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Gulmarg 2014/15 Trip Report

post #1 of 121
Thread Starter 

G'day Gang,

  Hope all is well! It's about that time of the year that I'm well into planning all things Gulmarg. I wanted to start a little earlier this year, so I can give you an update on everything that's been happening in Gulmarg so far this year. As always, my intent is to turn this post into a thorough resource for anyone planning a trip to Gulmarg this winter, whether that be with The Adventure Project or doing it solo. Either way, this post should have plenty of useful info in it for anyone going to Gulmarg or interested in hearing more about this unexplored part of the world. As always, I'll try and keep to the facts and not make this spammy.


  So, the season is about a month away and Gulmarg is very light on snow, which is pretty typical for this time of year. They've had about 3 measurable snowfalls this winter already, (October 23rd, 28th and November 28th). Those are approximate dates and related to when I received reports from our friends on the ground, so don't take those dates as concrete.....


  Now, since then, the temperatures have dropped and we've had a lot of cold, clear nights. For those of you with a basic understanding of snow science, that's not a good thing as we have had classic conditions for the growth of depth hoar. That shallow snow that has been sitting around is starting to turn to facets and will no doubt be the start of a persistent buried weak layer, again, very common in Gulmarg at this time of the year. Although I'm not in India yet and am not there to witness in person how the snowpack is starting to change, it was confirmed to me by a member of ski patrol, someone who's opinion I trust, that the snow on the ground is starting to turn rotten.


  So, something to be aware of. As we see the regular snowfalls start in Gulmarg, probably around the end of December or start of January, it's good to keep in mind that there could be a pretty weak layer, supporting the developing snowpack. It's typical in Gulmarg that we have a large natural avalanche cycle, typically around the middle of January after the snowpack has reached it's tipping point with all the new snow, where that weak layer at the base can no longer support the weight of all the snow on top of it. 


  Knowing all that, that's something personally, we will be looking out for between now and our arrival in Gulmarg (scheduled for Jan 24th). That's a lot of time for things to change, but knowing the conditions they've been experiencing with a shallow snowpack, I think our assumptions are reasonable.


  The other news specific to Gulmarg is that Colin Mitchell, who did a great job last season as the new Snow Safety Adviser for Gulmarg, has moved on. Colin is now working for CAIC and is the highway forecaster for the Aspen/Grand Mesa area. Colin did a great job last winter and will be sorely missed. He continued a great legacy of overseas advisers in Gulmarg that was started by Bill Barker for 3 years, then Brian Newman for 7 years and now Colin for 1. Great job guys and thank you for all the work you've done.


  The good news is that they have found a replacement and he will be taking over Colin's job for this winter. I don't think it's public knowledge yet, but I will release the name of the new Snow Safety Adviser when it becomes official. I'm really happy that they have someone to continue the important work. So, that's probably all the news from Gulmarg right now. Please chip in with any questions if you have them. I'll finish off with some photos after the storms that they've had so far.


  Thanks to Abbas Ali and Jeelani Rather for the following photos:



Looking up the gondola line towards Mt.Apharwat




The lower gondola terminal is still being updated and the construction doesn't appear to have been finished yet



Jeelani Rather selfie at the mid-station. Looks like a decent amount of snow up high.




Top of the gondola at nearly 13,000ft




Looking south towards Sunset Peak




Mid-station at Kongdoori during the storm around October 28th




Mid-station at Kongdoori




A lot of domestic tourists arrived to enjoy the first snowfalls




Looks like there was enough snow at the mid-station to enjoy some turns for the beginners.




Probably wanna buckle that boot..... although rear entry boots do have a decent natural hiking mode built in.....




Top of the gondola











Abbas Ali at the mid-station




The view of the mountain after the 1st snowfall, October 23rd-ish.


Top of the mountain




Abbas Ali at the top-station




Top of the world! What a view, that never gets old.



Well, that's it for now, will chime in with any updates.



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post #2 of 121

Did you mean 2014/2015

post #3 of 121
Thread Starter 

I did Marty, good eye, thank you. I wonder if the Mods can go ahead and change it?

post #4 of 121
Thread Starter 

G'day Gang,

  So, time for me to post an update as it's been ages since my last post....... I'm in Delhi at the moment, just got in last night, on my way to Gulmarg for 6 weeks or so. The snow is coming, although Gulmarg is off to a late start this winter. I'm sure it will pick up though and the big storms Gulmarg is known for, will come through. So far there's between 1 to 2 meters on the ground, though there has just been a moderate storm that deposited 45cm's at the mid-station, with a lot more up top.


  Wind speeds were well over 50km's up high, so there will have been significantly more snow in deposition zones. The issue is that most of this new snow is sitting on top of a rotten base. There were at least 6 accumulative snowstorms in Gulmarg since early October, but this snow has been sitting there for more than 2 months now, with plenty of cold, clear nights. So the snowpack is very weak now and there has been a lot of natural avalanche activity in the past couple of days. The backcountry is going to be out of the question for the next couple of days at least. How many of the slopes have slid is unknown at the moment, so it's unsure if all that faceted snow has been completely cleared out yet or if more still remains. I would think the latter. I will know more on Sunday, when I get up there.


  In the meantime, I have one more night here in Delhi and then I fly up to Srinagar on Sunday morning. I'm with my friend Jerrod Fast from Telluride. He's here to help with some filming we are doing for The Ski Channel. So, we have 2 days in Delhi to get out and about. Today we just met with Preeti Mishra, a local from Delhi who works for Chogori India Retail Limited. Chogori are the Indian Distributors for several international ski/outdoor brands. Traditionally, India and especially Gulmarg, have been under-served with outdoor/snowsport's brands and it's great to see a company like Chogori starting to bring in brands from overseas into India.


  We visited their flagship Columbia retail outlet that they opened recently in the Select City Walk mall in Delhi. It was somewhat of a strange experience. After traveling along through the bustling and busy streets, seeing plenty of homeless people camped out on the side of the road, with beggars and street kids performing tricks for drivers stuck in traffic, it was pretty weird to then step into a mall with all the high-end stores, bright lights and high prices that you'd find back in the US. That was a pretty harsh transition, but that's definitely one of the things you notice in India, the difference between those that have and those that don't...... So, it was a little surreal to be visiting a mall in India overall, but it was nice to meet Preeti and hear about their operation. Plus the curry we had for lunch was pretty darn tasty too......


  I'm hoping that Chogori can have a presence in Gulmarg because it's so hard for Kashmiri's to get access to decent winter gear. Traditionally, locals have relied on a lot of hand-me down equipment, often donated by visiting Westerners. If we can get the Indian distributors to work with retailers and other individuals in Gulmarg, then we can change that situation and make it easier for the locals to get their hands on decent gear. That can only help the sport of skiing/boarding to grow in India and Kashmir.


  Tomorrow, we will fly to Srinagar and will spend a night on the houseboats before finally arriving in Gulmarg on Sunday afternoon. I'm looking forward to staying on the houseboats, it's normally a pretty relaxing time. Then on Sunday, we start a week of training with some new local guides, before the guests arrive on Sunday 1st Feb. I'm starting a new program to help train some locals. A couple will be our guides and then 2 more I'm just helping them train for their own development. It's good to try and help the locals.


  Luke Smithwick is the new Snow Safety Adviser/Avalanche Forecaster for Gulmarg. Luke is from the US (I think) and runs a guiding service out of Nepal. He's been out in Gulmarg for a couple of weeks and is doing a bang up job by all accounts. He posts the daily avi report here at http://gulmarg-avalanche-advisory.com/. Probably the most important resource for backcountry skiers and boarders for Gulmarg. We have a bunch of ski patrol jackets and patrol vests for the local patrollers that we flew out from the States. Will be good to get them some much needed gear.


  Looks like the next storm will hit on Monday the 26th Jan. Should give a few inches of fresh, hopefully more it it builds. We definitely need more snow, not just for the coverage, but to help build the snowpack and improve the stability. It will come, it always does.


  Well, that should do it for now. I'll post more after Sunday when we finally get up to Gulmarg.





PS. If any of the moderators are reading this, can you please change the title of the thread to Gulmarg 2014/15 trip report please? Cheers guys!

post #5 of 121
Thread Starter 

Finally in Gulmarg!


  It was a 5 day journey/adventure to get here, but a lot of fun and already, we've seen a lot of cool things and met a lot of interesting people. I will do a big update tonight after our first day skiing, plus a run through of our time in Delhi and then Srinagar, where we stayed on the houseboats for a night. It was very interesting talking to a lot of the locals in Srinagar about the terrible floods they had in Kashmir and Srinagar over the summer and the impact that that has had, on people's lives.


  As I said, I will write a full report from the last 2 or 3 days so we can get caught up on all the action so far. In the meantime, here's a little video my friend and cinematographer, Jerrod Fast made of me, in Delhi, talking about the Gulmarg experience.




  Cheers guys!

post #6 of 121

Very cool... can't wait to see more about the trip. 

post #7 of 121
Thread Starter 

Bonjour everyone!

  A big day in Gulmarg today, pretty knackered but we got a lot done! Anyway, I'll go back in time and catch up with events after we left Delhi. For me, I left Delhi with somewhat of a sense of relief, mainly because I was going somewhere very familiar and was looking forward to seeing all my friends in Srinagar and Gulmarg. The flight with Jet Airways was uneventful, we missed out on sitting on the right side of the plane unfortunately so we didn't have a view of the Himalayas. You could definitely see that the floodplains coming out of the mountains onto the plains of northern India had definitely seen a lot of water from the flooding and massive rains in Kashmir over the summer (more on that in a minute).


  The landing in Srinagar was fine, there were a few MIG's on display near the runway as we cruised in. Several people were taking photos on the tarmac as they left the plane, signs that security has loosened over the years I've been going there (it used to be a big no-no to take any photo's at the airport as it is an airforce base as well). All our bags turned up and The Mushtaq was there to greet us. He used to be just Mushtaq but now he has rightfully earned the title of "The Mushtaq" due to his kick-ass driving skills in the snow.


  Our plan was to have one night on the houseboats on Dal Lake in Srinagar, before heading up to Gulmarg on the 25th Jan. I love the houseboats as it's a great way of unwinding either after a 2 week trip or even after a couple of days in Delhi, either way I was looking forward a night there and was keen to meet some of the locals and find out more about the floods that devastated Kashmir and destroyed parts of Srinagar over the summer. 


  On the drive from the Airport to the lake, I certainly didn't see as much devastation as I was expecting. For those that didn't hear about it, Srinagar received the heaviest rains for more than 150 years over the summer and finally around the 5th September, the levees burst and the flood waters hit Srinagar. More than 300 people died and thousands of homes were destroyed. I think it's a testimony to the Kashmiri's resilience that they rebuilt and cleaned up all the flood associated mess so quickly. There are still a lot of homeless people as a result of the floods, living in tents in the city, but they definitely have worked hard to re-build the city. We did see several collapsed buildings and flood damaged cars that were being repaired at the mechanics, plus several houseboats at the start of Dal Lake that had been inundated and sunk. What was amazing was the visible high water mark that you could see on some of the buildings and the trees, in places more than 2 stories high.


  The effects of the flooding will be long-lasting. Speaking to some of the people that work on the houseboats, tourism in the Kashmir Valley has dropped by nearly 90%. That is huge for people that are trying to make a living based around tourism. Times are even tougher in Kashmir right now, you definitely get a sense of their desperation, when you can see how eager the vendors that patrol the lake looking at selling their handicrafts. It's hard to justify trying to haggle with them right now. I know Jerrod found it very hard to say no to them and pretty much bought stuff from every vendor, from a furry hat, to a wooden cat, a suede hand-bag and a bag of Lilly seeds that will probably never make it back to the US.


  We went for a one hour cruise in the afternoon around the side of the lake that I had never been through before, through the reeds before we got a little stuck. We backed out and made it around. There are a ton of birds on the lake, from swooping Kites to bright azure Kingfishers (my personal favorite). You are surrounded by the Himalayas and on a calm sunny day, there is no better place to be. I could go on...... but I won't. 


  We had a lovely night, with Abdul our houseboat captain doing a great job of looking after us. The next day we were up early as we had to take the 1.5 hour drive to Gulmarg. The weather was just glorious, with the sun out bright and not a cloud to be seen. We had an amazing view of the mountain as we approached Tangmarg, the feeder village at the start of the mountain road. There was a little bit of snow on the drive up but sadly Gulmarg is off to it's slowest start snow-wise in a long time. It's definitely the least amount of snow I have ever seen in my 6 trips to Gulmarg, but there is always reason for hope as it only takes one big dump before the conditions can be improved immensely. I'm definitely holding out for that next big storm, as is everyone in Gulmarg right now. There are not many people around, everyone is holding off coming until more snow arrives.


  We checked into the Hotel Heevan Retreat, a 3 star hotel that we've stayed at at least 3 times. The thing I love the most about the Heevan is the hospitality and the warm welcome you receive. They don't treat you like a guest, they treat you like family. So, it's hand shakes and even more hugs, when you arrive. We put our stuff into our room and then it was time to head to the bar at the Hotel Highland Retreat for a cheeky one; a quick little beer to officially celebrate our arrival in Gulmarg. For me it was great to see Jerrod's reaction to coming back to Gulmarg. He did his first trip to Gulmarg in 2011, our first commercial trip. I always tell people that you can always do 2 trips to Gulmarg..... Generally the first trip, most people find the first trip pretty overwhelming and they often walk around like the proverbial deer in the headlights. It's not until the second trip that you can really start to relax and take it all in. It has been no different for Jerrod, he says he's finding it so much more relaxing and he feels so much more at ease with everything. That's a good thing!


  At 5:30pm we had several locals guides come to the hotel for the start of a week of avalanche safety training. I have 2 local guides (Jeelani Rather, Dawood Hussain) that are working with me now, so it was important that they receive some training, but also I had a couple of new guys (Farhad Naik, Abbas Alli and their friend Raja) I had met on Facebook that were keen to develop their skills as guides as well, so I agreed to have them come along and take part as well. For me, it's important to start to give back to the local community. If I can help some locals improve their skills, then that's the least I can do. So we started their training with a 2 hour indoor powerpoint presentation and theory session. We would give them the theory and then go and practice those skills up on the mountain. So we had 5 local Kashmiri's sitting on the end of my bed in my room, going through all the slides on our TV. It was a pretty cool scene, they all seemed pretty pumped and eager to learn, that's the kind of enthusiasm that makes it all worth while. Love it! I definitely get my stoke sharing that knowledge.


  I then had to go to a meeting at our other hotel, the Khyber to meet their new GM, so by the time the indoor training and the meeting at the Khyber was over, I was pretty beat. I got my best night of sleep that night for sure. We had to be up early the next day so we could get on snow and practice what we had talked about in the indoor training session.


  After a decent breakfast (cereals, toast, omlette, baked beans and some hash browns!), it was time to meet the guys at the road next to the hotel. Unfortunately Farhad had been called in to work at the newspaper he works at (he's a writer) and Abbas was sadly no where to be seen. Not sure what happened to him? The first order of business was to practice the mandatory beacon check that we do at the start of the day when leaving the hotel. I showed the guys how to check a beacon's ability to send and receive a signal. Then we went down to the gondola to take the ride to the mid-station to start our day.


  The plan was simple, over the course of the week we want to improve our beacon and rescue skills, whilst learning as much as we can about the snowpack and stability. It was rather disheartening to see up close, the lack of snow that's on the mountain right now. It's definitely the least amount of snow I've seen in Gulmarg in my time. I guess if there is one positive in that, then we get to see what's on the ground, when it's not completely covered in snow. There's definitely some nasty looking shrapnel on the ground (both natural and plenty of man-made obstacles) that is usually hidden. It's kind of like getting to check out a reef when the waves are flat in surfing (not that I've ever really had to do that, but I did see it in the old surfing movie "The North Shore", which I always thought was pretty cool, bra!).


  So, getting any quality turns was out of the question, we could at least find a quiet spot to work on our beacon skills. I decided to work on single burials (multiple's tomorrow) and we did a bunch of dry runs where I assisted the guys, then we went into solo, timed runs. It was fun to have a little competition to see who was the fastest, but what was really cool, was that there was a marked improvement in the guys skills, by the end of the session. We finished the day by taking the chairlift up to Mary's Shoulder and a little bit of a ski down to a much steeper area to do 2 final passes of beacon practice. It was hard work but very rewarding for all involved and I really liked the effort that everyone put in. 


  Tomorrow will be multiple burial practice and if we have time, we'll be digging some pits in some undisturbed locations. Thanks for reading!



post #8 of 121
Matt, thanks for the report. Wish I was there!

post #9 of 121

I mean this only in the best possible way, but ...





Actually not worthless at all... but I'm dying to see some pics, or more recent ones anyway! Thanks for the report, and hopefully we'll get some more pics or video at some point. Sounds like a terrific adventure and a really neat opportunity for you.

post #10 of 121
Originally Posted by Mattadvproject View Post

I did Marty, good eye, thank you. I wonder if the Mods can go ahead and change it?

I'll get it. 

post #11 of 121
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by dbostedo View Post

I mean this only in the best possible way, but ...





Actually not worthless at all... but I'm dying to see some pics, or more recent ones anyway! Thanks for the report, and hopefully we'll get some more pics or video at some point. Sounds like a terrific adventure and a really neat opportunity for you.

Ha ha dbostedo,

  No worries, I'm just teasing you I guess. I'll speak to Jerrod, the photog and see if we can get something up soon. Traditionally (if you look at our reports from 2013 and 2014), I tend to do the day by day written reports live, from India. Unfortunately it takes way too long to add photos as the internet is super slow in the particular hotel I am staying at, at the moment. On the 1st of Feb, we change hotels and the new hotel does have a decent internet connection, so I might be able to start adding photos then. If not then, then when I get back to the US but that's not till March unfortunately....... then it tends to be an absolute avalanche of photos and vids. But, let's see what happens after the 1st Feb, I'll do my best to add a couple then. Thanks for taking an interest though!



post #12 of 121
Hi Matt,

Great blog/report, it is hard to find up to date info on Kashmir/Gulmarg.
It sounds like the conditions are not that great, is it the case there is just not enough snow or is it a number of factors? (wind blown, frost thaw etc?). How much more snow do you think is needed before it conditions improve?
Thanks in advance.
post #13 of 121
Thread Starter 

Hey guys,

  Just a quick update this morning as I have to head out soon for the day. Here's a little clip that Jerrod produced showing a small part of the beacon training we did yesterday. The background view is just stellar! https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=367936083378405&set=vb.100004860485892&type=2&theater. Multiple burial practice today and hopefully some pits as well. Looks like a storm brewing for Sunday. Fingers crossed it's the big one we really need!



post #14 of 121
Thread Starter 

The people have spoken!


  So, here's a nice assortment of photos from the adventure so far. Thanks again to Jerrod Fast for the amazing pictures. He's gotten some cracking shots already!



Local in Gulmarg who rents skis.



Avy training with the boys! From left to right we have: Raja (red), Matt (me! Red), Jeelani (blue), Dawood (black) and Abbas (white).



Taking a shikara (water taxi) ride around Dal Lake.



View from our shikar of the beautiful Dal Lake, Srinagar.



Artsy shot! Dal Lake.



Awesome old abandoned truck in Gulmarg.



Looking up the gondola line from G3 to the top of G4 and the summit of Mount Apherwat at over 13,500ft. I never get tired of this view.



A couple of the local lads at the Hotel Highland Park, our favorite spot for some apres in Gulmarg. The view of the entire mountain on a clear day, is just breath taking.



Nice little atmospheric shot on the way to the Highland Park Hotel, near the poma lifts on the golf course.



A little island in the middle of Dal Lake, where they grow vegetables year round.



Raja kicking butt with his beacon training as Jeelani Rather (on the left) and Dawood Hussain (right) look on.



The lads! Jeelani (left), Abbas (middle) and Dawood (right).


Hope you like the shots, heaps more to come.



post #15 of 121
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by willharrington View Post

Hi Matt,

Great blog/report, it is hard to find up to date info on Kashmir/Gulmarg.
It sounds like the conditions are not that great, is it the case there is just not enough snow or is it a number of factors? (wind blown, frost thaw etc?). How much more snow do you think is needed before it conditions improve?
Thanks in advance.

G'day Will,

  Thank you, I try and make this blog pretty detailed each year so it should be a good resource for those visiting Gulmarg. The snow conditions are the toughest I've seen in Gulmarg, they are off to the slowest start I've personally seen in 6 visits. I'm confident the snow will come, it's just very late this year. At least this milder weather has made it a bit easier for all the homeless people down in Srinagar, the break in the weather is definitely helping them...... So, the problem has been (the same as every year), early snow that has been sitting for a while under cold and clear nights. As a result, the base has become rotten and the snowpack is shallow and weak. We have a base consisting of approximately 30 to 50 cm's of depth hoar with 70 cm's of wind slab on top of that. It doesn't get much worse than that! No one is skiing in the backcountry right now, people are skiing in the main bowl right now and the compaction is helping, but the snowpack is still really reactive as it keeps getting wind-loaded each night. There are still plenty of rocks poking out and they are easy to hit. The local tuning shops must be doing a good trade.


  Patrol is bombing like crazy right now and that has resulted in the gondola being opened really late each day. I know some of the locals are getting really impatient but there is nothing ski patrol can do to get things open sooner. We had an in-bounds avalanche 2 days ago that partially buried a skier in the controlled area. They had to be dug out. The scary thing was that this was after 49 bombs had been set off and approx 50 skiers/boarders had been riding it for more than an hour. The skier obviously found the sweet spot and triggered an unexpected slide and that has the patrol rightfully a little spooked. I definitely understand the thoroughness of their control work right now and the time it takes each morning to get the gondola open. They are looking out for everyone's safety, I just wish a few of the locals would have a little more patience as I think patrol is doing a great job. The bottom line right now is that conditions are really unsafe, even within the ski area boundary. You can read the daily avi report here at http://gulmarg-avalanche-advisory.com/.


  So, what's it going to take to improve the conditions right now? One thing would be compaction of all the areas through skier traffic, including the backcountry. This is unlikely given the dangerous conditions and the lack of skiers here right now. The real solution would be a massive storm to tip the snowpack over the edge and get everything to slide naturally. We'd hopefully see all that nasty depth hoar cleaned out and the snowpack could be re-set with a more stable foundation, with a nice follow-up storm. I think that would do it and again, that's pretty much the natural process here in Gulmarg each year anyway, it's just happening really late this year. It's frustrating but there is not much you can do about it.


  I don't want to jinx it, but there is a big storm forecast for this weekend, I really hope this is the one to work the magic. Fingers crossed!




post #16 of 121
Thread Starter 

Updates for the 27th and 28th Jan.....


27th Jan


  So, time really gets away from you when you don't write for a day or two..... Let's catch up to the last couple of days. So, on Tuesday the 27th we spent the day working on our multiple burial rescue technique. It was a little more challenging as Abbas Alli turned up after missing the single burial training the day before and that was obviously a foundation for the multiple burial rescues, so I had to get him up to speed asap. I had to run through a couple of examples of single burials with him, then give him a few goes. This was made a lot harder by the fact that he had a really old beacon, an Ortovox F-1. This is one of the original single antenna, analog beacons and I hadn't used one of those for more than 10 years. It was obvious that Abbas wasn't too familiar with the dial control on his beacon as he didn't use it at all. We had to stop practicing so I could show him how to lower the frequency of the beacon using the dial to increase the beacon's sensitivity. It took him a little while to perfect it, but he quickly got the hang of it and was able to find a single buried beacon successfully.


  For me it was good practice to to work with several different brands of beacon (we had a couple of BCA Tracker's, an older Pieps DSP, an Ortovox +3 and my Mammut Pulse in the group) It was definitely a great lesson for all the others to see how much easier a more modern, 3 antenna digital beacon is to use, especially when got onto the multiple burial practice. It's still important to know how the multiple burials work when you don't have a flagging feature on your beacon for multiples, so I showed them the 3 circle method and the micro-strip search. Both are accurate, but very time consuming and potentially more difficult depending on the terrain (3 circle method). Again, a good lesson for the guys and they were able to use both methods.


  We did a lot of practice on the multiples, with one lot of single rescuer, multiple burial practice and then a couple of multiple rescuer, multiple burial scenarios. The guys did great. The guys with the newer beacons with the flagging functions were definitely faster, but what I really liked, was that across the board, everyone's pin-point searching, in particular the bracketing phase of the search, was greatly improved. I was really happy with the guys and they were pretty proud of themselves, it just goes to show, if you keep drumming in the correct technique, with constant positive feedback, you will improve.


  We worked solidly till about 2pm then the weather started to change. The wind picked up and the visibility started to drop. We went over to the outdoor restaurant to grab some food and seek shelter, but by the time the food arrived, it was absolutely freezing and blowing a gale. It was time to head back for the day so Jerrod and I took the groomer back to the hotel. It was really good day, it was really satisfying to see my guys starting to really improve.


  As we were back home a little earlier, we decided to go on a little walk. I wanted to take Jerrod to see Mr. Khan, who runs a clothing store where they make custom clothing. On the way we came across 2 little stray puppies, sitting at the side of the road. I would think that they probably don't see a lot of love from the locals, they didn't move when we got close to them. Then I bent down and called them over and sure enough, they came running over and jumped all over me. All they wanted was a little love and attention. They loved Jerrod's camera strap and loved to try and chew on it. Needless to say the puppy footage we got is ridiculously cute! The pups followed us for a little way before they finally lost interest.


  Unfortunately, Mr. Khan was away in Srinagar, so we kept going to the poma lift area. We wanted to see some local skiers in action. We came across the Indian cross country team out training. These guys were serious! They would practically sprint up the poma slopes and then straight line back down in the tuck. 12 guys going flat chat, downhill in cross country gear, one after the other in quick succession, was pretty impressive to say the least. We got some great footage of them. We also got to film some of the local ski and board instructors doing some race training. They had set up a course with small sticks in the snow, as their gates. They would ski down and then hike back up. It was pretty impressive how hard they were working, I imagined what they could do if they had a decent set up; a chairlift and a long slope, the improvement would be so much easier for them. Hats off to the hard work they were doing.


  We stopped in to see Yasin, owner of Kashmir Alpine ski shop and his son Arif Khan. Arif is probably the best skier in Gulmarg, he's on the Indian ski team and will be traveling to the World Skiing Championships in Beaver Creek in a couple of weeks time. He'll be competing in GS and Slalom, so if anyone reading this and is going to be there, please cheer Arif on. He's a great kid and has worked super hard to get to the championships, please give him your support if you can. I would if I was there (I'll still be in Gulmarg when the race is on).


  That night, the avalanche safety presentation was scheduled at the Pine Palace Hotel at 7:30pm. It's always a good idea to get there early as it really fills up. We got there by 6:30pm and by 7pm, it was standing room only. Luke Smithwick put on a great slideshow, most of my guys came as well, so we all had a couple of beers and chatted for a while after the talk was over. It was pretty late by the time we got back to the Heevan, so after a quick dinner, it was time for bed.



28th Feb


  Jerrod and I were originally scheduled to go to Srinagar to meet with the Director of the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Dept at 9am, but I got a call from Bashir, my fixer, that the Director of Tourism had just been replaced so the meeting was off. So, that was a bit of a bummer as I was really wanting to meet him and discuss some marketing initiatives for Gulmarg in the US, but now I will have to organize a meeting later on, with his replacement. It was a beautiful sunny day outside, so we decided we'd go and do some filming and take some photos around town.


  As expected, the locals really delivered. We took a ride to the IISM (The Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering), it's a massive building off to the side of Gulmarg. I'd never been there before and was really curious about exactly what they do there and it's a massive building as well. It turns out that they offer 2 week courses for Indians from all over the country (and the world) and they put on instructional courses for skiing, mountaineering and other sports. The building is actually a large hostel, with tons of rooms, a conference room and a large rental shop. It was a funny meeting at first, we walked in and they had no idea who we were and what we were doing, after a little while of somewhat arkward conversation, we finally broke the ice and I think both sides understood enough about the other where the conversation would flow. It was nice meeting them all and hearing about how their program works. We will go back and do some filming next time.


  Then it was off to see Mr. Khan at his clothing shop. Mr. Khan is one of my favorite people in Gulmarg, he is one of the nicest people you will meet anywhere. He was in his shop and he gave me the biggest welcome ever! Jerrod and I got massive hugs and even a kiss on the cheek! I wasn't expecting that! All good though. We chatted for a while and Jerrod bought one of his hoodies. Then we stopped for photos in front of his shop. It was so good to see Mr. Khan, the Soulryders production company included Mr. Khan in one of their episodes of Lines of Control on EpicTV, you can find it here at - 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&b=1. Mr. Khan you rock!


  Then we walked over to the second poma area, closer to the main road. We kept bumping into locals who wanted to chat and have their photos taken with us, which we were only too happy to oblige. They are very keen to hear about the US and were genuinely excited to have us visit Gulmarg. The reaction we got at the poma's was even better. We talked to some amazingly friendly people, it brings a little tear to my eye to see their excitement and love for skiing and sharing that with us. There were several first time skiers who were just killing it, Kashmiri's are surprisingly athletic on skis and I think in a few years time, you will see some amazing skiers coming out of Kashmir and Gulmarg.


  So many skiers came over to talk to us, again they were surprised and happy to hear we were in Gulmarg visiting from the US. You don't get any anti-US sentiment in Gulmarg, the locals are stoked to see anyone from the US and when I told them it was my 6th visit to Gulmarg, they were even happier. They want nothing more than to share their world with foreigners, it's a huge deal for them that we are trying to spread the word about Gulmarg. It really warms my heart to interact with these people, they really are the most hospitable people in the world. Truly beautiful people.


  Well, now we are back at the hotel after after a truly rewarding day, one that really is good for the soul. I can't wait to show you guys the footage we got of our interactions today, you'll see for yourselves how awesome the locals here are. Kashmir truly is a paradise on Earth, I truly believe that. Tomorrow we will continue our training with our local guides, I will be teaching them about the snowpack so we will be digging a lot of pits and doing stability tests. Can't wait!


  Until tomorrow.




post #17 of 121
Thread Starter 

29th Jan


  The goal for the day was to learn as much about the snowpack as possible and the stability. The great thing about the ski area at Gulmarg is that you have a ski area that is 95% backcountry, kind of like Silverton in Colorado, but on steroids. It's great that there is a ski patrol and most importantly, a daily avalanche report. That's an amazing resource right there, something pretty unique that you don't find in many other ski areas around the world. The avalanche advisory is just one of the tools available to the backcountry skier/rider in Gulmarg. You have lot's of knowledgeable locals that you can talk to, as well as making your own observations if you have an understanding of snow science.


  We'd been reading the avi reports when they were first started, back in early Jan when the advisories first started. We had an idea of what to expect so today was all about confirming our suspicions about the snowpack. The conditions are pretty tough right now, the snowpack is pretty shallow and weak, varying in depth from about 50cm's at the mid-station to well over a meter up high. The report has been saying for a long time now that up to 50% of the snowpack is supported by depth hoar, with several ice crusts and then hard wind slab on top. It's definitely sketchy conditions right now. The snowpack seems to be getting a little more supportive in the last couple of days, but if you find the sweet spot then you can definitely trigger an avalanche right now.


  A trigger in the upper layers definitely has the potential to step down into the lower layers, causing a large slide down to the ground. You would be then dragged through a lot of rock. So, triggering a large enough slide right now, would have pretty dire consequences. The good news is that the recent regular (yet small) snowfalls are starting to fill in the rocks in the gondola bowl. The skier/boarder compaction in the main bowl is definitely improving the consistency of the snow, there are less rocks showing but it's still not a time to go crazy. Helmets are still a really good idea right now as well (aren't they always?!).


  So, we dug 3 pits today. One next to the patrol base at the mid-station, whilst we were waiting for the chairlift to open (no gondola due to poor initial visibility). The snowpack is only about 40cm's down low, but with large recent wind drifts that really make the depth vary. There is a small layer of depth hoar, maybe 5cm's, with smaller facets, around 1mm in size. We did several stability tests; Compression Test, Extended Column Test, Shear Shovel Test and a Rutschblock Test. Nothing was really moving with any of the tests, the depth hoar was still supportive, but without much of a gradient. 


  Then we went up the chairlift and went out toward the ridgeline on Mary's Shoulder, where the wind slabs were supposed to be deepest and potentially the most reactive. We were on a NNE aspect, with a pitch of about 25 degrees. Here the big change was that we were looking at around 95cm's deep, with a much more noticeable depth hoar layer. Here the facets were much bigger in size (more than 3mm and well-formed), were pretty poorly bonded (definitely fist hardness) and about 30cm's deep. There were a couple of ice crusts in there as well, with larger facets above and below. We did our series of tests and didn't get a result with the Rutschblock Test.


  Finally, we dug a 3rd pit, much further down Mary's Shoulder, on a NE aspect. The aspect was definitely getting more sun, but the snowpack was a lot shallower, only about 50cm's. We were close to a steeper shoulder that could have already slid, we saw an small, old crown further down and to the side, maybe the whole ridgeline had slid that and dragged some of the old snow away with it. At least half the depth was made up of depth hoar, with large facets more than 3mm in size. Again, it wasn't very reactive, with no clean shears and was somewhat supportive. The danger is still finding the sweet spot and triggering a slide down to the ground....


  The local guides definitely learned a lot today, as did I. Every time we dug a pit, we practiced strategic shoveling principles. The guys got good at shoveling fast and efficiently. They also showed good understanding of the snowpack and the different layers that we were finding. They were able to conduct the stability tests independently and could interpret the results well. All in all, a great learning session and I'm really happy with how the guides are progressing. We'll dig some more pits tomorrow and hopefully get onto some southern aspects. We'll also get a few turns in with the better snow. Then that will be the end of our session and Jerrod and I will head down to Srinagar to have another night on the houseboats, before meeting the clients at the Srinagar airport on Sunday. Looking forward to it.


  The exciting news (hopefully without jinxing this storm this time....), is that there is heavy snow forecast for Gulmarg starting Monday afternoon. Fingers crossed this is the one that really changes things. If it is a big enough storm, then I would expect a large natural avalanche cycle, as the snowpack is teetering on the edge right now. Any more significant load and I think it's all going to go. For me this is a good thing, we need the avalanches to run and clear out all that depth hoar. Then the next major storm, once it's settled, should fill everything back in. We'll see if that happens right now.


  Well, that's it for tonight. Having a nice restful evening back at the hotel, ready for a big day tomorrow. I'll try and rustle up a few more photos in the meantime......




post #18 of 121
Thread Starter 

Just to lighten the mood a bit...... sorry, no direct video this time but here's a link to a couple of local interactions we've filmed in the past couple of days. Firstly, a cute puppy attack, BEWARE, cuteness overload - https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Adventure-Project/144169795641847. Secondly, an awesome local from Srinagar talks about his first time skiing and his love for Kashmir - https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=368574016647945&set=vb.100004860485892&type=2&theater. It's pretty inspirational stuff. Hopefully some more photos coming tonight. Stay tuned!



post #19 of 121
Thread Starter 


  Jerrod posted a couple more photo's on Facebook today. Here they are in all their glory.......


A group of super friendly locals from Gulmarg on the poma lift terrain. They loved talking about skiing and were excited to speak to a couple of visitors from the US.



The poma lift is not running right now but that doesn't stop anyone from skiing. They ski down and hike right back up. So awesome to see how much these guys love to ski!



A young guy from Gulmarg, learning to ski, asked me how to ski backwards. I'm trying to get him to start off with the backwards wedge.



Teacher and student having a little bingle.....



Snow study time, pit # 3, lower down on Mary's Shoulder.



Pit # 2, at the top of the chairlift. Lot's more snow up here.



A couple of young kids from Srinagar stopped us to pose for a photo.



I actually got 1 good turn in today! The snow is definitely getting better.


Hope you liked them, more to come.




post #20 of 121
Thread Starter 

We had a couple of visitors yesterday!


  Here's some video we took of a couple of snow monkey's on our balcony - https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=368842913287722&set=vb.100004860485892&type=2&theater. That's the big male that we are feeding, with 2 smaller (yet more aggressive?!) females in the background. The male was pretty calm and relaxed. Jerrod (silly bugger!) went and hand fed the male a couple of times, the females you definitely can't get close to. Obviously chocolate is not the best food for them (at least it was fruit and nut!), but they rummage through all the trash here and eat pretty much anything, so we figured it was potentially an improvement on what they normally eat.......



post #21 of 121
Thread Starter 

A couple more photo's for you, hopefully soon we will start to have more ski shots.......


Some local ski instructors were doing some race training on the poma lift terrain (the lift's weren't running so they were hiking back up each time). There gates were little sticks they placed in the snow. Love the old Dynafit 3-F comp boots the guy in the black/brown jacket has on.



Beautiful partial view of Mt. Apherwat, with the Kashmir Heliski chopper under wraps in the foreground.



A couple of local pups sun baking at the top of the first poma lift area.



A couple of local tube renters. Just one of the many fun ways you can enjoy sliding down the hill in Gulmarg.



Mount Apherwat and the Gulmarg ski area, from the far end of town.



Our local visitors on our balcony yesterday.



Watching the sun rise on the houseboats on our first night back in Kashmir. One of the benefits of jet lag is you can get shots like these.

post #22 of 121
Thread Starter 

Last post for a few days...... we are heading to Srinagar today to stay on the houseboats (where we don't have any wifi), in preparation for picking up the clients on Sunday. Here's a fun little video Jerrod made of his new invention, MONKEY CAM! What could possibly go wrong with this....... https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=369210769917603&set=vb.100004860485892&type=2&theater. I'll leave you all with that! Have a great weekend.



post #23 of 121

Some excellent memories, though the gold course is looking a little thin from my visit seven years ago.

post #24 of 121
Thread Starter 

Sorry it's been a few days since the last post, it's been very hectic so I'm just catching up right now.......


Saturday 31st Jan


  So, after my last post, Jerrod and I went down to Srinagar to wait for the new guests to arrive. We said our goodbyes to the awesome staff at the Hotel Heevan Retreat (they really tried hard to impress this year! Thanks guys, the service and hospitality were amazing) and headed down to Srinagar for another night on the houseboats.


  We went to see the Director of Tourism in Srinagar that afternoon but it was his last day in office, so the meeting was rather pointless. He was a nice man and liked our ideas about marketing Gulmarg in the US, just a shame he couldn't really do anything to help us. Oh well, we'll hopefully meet the new Director on the 14th Feb when we are next in Srinagar. It was a beautiful day and night in Srinagar, so Jerrod took a couple of snaps on the lake........



Mr. Wonderful Flowerman, out of all the floating vendors, he has the most personality. He's a character alright!



Our Shikara driver in the evening, after our failed meeting with the Tourism Director.



Abdul, our host on the Bul-Bul, really nice guy, he showed us his guest book and since the floods back in September, he's only had 3 lots of guests in over 5 months. Hard to make a living that way.


Sunday 1st Feb


  When we left the houseboats for the aiport it started to snow hard. Unfortunately my stomach had decided to take a turn for the worse as well and rapid weight loss had commenced. Say no more about that, but I was not looking forward to having to go to the airport to wait for the arriving guests. Sure enough the first guest's flight was cancelled and the second group was delayed. We waited for 3 hours and then I had had enough and decided to leave Mushtaq our driver at the airport, so I could at least get back to the airport and check in to the Khyber hotel, our next hotel. All our guests had opted to stay there, so I wanted to make sure the rooms were ok.


  It took nearly 2.5 hours to get to Gulmarg as the road was covered in new snow that had turned to ice. Several cars had ended up in the ditch at the side of the road so it was slow going. By the time we got back to Gulmarg, the 3 guys from the UK on the Indigo flight had arrived late and Mushtaq was bringing them up to the mountain. When they arrived we had dinner, everyone was pretty tired so straight to bed, avi training would have to wait for the next day. One guest was still stuck in Delhi as his flight was cancelled altogether, he should make it on the 4th.


Monday 2nd Feb


  Monday was all beacon practice, I won't go on too much but it followed the same format as the other training session as the local guides. Indoor avi safety powerpoint presentation followed by outdoor single and then multiple beacon practice. There was some good improvement across the board, nice to see Jeelani and Jerrod's skills had really improved. The snow had really picked up and it dumped all day. I was feeling a lot better too, the antibiotics and immodium were really working.....


Tuesday 3rd Feb


  After a rest in the snowfall overnight, it started to dump again in the morning. My thought was that Monkey Hill would be a good option as I was doubtful the chairlift would open. So, we skinned up to check it out, there was an existing skin track that only had 20cm's of new snow, so I broke trail. The going was pretty good and we made it in good time. There was another group that had skinned up the other side, but we had our own fresh lines.


  There was still a fair few branches sticking out through the snow and you knew there had to be a lot of stumps lurking under the surface, so we wanted to take it pretty easy and get a feel for the conditions before we went charging in. It turns out the snow was really deep, about thigh deep so probably 60cm's plus of fresh, faceshots were definitely in order. The skiing was awesome, finally this was the storm that Gulmarg was looking for! Sadly my Contour died during the first run, so I only got a couple of video's from the 1st run. Here's some of the highlights......





  We went for a 3rd run but my little shortcut that I had planned, didn't quite work out and it was really hard work trying to set this new skin track up a steep gully, in waist deep snow. My skins failed and one came off, so it was really frustrating. A bad call on my behalf, but we did bump into a friend who told us the chairlift was open. We decided to make a beeline for it as we could get in 1 hour of skiing before it closed.


  I had to do a quick little lesson on how to ride the gondola, then up we went to the mid-station for the first time together. I twas looking like things had really filled in since the start of the storm. When we got to the chairlift the visibility was down to one lift tower, so pretty bad. We decided to roll the dice and see if we could at least feel out way down. The snow looked really deep, we saw some people getting faceshots with every turn. If only we could see!


  Well, we felt our way down, as we got towards the bottom, the visibility started to improve and we had some amazing turns. Unfortunately no video, but the snow was the deepest I've ever skied in Gulmarg. Waist deep! I can't believe the chairlift was open this early after a storm. Tomorrow it is due to be bluebird, so we are getting up early to hit the chairlift again. We will try to be first in line. It should be epic! I have the Contour charged up properly this time, so will try and get some good footage.


  Until tomorrow!




post #25 of 121
Thread Starter 

Wednesday 4th Feb


  Expectations were running high for the chairlift to open with all that new snow, plus it was forecast to be bluebird with zero wind, so we would have amazing conditions to ride some amazing pow. Sadly, unbeknownst to us the winds had picked up overnight and all that waist deep pow had been turned into knee deep with about a 4 inch wind crust on top..... D'oh! We were absolutely gutted as I thought this was going to be one of the all time best days in Gulmarg. It did not turn out that way sadly.......


  Luke Smithwick had given us all a heads up that there was a nasty crust and you could see it in the patrollers tracks as we went up the chair. We were even on the first chair as we were so keen, but we were not rewarded with stellar conditions. The skiing was really tricky, you had to really fight for your balance with the breakable crust and movements had to be subtle and controlled. It definitely challenged everyone in the group. Dan on his snowboard looked the most at ease in the group and was able to use his backfoot effectively.


  We made a couple of untracked runs by keeping skiers left. Then we investigated the right side, next to the ridgeline. The crust was a little softer, though it was more tracked up. The skiing in the last tree zone was really nice, it was out of the wind and did not get hammered by the wind, so the snow was a lot more consistent. We played around on a southern aspect off the side of the tree zone and found some good snow. We did another run and went clear over to a longer southern aspect and had a really good run (after we waited for a group of Russians to remove themselves from their own carnage....).


  We had managed about 6 runs from the chairlift. Then it was time for lunch. After lunch, it was getting late, around 2:30pm. A traverse line had been put in to the far left side of the bowl, to Army Ridge which is part of the controlled area and inbounds. There had been a rope-line erected at the top of the chairlift, to stop people from going right off the top of the chair. There was a lot of snow above and there had not been any control work. However, if you went left off the chair and wrapped around to the skiers left, there was no closed signs telling you not to traverse across to the Army Ridge side and more than a 100 skiers had been traversing out there that day already. It was pretty tracked by the afternoon. By the time we got up for our last run, the rope-line at the top of the chair had been moved and there seemed to be a clear opening now, with tracks leading straight out of it. To us, it looked like a gate. We were all carrying our avi gear as per usual, so we figured the patrol had opened it. Patrol were stationed at the top of the chair and when we went through the gate, stopping to take time to adjust our packs, no one said anything to us to the contrary about going across to the Army Ridge side.


  We decided to take the traverse and came up with a plan to get the group safely across the potential slide path. It still needed to be treated with respect in our minds. We would spread out and go one at a time across the path and potential avi path, with Jeelani at the back keeping watch. I took the lead and halfway across, a Russian came speeding past above me on the traverse line...... I wasn't too happy about this and sped up to give chase so I could express my disappointment at him in his choice to ski on top of me through a sensitive part of the traverse. I was going pretty fast and had started to come around the corner, when I heard yelling from behind. The rest of the group started to appear at speed and Jeelani was shouting to "move, move, avalanche."


  We all raced forward. We reached a safer spot and I asked Jeelani, our last man, was everyone in our group accounted for. He said yes and then I asked if he had seen anyone else taken by the slide and he said no. Everyone was safe. We looked back and watched as a large slide came down from above and came across the traverse line, finishing way down the face to our lookers right and into the gully that separates the two ridges. We had a great view of the slide; it was big, about a 100ft wide and several feet deep. It didn't move too fast, but went a long way. Tom, one of our group, was further down the apron (he had initially stopped when Jeelani had started yelling, not realizing what was happening, but upon seeing the slide, went straight to gain speed and headed left, well out of the way on the higher apron). We skied down to Tom to check he was ok. He was fine. We skied further away to the left and stopped in a safe spot to chat about what had happened. In a situation like this, it's always good to discuss what had happened and maybe what we could have done to improve the situation.


  It was unclear if one of our group had remotely triggered the slide or not. I later found out speaking to Luke Smithwick that the slide had initiated up high as one of his patrollers had seen some cracking just before we arrived on the scene. The face above would have been warming up slightly through the day as the ambient temperature increased, but is a north-facing aspect, so it doesn't receive direct sunlight, so again, it's hard to say if that was the trigger. The slide may have already been starting as the tail of our group was moving through the area. Either way, it's always a scary sight to be that close to a slide, though a very valuable lesson to the others who had not seen a slide up close like that. We all agreed that our spacing and communication was good and that made a big difference to our making it through unscathed. We had been watching groups of people, sometimes in groups of 10 or more, crossing that path tight together, if they had been caught, it could have been really bad.


  I have some video of the aftermath of the slide, which I will post tomorrow. You can get a feel for the size of it. The snowpack in Gulmarg remains very touch right now. There is still depth hoar at the base of the snowpack (with some ice crusts mixed in), with a hard wind slab on top of that, then several feet of storm snow on top of that and a 4 inch wind-crust right at the surface. Tough conditions in Gulmarg right now, caution is definitely needed and lower angle terrain is advised. More to come......

post #26 of 121
Thread Starter 

Thursday 5th Feb


  After our close up view of the slide the previous day, I decided our day should be focused on education and investigating the snowpack. We'd be digging a pit in a similar aspect as the slide and conducting some stability tests to show the guys potentially why the avalanche happened. We could also practice some strategic shoveling as well, something we had not had a chance to do. We knew from our test pits the previous week during training, what the snowpack was looking like, plus the daily avi reports Luke had been putting out, there was a lot of information already available. The guests needed to see for themselves, what the snowpack was looking like so we decided to dig a pit in a suitable location.


  We also had a new guest arrive that previous afternoon. Finally, Scott had arrived from Azerbaijan. He'd been stuck in Delhi since Sunday after the storm had stopped a lot of the flights getting into Srinagar. I'd put him through his own private beacon training the previous evening and this was his first day on the mountain. He got to see the mountain up close for the first time and was pretty blown away.


  My idea was to dig a pit at the top of the chairlift (we had dug one there previously) close to the ridgeline on the side of the face where the avalanche had started. It turned out that the chair was going to be closed this day, so we decided to just hike out next to the ski patrol HQ next to the bottom of the chair. We found a nice spot, not too far away, next to the trees which had a small rollover that was open and would make a great spot to dig. I wanted to show the guys strategic shoveling techniques, so I marked a spot approx 250cm's wide and instructed the guys to dig out a platform down to the ground (about 150cm's). I would time them. Working as a team, they managed to clear the opening in just over 10 minutes. It was a real shock to them how much work it was and how long it took. They would have moved several tons of snow, cutting through the hard wind-slab layer was particularly hard going for them. Everyone was pretty tired so we had a rest and a quick discussion of what took place.


  At the same time, the patrol starting bombing up high on the gondola bowl. We had a perfect view. After a couple of bombs, we saw the entire upper part of the gondola bowl slide. It went huge! There was a massive cloud of powder that came billowing down the mountain and the slide went down the main gully and petered out just past the avalanche diversion. It was pretty impressive. Then another bowl after the 2nd ridge down released sympathetically; this wasn't nearly as big, but added a lot more debris to the main gully. Every time a bomb went off, we went jump up out of our hole to see if anything else had released, we felt like little Meerkats under attack outside their burrows. Again, eye opening stuff for the group.


  The layers in the snowpack could clearly be seen, as well as the different hand-hardness's of each layer. Then we wanted to test the bonding between the layers. We conducted our standard range of tests on the main face of our pit; a couple of Compression Tests, an Extended Column Test, Shear Shovel Tests and finally a Rutschblock test. We found a reactive interface, between the hard wind slab layer and the depth hoar at the base of the snowpack. They did not fail easily, with a CT and ECT test score of around 22, but with a shear quality 2. We got a RB test score of 6. So, in that area, it was hard to trigger a failure, but when it went, it was deep in the snowpack meaning a large slide nearly down to the ground. There are lots of big boulders and rocks in many of the runs at Gulmarg, meaning many shallow spots and potential weak/trigger spots. Something to always be mindful of.


  As we were conducting our tests, a group of about 17 Russians (I counted them!) had followed our tracks to our snowpit site and then decided to use the lower edge as their own walking track...... mind-blowing stuff. 2 more Russians came by as well, but this time, they stayed around and watched us conduct our tests, which personally, I didn't mind at all. I'd rather share that knowledge and help others, rather than shun them. They even helped fill the pit in when we had finished, so I thought that was good all round.  


  We were out digging pits till after 12:30pm, so we decided it was time to have a little ski down to the bottom and then take the gondola back to the mid-station for lunch. We had some lunch and then did another ski down from the mid-station back to the hotel, finding some nice shaded pow on the way down. It had been a big day and everyone was ready for a beer at the Highland Park Hotel.

post #27 of 121
Thread Starter 

A few more recent photo's from Jerrod Fast, for your further viewing pleasure.......


Tom and Avi from the UK, enjoying the hospitality of Mr. Khan's clothing emporium. The Kawah (Kashmiri spiced tea) and the novelty hats are always good!



View of the Gulmarg plateau and Mt. Harmukh in the background.



Matt, Avi and Tom heading up the chairlift to Mary's Shoulder.



My ugly mugshot, however the view of Mt. Apherwat in the goggles is pretty cool.



Looking back at the large avalanche in the gondola bowl on Wednesday the 4th Feb.



Avi, getting some nice turns in past the gondola mid-station, with Nanga Parbat, the 9th tallest mountain in world, in the background.



Scott, getting some nice turns in on his first day in Gulmarg yesterday.



Close-up of the avi in the gondola bowl. Jeelani (in blue) telling the group what he saw.



Our current group, with Nanga Parbat in the background. This shot doesn't do it justice. From left to right - Avi, Dan, Scott, Matt, Jeelani and Tom.



Gulmarg gondola pulling into the mid-station at Kongdoori.



Tree bomb going off on the way up Monkey Hill during the storm. Always refreshing to have one of those drop on you......



Gotta keep warm in the workshop!


Hope you like the shots gang, plenty more to come!

post #28 of 121
Thread Starter 

Friday 6th Feb


  There was still no chance of the upper mountain opening, given that most of the main gondola bowl had slid to the ground and there was no snow. With no new snow, we decided to start a little later at 10am. I think everyone appreciated the later start as they were a little tired from the previous days work. The chairlift was set to open again, so we thought we'd try and find some new terrain to ski. Some of the south aspects on the backside of Mary's Ridge were looking good. We'd skied a similar aspect earlier in the week and decided to try a line higher up. There was a short line or two, inbetween some patches of bushes that was hidden. We decided to try that.


  This was a test for the group as it was the first time we would be skiing in the backcountry as a group. Clear protocols would needed to be set by myself and Jeelani, such as skiing one at a time, from island of relative safety to island of relative safety. There were only some short pitches to be skied, but they were untouched and it was nice to see the southern end of the mountain more close up. For the group, it gave them a much better feel for the terrain outside of the ski area. 


  The snow was warming up and was getting pretty soft; not powder, but still quite nice. It was ok skiing, but as I said, just nice to be skiing something different and more technical. The guys did well, the communication was good and we made it through safely. By the time we got to the bottom, it was really warming up. We wouldn't be able to ski that aspect again that day as it was just too warm. We had some lunch as we were pretty hot and tired after the last run. We went to our usual place at the lunch shacks at the mid-station.


  There had been a bit of a ruckus the previous day as some snowmobile guides had been having a major disagreement. The same guys that were involved the day before got into it again and there was a large crowd gathered around the guys with lots of pushing and shoving and yelling, but all a lot of hot air really. We left them to it and trekked back to the mid-station as we wanted to take a scenic gondola ride up to the summit so the guys could check out the view for the first time and I was keen to see the slides in the main bowl close-up for the first time.


  It was a bit of a shock to hear that we had to pay 800 INR just to do a scenic gondola ride. We already had weekly passes that should cover us for skiing up to the top, but they wouldn't let us on without paying for a tourist pass. A bit of a scam really but I wanted to show the guys around the top, so I had to suck it up and pay the man. The view of the avalanches was pretty amazing, we traveled right over the top of them and got a great view. I got some good video that I will post later.


  The view from the top was as stunning as ever and the guys really appreciated getting up there for a look around. I really hope we get to ski up there next week, it would be a first if a group was not able to get some turns in on the summit...... but safety first, if it's not safe, then it's not safe. The guests all have an intimate understanding on how the conditions are right now, so they understand if it's not safe.


  We headed back down to meet Jeelani and then we decided to head out way out skiers left of the main bowl. That would involve crossing the slide path from all the slides in the main bowl, where we had crossed the other day. Given that there was not much snow left up there anymore, we decided it would be ok to cross, as long as we went one at a time as quickly as possible, from one safe spot to the next.


  It worked out fine. There debris was hard going as we each crossed it, but we made it fine to the next safe spot. As soon as we were all across, a large group of people started to come across en-mass, so we decided we needed to get a move on. We traversed far left and it was nearly untracked which was surprising, given the amount of traffic we'd seen going out there. The turns were good, I stayed on top of the ridgeline to get more room and keep a better eye on the group, whilst the others stayed in the gully. Then it was a long run out across the plateau before we got into the trees and ended up back at the bottom of the gondola.


  It was a good day with some adventurous skiing which tested the guests ability to work as a group, in the backcountry, for the first time. For me, they came out with flying colours, I was really happy how we all communicated and worked together as a team. That's a big part of the process, building the trust that is necessary as a group, in the backcountry. That showed me that they were ready for the next challenge, potentially skiing to Drang the next day......

post #29 of 121
Thread Starter 

Saturday 7th Feb


  After the guys performed so well with our first little jaunt into the backcountry the day before, we decided to go for a run down to Drung. Drung is a little village about 6 miles from Gulmarg near Tangmarg and is a fun, near day-long ski. The only option we had was to take the drainage immediately from the mid-station plateau, it's probably the least desirable line but our only option from the chairlift. The focus was going to be getting down safely and getting to the village so we could interact with the local kids. The guys had bought a bag of chocolate to give to the kids and then hopefully we could go for a little ski with them.


  The first ridgeline in the Sheenmai bowl was looking like a safer option to get us out to the far side of the plateau that would get us into the Drung drainage. We knew the skiing wasn't going to be great once we were in there, but the overall adventure would be the highlight. To get to the ridge we would have to cross an open bowl and potential start zone for a slide, so we went one at a time, at speed across the open bowl with eye's on. We made it safely across and onto the ridgeline.


  The ridgeline had already been skied by a group yesterday, so there were already tracks, but we found a couple of sections of untouched soft snow which made for fun skiing. There were a couple of steeper, rocky sections that we had to negotiate carefully, one at a time. There was also a large group of Russians that had arrived at our drop in point. We wanted to stay ahead of them so we didn't have any of them skiing on top of us.


  We made it safely down the ridgeline and out onto the plateau, in the direction of the main drainage. We got to the top and looked down, several large avalanches had already been through there and the bed surface was smooth and scoured on one side, with nasty frozen avi debris on the other side. We stayed up high as long as we could before we had no option to drop in. We skied it one at a time with Jeelani dropping in first. He radioed back to me to confirm that conditions were as bad as they looked. I dropped in last and stayed skier's left, there was no avi debris on that side; it was hard snow but definitely better than the right side.


  The bigger avi debris didn't last too long and we were able to find softer snow in the gully for a while, but as soon as you got into an area that had had sun on it, it was super crusty and made for challenging skiing. The turns alternated between fun and horrendous, but finally we made it to the scene of the old bridge crossing (the bridge was washed away during the floods this summer) but they had piled up some rocks so it was easy to cross. Then came the 20 minute hike to get to the outskirts of the village.


  The group of 4 Russian snowboarders that dropped in on us finally caught up with us. They asked us which way to Drung and Tangmarg. It turns out they didn't have guide, had not been in the area before and had been following us. Crazy stuff! They didn't have any transportation organized either, so who knows how they were planning on getting out. I did say to them that it was an unwise decision to follow someone when you don't know where you are going, but they said they were doing it for the adventure. I admire them for at least telling the truth, but still petty crazy all round. Sadly, you see this stuff all the time in Gulmarg, there are some people that make some pretty poor choices at times and they are the ones that scare me the most.


  Anyway, we made it to the outskirts of Drung and started the hunt for the local kids. It was pretty quiet for a couple of minutes until a couple of kids saw us and came out to see us. We gave them a couple of bars of chocolate and Jeelani told them that there was more for them if they could go tell the other kids to come out. One of the kids went running off to the middle of the village and sure enough, in about 10 minutes (the guests I think were starting to doubt me....), a whole stream of kids came running up various paths towards us. Word had evidently spread!


  What followed then was a scene of pure wonderment. We gave out all the chocolate (it was like a kiddy feeding frenzy!) and then we asked them if they wanted to go for a ride on the back of our skis. Sure enough, several of the kids jumped onto the back and front of our skis and we took them for a ride down some steep, short little drops. We all had a ball! Everyone was having a ton of fun, there was much hooting and hollering from the guests and the kids. It truly was awesome to see everyone having so much fun. I have it all on video and when I have the time, I will post the video. It's awesome!


  Then something really special happened....... In 2013, I took the Soulryders film crew into the village to look around and take photos. A bunch of kids came out then too (some of them I recognized this time from then) and the owner of the company, Mark Kogelmann (he loves to do front flips off of everything!), put on a front flip display for the kids. They absolutely loved it! They called it "hat long" which must mean "front flip" in Kashmiri.


  So, when a bunch of the kids started doing front flips off the drops into the deep snow. I was blown away! I asked them if someone had shown them that and one of the kids told me a man from overseas showed them that a couple of years ago. It must have been Mark! That was so cool to see, a bunch of kids doing front flips of everything. I have the video for that too.....


  Then finally, 2 of our guests who have the new Pieps/Black Diamond Jetforce re-chargeable avi airbags (the things are amazing by the way!) got the kids to pull the trigger and launch their airbags. The kids had no idea what to expect and they were in shock! At first, some of the smaller kids were a little frightened, but after the first airbag released, they practically mobbed Avi (the second guest) to get the second airbag to go off. Then loved it! The airbags were like inflatable drums and they run over and started hitting the bags. The Jetforce will automatically add air every 30 seconds or so, so every time the fan went off, the kids jumped again. After about 3 minutes or so, the airbag will automatically deflate and this also made the kids jump! They loved it though and it made for a great scene. Will definitely post that video!


  So, that was an all-time day. Even though the skiing wasn't that great, I think everyone appreciated the overall adventure of the day; from the skiing of a long backcountry line, to interacting with the kids in Drung, which was really special. I think everyone will remember that day forever!




post #30 of 121
Thread Starter 

I didn't manage to get any photos myself for the trip to Drung as Jerrod wasn't with us, but will post the video as soon as I can. Here's some more photos from the past couple of days, to get excited about the next write up which is all about 60cm's of new pow.......


Going up the chairlift..... the anticipation is growing!



Scott, in the white room for the deepest turns of his life!



Start of the day. Got to get the stage 1 gondola to get to the chairlift.



Jeelani Rather, our local guide extraordinaire, having some fun of a rock near the exit in the main bowl.



Traversing out to reach the goods. Randomn Russian in front.....



Faceshot time for me!



Tom also getting faceshots in the same spot.



Pesky snow getting all up in Tom's face again!


  More to come..... yesterday was all time!

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