well and the client handled those like a trooper. I copped a massive chunk of ice to the back of the neck that fell out of a tree as I took a breather, it really hurt and I may have let fly some coarse language but in the end I had to laugh as it was a perfect shot by the tree!


  It was no easy task skiing/walking out that far back to the taxi pickup and much respect to the guest for toughing it out. We were all relieved to get back in one piece. We opted out of lunch in Tangmarg to get the client back to the hotel and get some ice on the ankle. I had a doctor come look at it but there was nothing that could be done, the client refused to go to the hospital for X-rays. So, we opted for ice, elevation and a compress and splint combo. Unfortunately that was the end of the skiing for the client as they had decided to leave for Srinagar on Thursday for a stay on the houseboats.


post #38 of 79

Bummer about the guest.  I remember that gully and the nastiness that could be there.


I bet you are glad that you went to India so that the conditions might improve at Squaw!



post #39 of 79

Yes, that was me who took a noob fall. Reading the snow in avalanche terrain is different than a resort. What looks like powder (because that's what you've been skiing in) can turn out to be avalanche debris that's hard and fast - and not easy to ski on fat skis. I have had worse tumbles but these boots were not well fitted. Awesome boots - black diamond quadrants. But they were loose. I could lift my heel 1 cm out of the pocket even with the buckles max tight.  And my feet never got cold- another sign that even on max tightness, they were not tight enough. So when I fell, the tibia and fibula (leg bones) actually rotated within the boot to cause a sprain (small tear in the ankle joint capsule). The bruise is impressive- from the tippy toes to halfway up the calf. It's resolving but there is still some swelling due to retained fluid-this happens because blood pulls water along with it due to osmotic pressure. My lesson learned: never take brand new equipment to a brand new terrain. A pro skier like Matt tho would have been able to muscle and finesse his way out of trouble.


Still, a thoroughly enjoyable trip. Here are some pix:



post #40 of 79
Thread Starter 
Wednesday 19th February

We were down to 4 guests for the skiing that day. The plan was to head back to Drang again, skiing the same ridgeline as the previous day, but following the main ridge all the way down, skiing as many of the untouched faces as we could, traversing right and keeping as high as we could. If we got it right, we could ski a ton of untouched faces and we would bypass a lot of skiing in the main gully.

We would follow the exact same line from the previous day, we knew we could still good snow in the upper sections of the Drang Bowls, the challenging bit would be to not get tempted in by an untouched line too early in the lower tree sections. We found some good turns right next to our tracks from the previous day at the top and made our way down to the lower section. We didn’t have to cut right too far before we found our first clean face. The snow was light and dry and really fun. I didn’t want us to get to hung up on that first face as I’ve we’ve had skied it too far we’d have to do a massive traverse to gain height and get to the next decent face. That took some commitment….

We found another good face right next to the previous one, this one seemed like it had great snow and a sustained pitch so it was hard to justify not putting in a lot of turns on this one. It really opened up nicely and you could really go for it with some fast-flowing GS turns. We traversed right again and hit another face. It just kept going. All in all, looking at the video, we must have gotten decent turns in on 6 untouched faces; we really milked that ridgeline for all it was worth. That’s a great way of maximizing fresh turn potential and getting the max out of the Drang area. Not a bad record for 10 days since the previous storm.

post #41 of 79
Thread Starter 
Thursday 20th February

Unfortunately Vinnie had the flu so he was uncertain how much skiing he would do. He decided to just buy a single run ticket and see how it went. It was also the start of the Chinese downhill in the main gondola bowl around lunchtime too, so we were thinking it would be fun to watch some of that.

It took Vinnie a while to get his ticket; the ticket office at the mid-station was a little slow to open. Russell and I had already gone to the top to prepare. Dawood would take Vinnie up when he had the ticket. We didn’t have to wait too long when they both appeared. The consensus was to get a lap in the main gondola bowl. There looked to be some reasonable new snow, about 15cm’s of fresh had blown into some of the gullies.

We weren’t the first down but there was still some nice untouched swathes, the snow was deep enough in some places that you could let the skis run a little and even throw ‘em sideways a little a throw up some cheater faceshots. Pretty good stuff.

Unfortunately Vinnie was really feeling the effects of the flu and had to take it slow. He was exhausted by the bottom of the run and decided to sit the next one out. He would go over to the tent next to the finish line for the Chinese downhill (Gulmarg’s first such event!), in case it got going early and he could watch some of it. It ended up finishing after 12pm, so he decided not to wait long and ski down to the bottom of the gondola and catch a taxi back up to the Khyber.

Russell and I decided to keep going. We really hadn’t done any skiing in the bowls on the right side of the gondola, apart from one run in the Hapat Khued area several days earlier. The snow had stabilized a lot and looked like some good snow had blown in onto the leeward side of the ridges. If we stayed right on the ridgetop, away from the convex roll and likely start zone, we could find good snow and safer skiing.

I headed over to the Sheenmai ridgeline, with Russell in the middle and Dawood in the back. Dawood had suggested we go hike but I thought the closer ridgelines might have good skiing on them, without the need to work as hard. Sure enough, the top of Sheenmai was looking good. There was probably about 30cm’s of fresh, more than I thought there would be. The skiing was great; we made our way one at a time down the ridge, there was no releases and stability felt good. Then it was time to drop into a lower-angle face with good snow on it. There was a convex roll to avoid, we dropped on at a time and skied it to the bottom of the face stopping up high on the sheltered south-facing slope at the bottom that had pretty solid snow on it.

Then we traversed back out to the ridge on the north-facing aspect of Sheenmai and skied another face, finding good snow but not quite as deep as the top of the run. We skied out to the bottom and crossed the main drainage and took the traverse back skier’s left to the mid-station. This was an encouraging sign as we planned our third run.

For the final run of the day we would head further out south along the Apharwat ridgeline and ski the next ridge across from Sheenmai, the Hapat Khued ridgeline. We had skied this about a week earlier and had no problems with stability. With the new windblown slope it was important we started off on the main ridge before dropping a face. We found a nice face that was untouched and dropped in one at a time. This was not quite as good at the top as the Sheenmai run was, but as we got lower down onto the lowest part of the ridge the snow was really quite good. This was a nice surprise! The ridge gets really wide and is nice and mellow, one of my favorite runs in Gulmarg.

When we got down to the bottom, we pushed hard left and made to the opposite side of the gondola where the finishing line was for the Chinese downhill, just passed the bottom station of the chairlift. The crowd was gathering and it was only about 5 minutes until we saw the first person down to the bottom. They were way out in front, but the 2nd and 3rd placed riders were close together and in true Chinese downhill style, there was a massive crash with the two racers as they jostled for the finish line. Awesome stuff! A bit of biffo and some carnage, that’s what it’s all about! The helicopter filming the finishing line didn’t help much either, creating a huge backwash and near white out conditions as the racers pushed hard for the finishing line!

post #42 of 79
Thread Starter 
Friday 21st February

This was our last official day skiing in Gulmarg. Now it was just 2 guests and I for the last day. There had been a little more snow, about 10cm’s down low. Not a lot but maybe there could have been some greater accumulations near the ridges as there had been some light wind.

The previous day had been surprisingly good, so we were hopeful that the snow could be even better. The weather was fine but was due to close-in later in the day, so we were mindful of getting out early and maybe hitting the Monkey Hill trees later in the day if necessary.

We got to the mid-station and stood in line for the upper gondola. It wasn’t particularly early by the time we got there (maybe 9:45am) as we’d had to queue for a lower ticket for one of the client’s. Unfortunately the upper gondola wasn’t open yet. We waited for about 30 minutes. We received word that the gondola was experiencing problems and wasn’t going to open for another hour. We waited for the hour and could see the clouds starting to roll in, so we decided to call it for the day.

We would have been really disappointed to wait even more time then get shut down by the weather, so we called it and went down the groomed run to the Pine Palace Heritage for a couple of quiet beers to wrap up. A slightly disappointing end to our trip, but the cold (ish….) beers, story-telling and reminiscing about the trip was a lot of fun and more than made up for the lack of skiing on the last day.

Then it was time to get back to the hotel and start packing. I had a lot of wrapping up to do before Saturday and our departure back to Srinagar and our final night’s stay on the houseboats. One of the guests was leaving early for Singapore and missing the stay on the houseboats, so it would be just Vinnie and I.

post #43 of 79
Thread Starter 
Saturday 22nd February

It’s a general rule that in Gulmarg, it always snow’s when I leave and this was to be no exception. Even though we’d skied fresh snow for most of the trip, it had really snowed since we’d been there. This was fine at the start of the trip, the snowpack was too sensitive at the start of the trip and it had needed a bit of a break. By the end of the trip, we were definitely having to work a lot harder than normal trying to get to the goods that were still in abundance at the north and south ends of Gulmarg (or even just behind the ridgeline if you really wanted it!).

So it was no surprise when we woke to find 15cm’s of fresh had fallen overnight. It would be good skiing on the mountain that day; hopefully enough to cover all the tracks but not enough to increase the avi danger too highly; anyway, not really a concern of ours as we were out of there. We said our goodbyes to the staff at the Khyber. Then Mushtaq arrived and he took me over the new hotel, The Shaw, for a quick inspection and video walk-through It would be just Vinnie and I on the houseboats as Russell was leaving direct that morning for the airport and Stefan and Dean had left on Thursday.

I always look forward to the houseboats as it is a great opportunity to rest and rewind, reminisce and talk about the good times in beautiful surroundings. We were booked to stay at the Bul-Bul, with Abdul, where I had started my trip. I like the Bul-Bul a lot, Abdul is a gracious host and very nice man. I always feel at ease there. We did find out that a group of Russian’s were also staying on board with us, but they would be having their meals on the boat next door so we wouldn’t see them much.
We had to have lunch first and Bashir took us to this nice looking restaurant on the shore of Lake Dal. I always say you can judge a local restaurant by how good their Butter Chicken is and I would have to say, theirs was the best locally I’ve ever had. I will be going back there for sure.

We did the obligatory visit to one of the craft stores where they make rugs, pashmina’s and other hand-made Kashmiri handicrafts. I bought some jewelry and other nick-naks for the Wifey. Vinnie did the same for his lady. Then it was time to take the water taxi (Shikara) across to the Bul-Bul. We had nice relaxing evening, the cricket was on (South Africa vs Australia, 5 day test) and we had a couple of beers to celebrate the end of our trip.

The next morning Vinnie and I took the Shikara ride to the floating vegetable market at 6:45am. It’s always a good time seeing that for the first time. A lot of the vegetables are grown on the lake in small plots of reclaimed land. It’s been going on for hundreds of years. The growers sell to the wholesale buyers on the lake. The wholesalers then take the vegetables they have bought from the growers to the big market on dry land in Srinagar. I met my buddy Hussain, a local college medical student who sells Saffron on the side to help out his family. I had told Vinnie that I might bump into him and sure enough he was there. We had a good chat and posed for some photos. Then I was back to the houseboat for a quick breakfast and off to the airport for our flights from Delhi back to the US and Australia.

What a trip it was. It’s always fun exposing Gulmarg to new visitors and I think everyone had a great time. For me, it was also a fun trip, but definitely the toughest guiding experience of my 5 times to Gulmarg. Due to the sketchy avalanche conditions, it was a real challenge finding untouched snow that was safe to ski. I’m happy to say I managed to achieve that goal, but we definitely had to work hard for it this season. I can’t wait for next year, hopefully we can get more people on board and the snow is more stable. I think we’ll look at running 2, 2 week sessions starting February 1st. The slightly later timing should give the snow more time to settle hopefully and it will be slightly quieter too (though this season was very quiet already with the Olympics on).

All the photos and video are next!
post #44 of 79
Thread Starter 

Okay Gang, time for some photos. Video's of the skiing will be next. If you looked at Stefan Karos' wonderful blog, you might have seen some of these photos already. If not, here they are with some descriptions from me. A big thanks to Stefan Karos for taking all these photos and letting me share them with you. Cheers Stefan! (descriptions are below each photo)


Arriving in Delhi and Srinagar


The new International Terminal at Delhi Airport, Terminal 3. So much better than the old terminal! Much quicker to get through security now as well.



On the road to Gulmarg from Srinagar.



Orchards and small farms line the road on the way to Gulmarg.



Terraced farm land on the way to Gulmarg. Almost in Tangmarg.



Tangmarg and the local arrival committee! Tangmarg is a small town at the start of the real mountain road to Gulmarg. You can ski down to Tangmarg from Gulmarg,  it's several miles away and pretty mellow terrain. I haven't skied down to Tangmarg since 2008..... This is often where you will see decent amounts of snow and Snow Monkeys for the first time!



Hitching a ride, monkey style! Tangmarg.



Tangmarg - always plenty of hustle and bustle, lot's of people hanging out, noise, smells, it's all happening in Tangmarg! This is where most vehicles chain up and when I say chain up, I mean in the singular fashion. Apparently in Gulmarg, the best taxi drivers only need one chain.



Speaking of the best local drivers, here's the man, the myth, the legend! The Mushtaq (I call him THE Mushtaq now for his legendary driving prowess!), putting his one chain on...... This is our go to driver, Mushtaq. Man of few words, but man of immense snow driving talent. He knows the ruts of the Gulmarg road like the back of his hand!

post #45 of 79
Thread Starter 

The Team


Stefan Karos - Boston. Looking like a local in his new Pheran (the long poncho-like jacket).



Russell Hood - Part of the Singapore Freeride Team. He might be looking for the taxi in this shot!



Dean Karos - Boston, member of the Karos Clan, nature lover and consumer of chicken sausages! I've never seen anyone eat a bowl of sausages before, but this is the preferred method of sausage consumption in the Karos household!



Matt Appleford - Squaw Valley, author, guide, lover of cheese at the buffet..... if all the cheese was gone at dinner, it may have been me.....



David Vincent - (R)Adelaide, Australia, ex-Japanese powder slayer turned Himalayan big mountain aficionado (with Mr. G.M. Khan in the background).




Dawood Hussain - Gulmarg, local guide extraordinaire. (Sorry the photo is so small Dawood, we'll find a better one of you later in the blog......)


Our body guard, Hassan X (Indian Army Special forces), he accompanied us everywhere. He doesn't ski, but man, he can run downhill in powder real fast and keeps up just fine! Just kidding,  just a random soldier shot to spice things up! He's intense! Gulmarg is very well guarded.

post #46 of 79
Thread Starter 

The Hotel


  This was going to be a little bit of a change. Normally I had been staying at the Hotel Heevan Retreat where I knew all the staff and was very comfortable. This year, we also had the brand new Khyber Hotel as one of our offerings. It was opened in December 2013 and is Gulmarg's first legitimate 5 Star hotel. I was sad not to be staying with my 'family' at the Heevan, but excited to stay at this much lauded, new hotel. Turns out it is a very special place and made for an exceptional base for our adventure. I felt pretty spoiled to be staying there; we definitely weren't roughing it!





View of the mountains (Sunset Peak just peeping out in the background), from the hotel room.



View from one of the many outdoor balcony's.



The Tea Room in the lobby, where you arrive and they give you the local Kava (Kashmiri sweet, spiced tea).



Lobby area



Smoking room with Cuban cigars in the humidor and Hookahs (Hubbly Bubbly!) for smoking flavored tobacco's, if that's your thing.... 



Front gate of the Khyber, looks like some nice little mushroom pillows..... just a touch too flat to get enough speed, not to mention the fact that I'm getting too old to be thinking about shenanigans like that!

post #47 of 79
Thread Starter 

The Gondola


  The Gulmarg gondola is a strange beast. The huge positive is that it gives access to a massive mountain, with amazing terrain and abundant snow. The downside is having to ride the thing in the first place. It's an old gondola that the local government bought second hand from France and is an old 1980's bubble design. The bubble is made of fiberglass and has a strong metal frame. The old ski racks are designed to accommodate old straight skis and they don't tend to fit modern fat skis. You have to bring your skis in with you, but most skis are too long and need to stick out through the top, with the bubble partially closing around them. It's a pretty crazy system, trying to squeeze 4 people in with all their avi gear. It never feels smooth or easy getting in and out, it's always a bit of a junk show. I find the 'easiest' way is to take your pack off first and throw that in first (make sure if you have an airbag, the handle is well and truly stowed away, you don't want an accidental deployment), then clamber in with your skis. Your poles go upside down in the ski racks outside. Good luck with doing all that, it's never easy to get in and out, no matter how many times you do it!


The ever changing gondola. This year, they are working on updating the frontside of the gondola building. Hopefully it will be finished by next winter and we'll see a grand entrance. Those plastic storks will be a solid addition though and will add a lot of relevant character I'm sure!



Local tribute to Arno Roy, the Swiss skier who was tragically killed in January in an avalanche. RIP.



Warning signs abound at the Gulmarg gondola. Experts only!



Top of the Gulmarg gondola, nearly 4,000m. A couple of the local Kashmiri patrollers can be seen in red, in the background. I'm stoked that these guys are finally getting all the necessary gear they need to operate in avi terrain. All the patrollers now carry ABS backpacks and have modern fat skis with touring bindings (plus boots), from Atomic. They also have good outerwear from Arc'Teryx and helmets/goggles from SH+ out of Italy. I'm not affiliated with any of those brands, it's just great to see the local patrol getting their hands on some decent gear from their overseas partners.

Do what the sign says, no scratching or spitting on board. Looks like I'll have to keep my cat off of the gondola.



Nice open view from the construction site at the front of the gondola building, bottom station.



A couple of likely looking characters at the bottom of the gondola.....



The rest of the team assembling before our assault on the gondola.



The gondola is open for business! I think......



The view from the mid-station at the gondola, Kongdoori.



The reward for those that ride the gondola. The main ridge of Mt. Apharwat playing hide and seek through the clouds. You can also see the new chairlift that was built 3 seasons ago.



Queuing to get up the second stage of the gondola.



Another nice panorama from the mid-station of the gondola.



The view from the top, looking south towards Sunset Peak.



Russell (front), then Matt (me) and Vinnie getting ready for our first run in the controlled area of the main gondola bowl. Time for our avalanche terrain protocol training and companion rescue training.



The crew, ready to drop.



Snack salesman outside the gondola. If you need any snacks, these guys have got you covered. The snack market is like the stock exchange, with prices fluctuating daily. Always ask around and haggle, especially when you are buying more than one Kit-Kat. I noticed the Kit-Kat market was very volatile at the gondola, with prices ranging from 20 to 40 Rupees. The prices in town were nearly half the price!



Inside the mid-station of the gondola, getting ready for the junk show and getting all our gear on-board.



Let the games begin!



View of one of the bowls, looking good.






Cadbury's a go-go!

post #48 of 79
Thread Starter 

Avi Training


  So, the first order of business was to complete our avi training. After everyone had crashed pretty hard during the indoor presentation on the Sunday night after they had arrived (understandably so), so we had to continue the indoor portion in the Monday morning before we could head out onto the mountain. We needed to do initial beacon practice and then equipment familiarization. I like all the clients to know where each others important gear is and how to put it all together (let's say your buddy wants you to get his probe out and put it together for him to speed up searching). This could all be done at the hotel, outside. We also had to cover protocol training too, such as skiing one at a time, moving from island of relative safety to island of relative safety, eyes all always, etc, this would be done on the first run in the gondola bowl. Then we would start the main part of the day, avalanche rescue training. The upper gondola was not open, so we would have to use the chairlift.


Equipment famil at the Khyber. Making sure we all knew how to put together our own gear, plus everyone else's.



Showing everyone how to do the mandatory daily, beacon function check. This would need to be done before heading out each day, just outside the hotel. Here we are practicing near the gondola. We need to check everyone's beacons for their ability to send and receive a signal. I ski away from the group and turn my beacon to search. One by one, the group skis past me with my beacon on search. I will need to pick up everyone's signal. If that's ok, then they all ski a little ways away from me and turn their beacon to search. I ski past and all the beacons should pick up my signal. If so, we are good to go. We keep our beacons on for the whole day, otherwise we have to repeat the process.



Looking for a buried beacon in the beacon training park in the lower Mary's Shoulder area. As it turned out, the patrol had not put the beacon back after the previous storm, so we were searching for a lost cause. We pretty quickly realized this and moved on to set up our own training area. I have 2 spare beacons which I take out for training purposes so we could practice without the need for the beacon park.



Lowest signal found, time to start probing.



Me, supervising the training, ready to step in and offer advice during the early training. When we did our avi rescue training, we would do a dry run where I lead the group, then the second run was with the group leading the way and me there with them offering advice. The final 3rd run was where the group was totally leading the way and I was off to the side timing them. Then we would do a de-brief. We did that for single and multiple burial scenarios. I'm happy to say that the team got a lot better as we progressed through the trainings, with more effective communication, more efficient technique and better teamwork.



Day 2 Snowpack Analysis and Skiing


The upper gondola was open, so it was time to ski some fresh in the upper part of the controlled area as a bit of a reward from the previous days hard work. Then it was time to dig a pit and start to look at the snowpack. We could also practice some strategic shoveling principles too.



Matt and Vinnie, getting down to the bottom of the nearly 2m base.



Dawood and Russell removing the snow from the back of the pit diggings.



Listening and watching.



Looking for layers in the observation part of the pit wall. Testing the hardness of the layers that had been brushed out.



Matt looking at grain type through the hand lens. I'm looking at the facets at the bottom of the snowpack. Next, to test how reactive the layers are.



Sawing out the block to finish with a Rutschblock test after no results in the Compression Tests and Extended Column Tests.

post #49 of 79

Remarkable, the lines to the gondola had my eyes widening, in Gulmarg! So many Indians ski now or are they mostly visitors from other locales?

Fascinating place, it is country of origin after all. That border went 'hot' again this past winter..

post #50 of 79
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by dustyfog View Post

Remarkable, the lines to the gondola had my eyes widening, in Gulmarg! So many Indians ski now or are they mostly visitors from other locales?

Fascinating place, it is country of origin after all. That border went 'hot' again this past winter..

Hello dustyfog,

  Thanks for checking out the blog. The lift lines this trip were very reasonable, much quicker than the busy period last year. We often had to queue when we arrived at the mid-station as we got there early and they were still getting stage 2 open. I think the longest we had to wait in a proper queue was probably only 20 to 25 minutes, otherwise we had no problems. Admittedly we were often only taking the gondola once a day, as we were either skinning to the northern end of the mountain to Lienmarg, skiing down to Drang, or skiing behind the main ridgeline and hiking around. Last year the queues were much bigger, when they had people inside the main gondola building queuing, the lines would wrap around each other and could take up to an hour. I think the mountain was much quieter due to the Olympics being on. The numbers of Russians seemed to be a lot lower this year and they tend to be the biggest groups.


  Most of the skier traffic is still from overseas, not many domestic skiers are using the upper part of the mountain for skiing yet, except for local guides. You do see more domestic skiers using the lower gondola and chairlift more and more, but most domestic visitors are just using phase 2 for sightseeing. Gulmarg did see the national skiing championships whilst we were there, so there were plenty of domestic racers using the gondola and chairlift for one weekend. That was pretty cool to see. The poma lifts on the golf course in town are doing a roaring trade and plenty of domestic visitors and locals are hitting up the green runs. All good to see!


  Not sure about the comment about the "border going hot again", it's always been a disputed territory and that border has always been a flashpoint. Thankfully, Gulmarg has not seen any major disturbances given it's isolated and rather inaccessible location. Plus having the High Altitude Warfare Training Center in Gulmarg with all the crack mountain troops training there, tends to keep any would be trouble makers away. Gulmarg is as they say, very well guarded!




post #51 of 79
Thread Starter 

The Mountain



A better shot of Dawood, looking out into one of the many (33) bowls along the Apharwat ridgeline.



Following our tracks from the previous days skiing in the Lienmarg area (north of the mountain), along the ridgeline with our target, the untouched snow in the lower angle paperbark trees in sight.



One at a time, stay in my tracks.



You definitely need to concentrate, but it's still good fun.



Dean, staying right on top of the start zone, giving the more suspect south-east aspect behind plenty of room and respect.



Dean, ready for the next section, nearly at the trees. Then the reward of untouched pow!



The ridgelines just keep on going. Plenty of untouched snow to the north, way more than a week after the last storm.



Paperbark tree.



Almost in the relative safety of the paperbark  trees. You can see the remains of an old avalanche. There were crowns and flanks everywhere.



My favorite skiing of the trip, untouched in the trees.



Vinnie, skiing in the trees on the way down to Drang, one of 3 trips we did down the 7miles of off-piste to the valley.



Paperbark trees in the Lienmarg area. Dean planning his line.



The clouds started to roll in, but it was still fun skiing.



The Mushtaq picking us up near the HAWS army post after skiing to Lienmarg.



A little view of the south end of the mountain, probably taken from the gondola.



More south Apharwat action!



Dean, with Nanga Parbat (9th highest mountain in the world), in the background.



On the way out to Drang, way south along the main ridge. Planning our line.



Untouched steep but open trees, lower Drang bowls. Awesome skiing.



Looking way back (on the left), Mt. Apharwat 7 miles back in the distance. This is the workings of the new Hydro Electric Plant. Looks like they have sprung a wee leak, could be a good ice climbing location in the near future!



The cairn on the ridge down to Drang. All downhill from here.



Hole in the rock on the road back to Drang, nearly at the HEP. Not a place to hang around as the rock heats up....



"Save Heart, Aviod Girls". Important message on the back of one of the taxis. Good to know!



The view from the top. Amazing!



A group heading out to the Shark's Fin area, that's the steep peak in the background. The guys got an amazing line, we watched them ski it from the ridge. We would ski it a couple of days later (the famous Vinnie straightline to crash to inadvertent airbag deployment incident!).



Domestic tourists enjoying the view from the top. Probably a Gore-Tex Sari!

post #52 of 79
Thread Starter 

The People and the Place


  Gulamarg is a special place, not just for the mountain and the amazing riding, but also because of the people. The locals are so friendly and welcoming. Plus there are lots of intriguing spectacles to be seen everywhere!


Local sled wallah helping to shift a consignment of newer ski off to the government rental shop.



Sled wallahs on the way to work.



Soldier on the main road, probably sending a tweet!



I couldn't resist this faux red leather poncho. I felt very Michael Jackson, just needed the white glove. Mr. Khan (right) is a tailor of refined taste! Always good to visit the Khan clothing emporium, it was BIG hugs this time round! He's a hugger all right!



The crew heading up to the poma lifts to check out the action on a day off from skiing. A much needed rest day was in order after a lot of skinning and skiing.



You have an AK? You want me to shake hands with you? Certainly sir!



Dean, Matt, Vinnie, Russell in front of Mt. Apharwat. We never did get a shot of the mountain completely free of cloud.



Another nice man with a large automatic weapon.



Mt. Apharwat.



The crew. Mr. Khan had just gifted me a bag of Almonds. Unfortunately I have a mild peanut allergy but it's the thought that counts.



The T-shirt shop next to Yasin's ski shop. Always worth a visit for a Gulmarg themed t-shirt.



Hmmm, which t-shirt do I want?



Yasin, local legend and ski shop owner. One of the nicest people you will ever meet and is a wealth of knowledge about skiing in Gulmarg.



He told me I could not afford this ski if I wanted to hire it. Awesome!



Yasin, wearing his favorite Mujahadeen hat. Style personified!



Sled wallahs plying their trade with the domestic tourists.



Love the locally rented faux fur jackets and rubber boots.



Gulmarg market area.



Sled wallahs. You can see the official price of hiring local guides for all sports, in the background.



The poma lifts on the golf course. Always a great place to go hang out. People love to come up to you and chat. The locals love to ski!



Poma lifts. There are 5 pomas and t-bars on the golf course for beginners and they are well used.



Beginners at the mid-station of the gondola. Not quite as popular as the golf course but always plenty of business.



Local outdoor dining options near the mid-station.



View towards Sunset Peak from the Highland Park Hotel, our favorite local watering hole. A great place to unwind after skiing hard all day.

post #53 of 79
Thread Starter 

Lake Dal - Leaving Gulmarg


  Well, all good things must come to an end. Luckily, the end of the trip normally means leaving for Srinagar and a relaxing night on the houseboats on Dal Lake (where the Beatles used to hang out in the 70's man!). Then there's always an early morning trip to the floating vegetable markets to finish off, before heading off to the airport and a trip home.


Shikara's (water taxi's) on Dal Lake.





 Surrounded by the Pir Panjals, one of 6 ranges that make up the Himalayas.









Beautiful sunset over Dal Lake. Great lighting Stefan!






The Pakhtoon houseboats and a relaxing end to the trip.



The front deck of the Bul-Bul, what a great place to be.












On the way to the floating vegetable markets for an early morning tour.



Houseboats on Dal Lake.









The fancier houseboats have their own little gardens on reclaimed land.






Hubbly bubbly.



Most of the local men will wear a long Pheran (cloak) and will have a little clay pot underneath with hot coals in to keep them warm. That is call a "Kongri" and is affectionately known as the "Winter Wife."



Intense vegetable transactions going down at the vegetable market.









The growers sell to the wholesalers at the floating market, the wholesalers then sell the vegetables at retail at the big market in Srinagar. All the vegetables are grown on reclaimed land on the lake. They grow different vegetables year round.






The back alleyways or canals, on the way back from the floating vegetable markets.



Fishermen on Dal Lake.






See you next year Bul-Bul. Thanks again for the photos Stefan Karos. Hope you all enjoyed them.


Next, the skiing video's......

post #54 of 79

Great TR. Amazing photos. Hope to make it in '15 or '16.

post #55 of 79
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Marty View Post

Great TR. Amazing photos. Hope to make it in '15 or '16.

Great, thanks Marty, love to have you on board when you are ready. Send me a PM and we can talk skier levels, let's make sure you know what you are getting yourself into!



post #56 of 79
Thread Starter 



  Ok, time to post some video's now of the trip. So, I didn't take any video's from day 1 or 2. They were mostly training days so we were rescue training and digging pits. Our first official run out of bounds was on day 3. We'd have 2 decent runs on day 2, but this was the first day they we were planning on going beyond the boundary. It had been 5 days since the last storm as well but avi conditions were still very touchy.



Wednesday 12th February


  My thought was that we should put some distance between us and the "crowds", so I thought it might be a good idea to hike and find a mellower line beyond the summit, away from people skiing closer to the gondola. We wanted to find a north-facing slope, below 35 degrees as the avalanche danger was elevated.


  It's about a 40 minute skin around the side of the summit and we came to the Khilanmarg Bowl area. The main start to the bowl is relatively mellow, but then funnels in steeper. The was a slight convex rollover to negotiate, we went around the steeper part and then dropped in one at a time, keeping speed up over the slight roll and starting the turns well below. Then it was one at a time down and across to the ridge.


  You can see in the video where we stopped and looked and an east facing aspect. All around us there were old slide paths, crowns and flanks were everywhere, the gullies were full of debris. The south-east aspect looked like it had slid already as there seemed to be a large crown on top of a side ridge. I decided to test the slope by doing a ski cut above the convex roll. As I got to the edge I could hear the group let out a bit of a yell, the whole slope had settled about 3cm's and then I triggered a small series of sympathetic releases on the edge of the small ridge in the middle of the slope.


  We backed off and got out of there. We went back to the north face and skied it one at a time, the skiing, although tracked, was actually pretty good. We then had to ski the gully a ways as the north face had been taken out by a large avalanche and hardly had any snow on it. Once we made it through all the debris and the ridge mellowed, we could finally get out of the bowl and start the traverse out skier's right. We found a couple of nice sections and some really good turns at the bottom around the paperbark trees.


  We had to cross several large gullies that had seen some massive slides. The debris had run a long way down from the mountain, way out onto the flats. We made it back safely to the mid-station and we were going back up for another run when they had announced the gondola was going to be shut down as there had been an avalanche. We later found out that no one had been buried and that there had been 4 skier triggered slides that day. We were happy to be out of there in one piece and headed back early.


post #57 of 79

Matt - great trip report - thanks for posting detailed pic and vids.  Looks like a fun trip!  I was actually born not too far from Gulmarg (although we moved while I was still quite young - skiing wasn't big there back then).  Would love to make a trip out there to ski someday.  


Btw, since you're at Squaw see if you can make it to the upcoming Gathering (last two days at Squalpine) and get a chance to meet the bears.

post #58 of 79
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by GettingThere View Post

Matt - great trip report - thanks for posting detailed pic and vids.  Looks like a fun trip!  I was actually born not too far from Gulmarg (although we moved while I was still quite young - skiing wasn't big there back then).  Would love to make a trip out there to ski someday.  


Btw, since you're at Squaw see if you can make it to the upcoming Gathering (last two days at Squalpine) and get a chance to meet the bears.

Thanks GT,

  Nice meeting you and lot's of fun skiing with you yesterday. It was a good time. Quite the coincidence you were born in Srinagar and you never got the chance to ski in Gulmarg. We'll have to remedy that sometime...... Would love to ski with the Bears in Squaw,  I'll see if I can take one of those days off and come out for a rip.



post #59 of 79
Thread Starter 

Thursday 13th February


  So, after all of the excitement of the previous days  skiing (especially with 4 skier triggered avalanches near the gondola), I wanted to take the group somewhere that was much lower angle away from the "crowds", but still with good snow. The whole south-west facing slope behind the main ridge was completely untouched. It rarely gets skied as people don't seem to like the hike out, but it's low angle (about 25 degrees, if that) and holds great snow. We really needed to find terrain that wasn't south or east facing and was lower than 35 degrees. This would be perfect.


  We wanted max vertical so we hiked the 40 minutes around the backside of the summit area. The snow in our line looked creamy with a slight windbuff. This was about 7 days since the last storm. The skiing was great, it's very mellow but so nice to actually be able to relax and not have to worry about it sliding. We took it a long way down, I think I counted about 105 turns, just breaking it into sections. It was also nice to get out of the wind as we got down lower. This is a great option for low angle, safe skiing when avi conditions are elevated. Definitely a great option to have for the future.


Run 1


post #60 of 79
Thread Starter 

Run 2


  After we had skied down far enough, we came to the rope line that leads back to the lower army, south on the ridge. There was already a skin track put in so we decided to use it to skin back to the main ridge. We were still pretty early for time, the hike was pretty mellow to get back to the ridge, so I made the call to ski back into the same bowl. After all, although we were working for it, we had safe, low angle skiing with untouched snow that we could hit again. Never look a gift horse in the mouth, I say. 


  So we dropped in again, skied the first pitch back to the ropeline, then we went way down again. I think about another 75 turns or so, so the whole run from the top and the second pitch combined had yielded about 180 quality turns or so. Not bad at all! The clients were pretty happy I think, we'd been very successful in our mission to ski safe, untouched snow. For me, it was nice mentally to be able to relax somewhat. A great day!



  After a big skin out (we probably skinned for 2 1/2 plus that day), everyone was pretty beat. Stefan and Dean (with Dawood escorting them) decided to download on the gondola. Russell, Vinnie and myself had to take the Hapat Khued ridgeline down to the bottom. I already went into detail about that previously in the blog, I don't have any footage of that as it was not great skiing. We'd all sleep well that night.

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