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Gulmarg 2014/15 Trip Report - Page 3

post #61 of 121
Thread Starter 

What a difference 2 months make.......


  Here's a couple of great shots that Luke Smithwick took of Mt. Apherwat recently, it just goes to show what a difference time and plenty of subsequent snow makes........ it does make me want to go back right now!


This was the view of the mountain on the 11th of January 2015. This was exactly 10 days before I was due to leave. Let's just say I was a little nervous about Gulmargs slow start snow-wise this year. Thankfully it snowed just before we got there and conditions were better than this, but still low tide...... then we obviously had the poor stability for most of the season when the new snow and warm temps came......



Fast forward exactly 2 months later, this is the mountain as of the 11th of March, looking a lot better. The snowpack is finally starting to stabilize somewhat, it's down to Moderate (from Considerable) in the alpine zone, the first time it's been like that all season if my memory serves me correctly (I could be wrong about that though.....). Since I left on the 1st March, Gulmarg has had more than 8 feet of snow and there are about 30 people riding the mountain right now. It must be amazing there right now, good luck to all the people that are still there, they will definitely be getting the reward they deserve. We definitely need to have groups there in March next season, it looks awesome, no one there, plenty of snow! They have another big storm forecast in the next couple of days too..... Gulmarg always seems to get the snow (it is the Himalayas after all), it's just a question of when, not if. Until next year Gulmarg!

Gear mentioned in this thread:

post #62 of 121
Thread Starter 

Sunday 15th Feb

Last day – houseboats, early morning tour around Dal Lake. Drop off at airport, pickup new guests. Start of indoor training, late arrival of group 2.


  The next day, everyone apart from Tom decided to get up early and go for an early morning Shikara ride around the lake. Normally we would go and see the floating vegetable market, but since the floods in the summer, no one was trading any vegetables so the market was deserted, which was a real shame. We went back to the houseboats and got everything ready for the group’s departure to the airport.


  We left for the airport the required 3 hours early, security is very tight. You have to unload the taxi and take all the bags through a metal detector, just to get through the main gate into the complex, but you still have to drive to the front doors. Then there is normally a big queue to get inside. This is where having a porter really helps, they can get you in a lot quicker and then help you with check-in (sometimes they can help you get a reduced charge for excess baggage). The good news is that this year, if you have excess baggage, then you no longer have to go outside to pay (you’d have to go through security twice which was a major pain), not it’s done inside the terminal so that saves a lot of time.


  We said goodbye to Jerrod, Scott, Tom, Avi and Dan, then it was just Brennan and myself left. We had 5 guests coming in; Nigel from New Zealand, Andrew from the US, Nils from Norway (my group) and then Brint from the US and Philipp from Switzerland, in Brennan’s group. The plan was to pick up my group first, as they were arriving early, then Brennan would stay behind and wait for Brint and Philipp as their flight was much later.


  Nigel’s flight was late, it arrived at 10:30am instead of 8:30am, so I had Bashir meet him, then Andrew and Nils came in about 30 minutes late after 1:30pm.  Then we found out that Brennan’s guy’s flight was delayed without a new arrival time being issued. He decided to come back to Gulmarg with us and Mushtaq would wait at the airport for them.


  We met Bashir and Nigel further down the road, Nigel jumped in with us and then we continued up to Gulmarg. The plan was to get to the Khyber Hotel and get everyone checked in; then I would take them on a quick tour of the hotel. I found out from Mushtaq that Brint and Philipp were due to arrive sometime after 5pm, so that would get them to the hotel by about 7pm. Brennan would help them when they arrived. They weren’t going to be part of the initial avi training that my group was going through as they were clients of Brennans who he’d already guided in Alaska, so they would be fine doing their own thing.


  We wanted to try and get as much of our indoor avi training done as possible, so we could start outside the next day. The powerpoint presentation takes about 1.5 hours, it’s basically all the theory that we would then do on snow. Nigel and Nils were feeling pretty refreshed as they had been in India for a while already, but Andrew had come straight from the US, so I knew he was going to struggle.


  We did the presentation in my room, about 30 minutes in and Andrew was already asleep on the bed. As he had just done his level 2 avi course back in the US, we decided that we would continue as it was Nigel and Nils that really needed to play catchup. Everyone agreed that we were fine to let Andrew sleep. After the talk we woke Andrew up and went up for dinner. We decided to continue the outdoor training the next day as everyone was pretty wiped. Brennan’s group had arrived so we all ate together. I think everyone slept well that first night. Then it was on-snow for comprehensive beacon training the next day.




post #63 of 121
Thread Starter 

Monday 16th 

On snow with Matt’s group, beacon training and then on mountain realistic training. Welcome beers at the Highland.


  After a group breakfast, the 2 groups went their separate ways; Brennan was straight up to the mountain whilst my group went outside to Khyber’s terraced gardens, for some on-snow, basic beacon training. The gardens outside are perfect for the initial training, it’s a small area but with enough room to practice single rescuer scenario’s. We could practice single and multiple burials and then there was a larger, more open slope where we could do a couple of multiple burials, with multiple rescuers. Then if there was enough time, we could get up the mountain and practice in more realistic terrain. It’s a good format that seems to work well.


  As always, we start with a couple of demonstrations from me, then I get the client’s to have a go. We always start with a dry run, where they go slowly and receive constant feedback; then they get a couple of unassisted goes through, with me giving feedback each time. That allows for fast, effective learning and the level of improvement is pretty high. We work through the entire group in this manner and by the end of the first round, the group was using their beacons well and probing effectively. Successful repetition builds muscle memory, then things become automatic.


  We followed the same format for the multiple’s; with me giving a couple of demonstrations and then the guys getting to practice, with constant feedback. Again we had a range of beacons amongst the group; I had my Mammut Pulse and we had 2 BCA Tracker 1’s and 1 Tracker 2. I was keen to see the Tracker 2 in action as I had not used it before. The speed of the Tracker 2 over the one was very apparent; the near real-time updating of the screen was way faster than the old Tracker 1 (double as opposed to triple antennae). You could move so much faster with the Tracker 2, the Tracker 1 struggles to keep up at times if you move too quickly. Again, the Mammut and its flagging ability give you a big advantage in the multiples, especially over the Tracker 1’s. The Tracker 2 worked pretty well in the multiples with its multiple burial indicator, that’s a big improvement over the 1.


  The guys with the Tracker 1 had to work a lot harder with their older beacons in the multiples training, but they got there in the end after getting to grips with the Tracker 1’s fine search mode (the yellow button) and learning to ignore the (somewhat distracting) directional arrows during pin-pointing, which can all be very tricky and not always intuitive.


  Good progress was made and then we finished with a more realistic multiple rescue scenario with all the guys participating. We went through and did 3 rescues, with feedback after each rescue. What I really like to see is that in a multiple rescue scenario with multiple rescuers, you should always be doing something. Even if you buddy has locked onto a strong signal (the group naturally split into 2 groups during the searches), you should always be doing something. If you are ever standing there not doing something, then you are doing something wrong, there is always something pro-active that you can be doing as a rescuer, whether that is assembling all the gear (probes and then shovels), getting everyone’s gear out of the way during the digging phase, moving on to finding the next victim etc etc, you should always be doing something in my opinion. Learning to be pro-active in a search is not easy initially, but with constant feedback, then that’s something a group will improve upon.       


  I’m also big on communication between the rescuers. In a mock, multiple burial rescue, it’s easy to focus on the individual signal that you are on and not communicate with the rest of the group on your intentions. That can slow the group down as a whole and results in inefficiency, you have got to keep the group communicating amongst themselves, as much as is needed. It’s not easy, people often don’t like to take charge and start yelling out what to do, but that’s often what it would take if it were real. It takes a strong leader to keep the group moving and the search progressing quickly.


  Anyway, we got through all that with 3 multiple burials scenario’s set up at the end. We had a quick break for lunch and then we went up the mountain. The weather wasn’t that great (pretty cloudy) and the chairlift was closed. We decided to set up a realistic multiple rescue scenario in a gully, near the ski patrol hut at the mid-station of the gondola. The snow was heavy and chopped up, pretty realistic conditions. Unfortunately the first search was a bit of a write off as Jeelani buried the first beacon (in the skins bag) way up the side of the gully and the group missed it. I had wanted the 2 beacons to be buried in the gully to more accurately set up a realistic burial scenario.


  We set up again, this time I went and buried the 2 beacons out of sight and Jeelani, Andrew, Nils and Nigel took part in the search. It’s amazing how different it is to do the search with all the gear on and on skis, it’s a big step up. The first time through, it’s easy to forget all the steps that you learnt back on the flats, if those steps are ingrained, then as long as you remember the process and follow the steps, you’ll do good. So, it was really just a case of telling the guys to remember their training and by the 3rd run through, they were back in charge finding the 3 victims pretty quickly. So, with all that training done, I was happy to take the group out onto the mountain for some proper skiing that night. We’d have to survive welcome drinks at the Highland Park Hotel first……..



post #64 of 121
Thread Starter 

Tuesday 17th Feb

Wet pow day on the chairlift


  So, the new group’s first day was a surprisingly good day as it turns out…… The weather had come in the night before and it had started to snow. Unfortunately, the temps were only a degree or two above freezing and the new snow down low in the village was wet and heavy. The mountain was still shrouded in cloud when we got up, so we were thinking that the chairlift was not going to be open. We were probably going to be cutting laps on Monkey Hill with pretty crappy snow, so no one really had too high expectations for the day.


  We were going to meet Jeelani at the start of the skin track to Monkey Hill (for us staying at the Khyber, it meant a short walk down the main access road, Jeelani had a short walk uphill, from the village). When we got there, Jeeelani had a phone call saying that the chairlift was going to open and that visibility was starting to improve already. So, we abandoned our plan to start skinning and we headed down to the bottom of the gondola so we could get up to the chairlift.


  I tried Brennan a couple of times on the radio to let him know the chair was going to be spinning (he had the same original plan as us, to start on Monkey Hill), but he wasn’t answering so I couldn’t let him know of the good news. When we got to the mid-station, the clouds lifted and Nils, Nigel and Andrew finally got their first view of the mountain in all of its glory. It was looking like 15cm’s of wet new snow and the queue to the chairlift was small. We were one of the first groups in line.


  The wait wasn’t too long, maybe 30 minutes from memory, but soon we were heading up. I tried the radio again, but still no answer from Brennan’s group. Too bad, they’d be missing out on some ok skiing (definitely better than Monkey Hill). It was a bit of a rush to get off the chair, we got our gear ready and agreed we could ski together, with about a 5 second gap between each other. The turns were surprisingly good. Sure, the snow was heavy, but 15cm’s was actually the right amount. It wasn’t so deep that the skis got bogged down; you stayed on top but were left with a pretty easy skiing, consistent surface. You could really let the skis run and there were some surprisingly fast, open GS turns to be had.


  It actually turned into a really fun day of skiing; obviously not hero snow but fun none the less, especially given our low expectations for the day. This was a really nice surprise. Brennan finally came online when we were on the chairlift for our second lap and he was on his way up with his group. It was a little more tracked up by the time he got there, but if you kept pushing out skier’s left, you could keep getting fresh lines. I think we managed 6 or 7 laps (Jeelani helped us to get on the chair without paying up front for tickets, we managed to pay at the end once we’d tallied up all our runs – we were discovering the usefulness of the “Jeela Pass™"! A very good system!). We caught up with the other group and they seemed to be having fun as well. I have all the video so I don’t think I’ll describe all the runs we did, I’ll post that video soon and you can see for yourself.


 That night we went to the avalanche safety presentation at the Pine Palace Hotel. Brint was also going to be putting on a talk about Avatech (www.avatech.com) and the new SP1 probes he had with him. The SP1 is a digital probe that measures the hardness of the different layers in the snowpack and plots the information on a digital display on the handle. That information can then be shared in the cloud, so other users can see your results. It looks like an amazing piece of kit; it enables you to come up with a very quick snowprofile, which you could then replicate quickly over other parts of the mountain. It’s not designed to replace the digging of pits and conducting stability tests, it’s just another tool in the toolkit, but I really like the idea of the ease of information sharing and the ability to collect a lot of information more quickly than traditional methods.


  Brint’s talk was well received and people seemed to have genuine interest in the units and the Avanet website. Brint will be leaving one of the units for the patrol to use, we’ll see how the unit helps with local avalanche safety. Any new technology that is designed to improve avalanche safety, can only be a good thing, in my opinion.    


  We have some photos coming soon, I know the last few posts have been a little barren......

post #65 of 121
Thread Starter 

Wednesday 18th Feb


Storm day, lighter snow (15cm’s), poor visibility. 2 runs on chairlift and then skinned Monkey Hill.


  We’d had a bit more snow overnight, about 15cm’s and the temps were a lot colder, so we were hopeful of some good skiing from the chairlift. One thing we weren’t sure of was going to be the visibility up high. It was cloudy down low so weren’t too optimistic for the chairlift. Still, we’d give it ago (especially as we’d been surprised by the surprise turns of the day before!) so we went up the gondola and headed to the chairlift.


  Sure enough the visibility was not good. We did 2 runs, the snow was great but you couldn’t see anything. We did our first run to the skier’s right of the bowl, finishing with a nice section in the lower trees behind the restaurants. We had good contrast there and I actually filmed a run there. When we tried to go skier’s left on the second run, it was really bad. You couldn’t even see any of the dips or gullies and it was becoming quite dangerous, you were all of a sudden in the air as you skied off a blind roller. We decided it was too risky and I made the call to get out of there.


  We skied down past the mid-station (with some nice turns!) and went all the way to the bottom. We decided to hike Monkey Hill where we could actually see. The turns were nice, it was snowing hard but the contrast was fine. We ended up doing 2 short laps before we were all pretty tired. We knew there was more snow expected that night, so we called it a little early and went back to the hotel for a late lunch.



post #66 of 121
Thread Starter 

Thursday 19th Feb

Big storm day, 50cm’s of new snow, pretty heavy so settled quickly. 1 run Baba Reshi (skitching and then taxi problems on the way back). 2 runs Monkey Hill – 2 short, 1 long.


  We awoke to find that there had been about 50cm’s of new snow in the village. The snow was heavy and it had settled quickly. The chairlift was out of the question, so I thought it time to show the guys something new. It would be nice to try to ski down to Baba Reshi. This is a tree run on the other side of the Gulmarg plateau, with about 600m vertical. It requires getting a taxi to the drop in point, way out past the market area and then a taxi along the road down towards Tangmarg. Sadly Nils was feeling under the weather and he decided to take the day off and rest up, so it was Nigel, Andrew, Jeelani and myself.


  When you go skiing down to Baba Reshi, you are always rolling the dice. The skiing can be good, but then you have to take the road back to Gulmarg, which can often be a crap shoot. I told the guys of the plan and they decided it was worth the risk, just to ski something different. We needed to find some transportation to the drop in point, but all the taxis were busy. Jeelani finally managed to find us a taxi who would head out that way, but it was already full. We’d have to try some skitching! Skitching in Gulmarg means holding onto the back of the car and getting towed along the road.


  I’ve skitched several times myself, it is not easy and not very safe, but the guys were into it and understood the risks. So the 4 of us grabbed the rear tire carrier and held on for dear life! Even with all the new snow, there were a couple of thin spots and deep puddles (lean back, hold on tight and grit your teeth!). There were several vehicles that went past us, so you had to tuck in tight as we went past. Our arms were all burning by the time we made it the mile and a half to the drop in point. It was a relief to finally let go, but we saved a lot of time instead of skating all the way (which I’ve done before too…..).


  We had another group ready to drop in so we got ready quickly and headed towards the trees. There were little bushes sticking out all over the places; somehow we were in a spot that didn’t have a lot of snow. There had been reports of small slides all over the steeper parts of Baba Reshi during the previous storm, so a lot of snow must have sluffed off. I managed to find a nice corridor of untouched, deep snow and had some fun turns. The snow was definitely heavy, but the skiing was ok. We kept regrouping and skied all the way down to the road.


  Thankfully it wasn’t long till the taxi arrived to pick us up. We were loading the skis and gear when I heard a hissing noise. I looked down and saw that the rear left tire had a puncture and was quickly losing air. D’oh! The driver, with Jeelani’s help, got the chain off and quickly changed the tire. It took about 20 minutes which wasn’t too bad. We jumped in before a group of Russians could commandeer our vehicle, nice try!


  We were about halfway up the road back to Gulmarg when there was a loud banging noise. It was one of the chains; it was starting to come loose. Then there was an even bigger bang as the chain went flying off the back of the taxi. The chain was broken so the driver and Jeelani had to make some repairs and try and get the chain links reconnected. They had the jack out and were using it as an anvil to hammer the broken metal links back together. Again, it took about 20 minutes for them to re-fashion the chain and get it fitted again so we could be on our way. We made it back to Gulmarg in about an hour and 15 minutes (normally a 30 minute drive at the most!), so by the time we got back, no one was game to risk another lap. 


  So, you guessed it, it was time for more Monkey Hill laps…… Jeelani was pretty tired so I let him take off for the rest of the day. He kindly put in the shortcut skin track in our gully so we could use it on the second lap. That was very helpful. We did 2 quick laps (shorter laps staying left) and then came up for a last lap. We were going to do a long lap to finish off and went right to the top and out to the skier’s right. It was all untouched and we dropped in and had some great turns. That was one of our best Monkey Hill laps with decent vertical and great snow. The snow kept going so we were excited for the next day. I know I slept well that night!



post #67 of 121
Thread Starter 

Ok, I'm on fire tonight! Here's some much needed photographic evidence of the fun times and pow slaying from the second session group. First up, some of Brennan Legasse's photos, some of them courtesy of his State of the Backcountry website.


Hiking up to the top of Monkey Hill during the storm with Brint leading the pack, with Phillip and Andrew behind.



A little sequence of Brennan Legasse getting submerged.


Brennan deeper in the same turn. That pesky snow is getting all up in his face...... Monkey Hill goodness.



A (somewhat!) rare bluebird day, with a great view of the southern end of Mt.Apherwat, whilst waiting for the chairlift to open.



Our head Kashmiri guide, Jeelani Rather actually doing a turn! Jeelani does enjoy going pretty straight, so this is a rare photo of Jeelani showing what happens when you actually do a turn in deep powder!



I'm thinking this is Brennan again, but it's definitely Monkey Hill.



So, if you want the chairlift to open sooner, then you can always pitch in and help shovel out the loading area. We were first in line that day, with more than 50cm's of fresh snow that needed to be shifted that day. So, we got out our shovels and started digging out the gates. It took a while but we were rewarded with free chairlift tickets by management, for the rest of the day.


Now, here's a few shots courtesy of Brint Markle, CEO of Avatech.



We definitely skied a lot of runs on Monkey Hill this session, but when the snow's this good, then it's all good. One of our crew (probably Brennan or Philipp) getting the goods.



The tree skiing on Monkey Hill is pretty steep and open, through old growth fir and pine trees.



Checking out the view from the ridge of Mary's Shoulder and the main gondola bowl.



Monkey Hill guardian in his lookout.



So true! Positive vibes in the gondola building.



Brint and Brennan digging a manual pit so they can compare results with the Avatech SP1 probe in the foreground.



The usual chaos on the main road in town during a powder day. That's why it can be easier just to rely on human powered turns on Monkey Hill, rather than face using the taxis back up from Baba Reshi and the main road.



Hanging out with the kids down in Drung, a little later in the trip. More to come on that later......



Brennan on Monkey Hill again.



Gulmarg road shenanigans......



Comparing results...... snow pit time near the mid-station.



Beautiful view from our hotel, the Khyber Himalayan Resort and Spa.



Start of the digging out process. Brennan, Nigel and Matt hard at work at the chairlift.




Gulmarg's first Avanet page with Brennan and Brint's first upload. I hope this device can help the freeride community in Gulmarg by providing more widespread and detailed snowpack information for Gulmarg.



post #68 of 121

Wow... awesome photos. Is the Avatech probe a potential replacement for digging pits? Or just a supplement?

post #69 of 121
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by dbostedo View Post

Wow... awesome photos. Is the Avatech probe a potential replacement for digging pits? Or just a supplement?

  Definitely not a replacement for digging pits and conducting stability tests in my opinion dbostedo; it's another tool we can add to the plethora of information we have at our disposal, that we can use to make observations in the backcountry. At the moment it's only available to the guiding community and various other agencies involved in avalanche control, it's not available to the public. Hopefully in a couple of years time, then a new version will be made available for public use. It's a pretty expensive piece of equipment at $2,249 retail, plus subscriptions fees of $495 per year for the AvaNet information cloud sharing access, so that price would also be restrictive to a lot of non-professional users.


  I like the fact that in somewhere like Gulmarg, the Avatech probe could potentially be used to gain information about more areas of the ski area, a lot quicker. If it could be used outside the (relatively) small area of the ski area, to map the snowpack in the backcountry, that would be even better. Would the ski patrol have the time to go out of bounds and start taking readings, then I would doubt it; it's not there job to control the area outside the resort, in reality. So, time will tell of the impact of the SP1 probe in Gulmarg, but in other places, I see it as some potentially ground-breaking technology, IMHO.



post #70 of 121
Thread Starter 

Friday 20th Feb

Monkey Hill storm skiing. Chairlift closed all day. 3 laps on Monkey Hill with the entire group (including Nils), skied new line down to the road. Then hiked back up behind the police station.


  I’m pretty stoked that if every time I go to Gulmarg, I get to try a new line. Gulmarg is so big, that even after 6 trips, I’ve probably only skied about 50% of the physical lines on the mountain, so I’m pretty happy to try a new line. That’s where having someone like Jeelani on staff, who knows the mountain so well, will really help us for the future.


  So this day, it was another powder day (again, too much new snow and low visibility, so no chance of the gondola/chairlift being open) and we all wanted to try a new line on Monkey Hill. Jeelani suggested heading up to the summit and over to the eastern side, down to the road. I was excited to try it as I had never skied down to the Gulmarg road that way before. This time we had the whole crew together (Nils was back after being sick and Brennan’s crew was with us as well).


  We were first on the skin track and got to the top quickly. There was another group that had come up from the other side. We went past the summit and over the eastern side. It was tight trees at the top and then we cut left, finding a large open, gladed bowl. The snow was deep (though pretty heavy) but made for fun skiing. We set up for some shots and skied from section to section. It was good skiing, nice and steep and open. Nils decided to inadvertently huck a section of hidden 4wd road and went pretty big, landing with a spectacular faceplant and front flip. Brennan had a great view of it. He was all good and laughed it off.


  We skied out and came to the road. We decided to just skate back to the start of town. We headed up to the police station at the start of town and had a friendly chat with the local head of police. Apparently he is a keen skier too. We posed for a photo with one of the policemen carrying an old British army SLR rifle. He liked my Powerbar energy chews and I was happy to give him as many as he wanted. Never say no to a man carrying a 7.62mm caliber rifle!


  Then we skinned back up the north-east facing ridgeline behind the police station. There was already a steep skin track put in from the group we had passed at the summit at the start of our first lap. There were several old brick ruins that we went past, who knows what they were from. It took about 30 minutes to reach the top again. We decided to stay on the north aspect this time and ski the longer lap down to the regular part of the Gulmarg we were used to. The snow was good again, but with the warming temperatures, the snow had really started to shed from the trees and this had really compacted the snow in places. It was quite noticeable what the shedding had down to the snow, I’m sure that is an aid to stability in those trees…..


  It’s a bit of a skate to get back to the skin track at the middle of the Khyber road, so I waited for a passing taxi to grab hold of and do some skitching. There was a pretty thin section of road where it was worn down to the bitumen, so I wanted to get past that before grabbing on. Dawood managed to flag down a vehicle and we grabbed hold. He definitely didn’t slow down, much to the amusement of the people inside the taxi, I just to hold on and hope. Once we got to the Hilltop Hotel I let go and cruised into the car park out front where Jeelani and the rest of the crew were waiting for us (they had already snagged a lift previously). That definitely saved some time and energy.


  My guys were still feeling good so we decided to do another lap. This time we put in a really steep track right outside the hotel that would connect to our little gully shortcut (saving about 15 minutes, clearly Jeelani was becoming a bit of a fan of the shortcut). Jeelani set the track around a metal sign and I was thinking it was going to be a bit of a challenge to get over it, plus we had a bit of a crowd watching us. Everyone made it and then it was my turn to go, I was a little nervous of falling on my fast and giving the locals a good laugh, but I managed to make it too. It did save a lot of time as we connected to the gully shortcut. We went all the way to the summit again so we could do another long lap down the frontside.


  I was getting concerned about the rapid warming and the big tree bombs that the trees were shedding. Believe me, you don’t want to get hit on the head by one of those, as funny as it looks, they really hurt. So, I suggested that for safety, this should be our last lap, especially as the weather was supposed to clear the next day and we had a chance of getting on the chairlift again. The snow was pretty similar to the last lap, with the tree bombs noticeably compacting the snow in the tighter spots. In the open, the snow was deep and fun. Nils was pretty stoked with his last days skiing and we left on a positive for his last day.



post #71 of 121
Thread Starter 

Saturday 21st Feb

Skied 3 runs off the chair, snow was warming up and getting super sticky. Went back early with Andrew, getting sick. Nigel stayed out with Jeelani. Nils left for Srinagar.


  With all the new snow, we were excited to hear that the weather was supposed to be better and that the chairlift was going to open. Nils was also due to leave for Srinagar around lunchtime. He would be staying on the houseboats by himself (unfortunately for him he was the only one leaving as he was only staying for a week and would be on the boat by himself). So, it was Nigel, Andrew, Jeelani and me, left in our group. We got to the chairlift relatively early but the mountain was still shrouded in cloud when we got to the chairlift. It was hard to tell just how much new snow was up there and how settled it was.


  Patrol went up to cut a couple of laps and throw some bombs. It was still shrouded in cloud when they came back for another round. Finally the chair was open and we could get up higher. The cloud level was not much more than a hundred feet or so higher up. They’d been doing a lot of ski cuts, but there were quite a few regular tracks as well, definitely not all ski cuts though! Oh well, good luck to them, they earned it, good to see the patrol had been having some fun too with the cloud cover obstructing the view. It was looking like about only 10 or 15cm’s of ski penetration in the new but settled snow. Great skiing but certainly not epic, plus it was warming up really fast in the sun. We’d have to see how it would last.


  We were one of the first in line and the first lap was the customary push skiers right from the chair to gain height and better fall-line. Then it was GS turns a-plenty in the soft and predictable snow. We followed our usual line right next to the chairlift, finishing on our favorite pitch down from the mid-station of the chair. It was just starting to get foggy when you got to that last pitch, but the turns were still fast and fun. The snow was a little deeper there as it was sheltered from the wind.


  We went up and did our second lap, pretty similar to the first, the only difference was we went a little further skier’s left when we got to the chairlift mid-station and finished the run out to the left of the chairlift. The third run, we decided to try something different. No one wanted to take the traverse out to the far left side of the run, out to the Army Ridge side (patrol did not want people going out there), but we could go a little on the south side of Mary’s Shoulder. By the time we got there, the sun was really heating up the snow and it was really, really sticky. I kept speeding up and then slowing down; it wasn’t that fun at all sadly. It was a real shame as the run was untouched and would have been amazing with colder snow on it. We made it down one at a time to our favorite hidden gully, but made the call that that would be the last run of the day in that area as it was warming up too fast and we were starting to see pin-wheels rolling and could feel the snow getting saturated.


  Andrew was tied and I was starting to feel sick again, so I decided to ski back to the Khyber with him. Jeelani was happy to keep going with Nigel and they got several more laps in, in the main bowl. By the time Andrew and I got back to the hotel, it was around noon. Nils was still there so I was able to help him get his bags onto the taxi for his departure. We said our goodbyes and off he went.  



post #72 of 121
Thread Starter 

Sunday 22nd Feb

Sick day. Upper gondola opened.


  Sadly for me, I was sick in bed the whole day with another stomach bug, so Jeelani took the group. I had my radio on in my room, so I could monitor the guys. The whole group stayed together, so we had Brennan with Jeelani and Dawood as guides, with Nigel, Andrew, Brint and Philipp as the clients. Not a bad ratio, 3 guides for 4 clients. As luck would have it (or as my bad luck would have it as I was laid up in bed…..), the upper gondola was open and the guys finally got to ski the upper mountain. They got several laps in on the Army Ridge and Apharwat South Bowl and from what I saw of their footage, the skiing looked amazing. Fresh tracks, open bowl and ridge skiing, going as fast as they wanted! Awesome!


  They were all pretty psyched when they got back; finally everyone had gotten the proper Gulmarg experience and gotten to ride the upper mountain terrain untracked. I’ll have to track down their footage as it looked amazing, I was really sad to have missed it, but then I’ve had many of those days myself over the years, so I was just pumped that they finally got to experience it for themselves. I think that was the moment that convinced many of them to want to come back again! I was feeling a lot better by the end of the day and was excited to ski again the next day.



post #73 of 121
Thread Starter 

Monday 23rd Feb

Awesome new line down to Drung with the entire group.


  Unfortunately the weather was due to change again with another storm fast approaching. The winds were increasing so the gondola was closed. Again, I wanted to show the guys something new as the Monkey Hill/Chairlift regime was probably getting a little old (without new snow on them at least), so I suggested we try for Drung. If possible, every group should do at least one trip down to Drung, not just for the skiing, but for the whole experience and adventure of it all, especially getting to interact with the kids from the village.


  Jeelani was into it and he wanted to show me a different line down to the village that started at the Kongdoori plateau. Again, this was a new line for me, so I was all about it. We had the entire group with us (including Brennan’s group and Dawood), minus Nils of course who had left the day before. I told them the skiing wasn’t going to be the best, but it was about the adventure and excitement of getting to the village itself, plus getting to ski something different. The plan was to take the chairlift up and then follow Mary’s Shoulder down about 2/3 of the way, then we would head skier’s right and over the side to the hidden gully that we had skied many times before.


  So, off we all went. Everyone was in high spirits. The snow was skiing better than the days before, due to the colder temps in the hidden gully. We skied from section to section, either one at a time or spread out on the flatter parts. The snow was ok (not quite corn but a little soft and pretty fast, you’ll see it on the video’s later….) and people were making the most of it. At least it was untracked and not all broken up.


  Pretty soon we were crossing the plateau. This line would ultimately keep us out of the main drains all the way down. Once we’d crossed the flat, it was into the trees. Here was a series of low angle, open glades. If the snow was fresh, this would make for great skiing during higher avalanche danger days and is a way more fun option than skiing the main drain (not including the other ridgelines from the Drung Skyline bowls….).


  We’d been skiing for about an hour when we finally reached the valley floor. We came out near the start of the workings for the hydro-electric power plant and the big water pipe. Here is where we

would cross the river (minus the old bridge that had been washed away in the summertime floods) and then it was an easy hike down to the start of the Drung village. I only kept my skis on my pack for a little ways, then it was much faster to put them on and traverse and sidestep along the path.


  We got to the village at the same spot as we had with the previous group. Again, there were no kids to be seen initially, it took about 5 minutes for the first ones to show up. Jeelani then asked them to go and get all their friends and it was just like last time. The chance for a free chocolate handout spread around the village and the kids came running out to us about 10 minutes later. After we gave out all the chocolate it was ski time, with the kids jumping on the back of the skis. We rode down the small banks with the kids hooting and hollering nearly as loud as us; it was a lot of fun. Then we had a little front-flip demonstration into the snow and then someone gave the kids a snowball demonstration (all aimed at me of course!). I got pelted pretty good! it turns out those kids are pretty good shots as I took a big one to the side of the temple. Ouch! Oh well, the kids thought it was funny…..


  So, all in all it had been a really positive day. For me, it was a chance to learn another new line, especially important as it was a nice safe line down to Drung with great skiing when the snow would be good. For the others, it was finally a chance to get to Drung and see what all that was about. Everyone loved meeting the kids and having fun with them, taking them for rides on the back of their skis through the village. Again, it really highlighted to everyone how culturally rewarding and different of a ski trip this is. We finished off the day with a meal at the Downhill restaurant in Tangmarg. I was ready for some Butter Chicken and gladly shared a portion with Andrew. Good times!      



post #74 of 121
Thread Starter 

Tuesday 24th Feb

Down day, walkabout town, shenanigans with Mr. Ferrari.


  We woke up to the start of a storm and it was snowing pretty hard. Unfortunately it hadn’t been snowing for long so we were thinking that it wouldn’t be enough snow to make a difference and the upper mountain was shrouded in cloud. It seemed like a perfect day for a rest day, so Andrew and Nigel decided to have a lie in. When they were ready, I would take them round town to check out the sites.


  On leaving the hotel, we bumped into Mr. Ferrari. He was one of the local taxi drivers and is an absolute hoot. He drives an old Suzuki Sierra 4wd with a couple of bench seats in the back. He took us for a lift into town so we could cover more ground quickly. We got some great footage of Mr. Ferrari and him describing his special winter driving technique. Mr. Ferrari only has one working windscreen wiper. The passenger side of the windscreen is covered in snow and you can't look out. Now, Mr. Ferrari has actually designed this as a special Kashmiri safety system. If the front passenger could see out of the windscreen then they might get really nervous, so if they can't see, then they are a lot calmer and the ride is a lot less scary therefore. Genius!



  The first stop was of course Mr. Khan’s cloth house. The guys wanted to check out some of his handmade clothing and we hung out for a cup of Kawah and a try-on of some of his ready-made items. Then we started walking back towards the entrance to town as Mr. Ferrari had gone on a bit of a walkabout and was nowhere to be seen. We found him again further up the road and he gave us a lift up to the Hotel Heevan Retreat, one of our other partner hotels. Nigel and Andrew wanted to check it out for future trips and I thought it also might be a good place to get up close and personal with some monkeys. We dropped into the Raja Hut on the way to the Heevan for some more tea and met with Dada Khan, one of the locals who I had provided training to at the start of the trip. They also sell Gulmarg t-shirts so Nigel was keen to check them out.


  We had some more snacks at the Heevan and the manager Rayees showed us around. There were monkeys out on the roof of the hotel but we couldn’t get any to come close (for photos!). When we left the hotel there were plenty in the driveway to the hotel. The foodtruck had come back with several crates of fresh vegetables. We got some great closeups of some of the monkeys and I even got chased by one (don’t worry, we got that on film!) and then some of the monkeys got into the foodtruck that was temporarily unguarded. They broke into the crates as quickly as they could but were chased off by a security guard with an umbrella! They did manage to get some free food though.


  Then we decided to take the track across to the Highland Park Hotel, our favorite watering hole. It’s an easy 7 minute walk through the forest from the Heevan on a well-worn path. There is one challenging part, crossing the infamous “Scheizer Creek,” a stream so foul smelling that you don’t ever want to fall in. If so, your clothes would forever be tainted! Sometimes the crossing is easy and narrow with a snow bridge (which could give way at any time though!), sometimes it is wide with slippery rocks to jump onto. This was one of the wider crossings and was made harder but the approach of an oncoming snowmobile. This would add extra pressure to get across.


  I made it first, so I decided I best set up my camera, in case there was any carnage that needed to be filmed. Thankfully Andrew and Nigel both made across in one piece, with only a small wobble! The snowmobile made it through; we kept out of the way and made sure we did not to get splashed! The beers tasted good that night, but we couldn’t stay for long as we had to head back to the Pine Palace Hotel for the evening avalanche safety presentation put on by Luke Smithwick.   


  Around 6pm we left for the Pine Palace. It was starting to get dark outside and I'm not sure how keen we were for the walk, so much to our relief, there was Mr. Ferrari still waiting in the carpark. Awesome! We would be glad for the lift. Now, Nigel for a while had been saying he was keen to try driving in Kashmir, this could be his golden opportunity. We asked Mr. Ferrari if he was ok with Nigel driving and he was fine. Mr. Ferrari was keen to impart some of his local driving expertise, so off we went. First came a lesson in aggressive horn usage and use of the snowbank to slow a sliding vehicle, all advanced Kashmiri driving techniques. We made it around to the Pine Palace somewhat safely and said goodbye to Mr. Ferrari.  The talk by Luke was good as always. We would be walking on the way back.....



post #75 of 121
Thread Starter 

Wednesday 25th Feb

Pow day – 2 x Monkey Hill laps, 1 long, 1 medium. 1 x mid-station lap and 1 Baba Reshi lap. Wet slide.


  This is a long post, so get comfortable...... This day definitely had it all. We did a lot of skiing on different areas on the mountain. It was another powder day, we’d had about a foot of snow overnight and there was supposed to be more snow during the day. The visibility was poor up high, so again no chance of the chairlift or upper gondola being open. Luke Smithwick, head of the snow safety team was keen to take some time off and make some turns in with us, so we were looking forward to that.


  The plan was to take a couple of laps on Monkey Hill and get first tracks there. If we had Luke with us then we’d be able to keep a good ear out IF the chairlift was opening, so we felt our chances of getting first tracks there too (if it opened) would be good. It was just Andrew and I, Jeelani was having a later start and would meet us on the second lap and Nigel was suffering from the flu, so he was also having a later start. Brennan’s crew was also having a later start as Brint had some work to do.


  They hadn’t cleared the road down from the Khyber yet (they have teams of men clearing the road by hand) so the skiing was really nice on the way down to the start of the Monkey Hill skin track. We started hiking and made it to the top in about 30 minutes. We wanted to ski a longer line, so we went all the way to the summit and a little further out to the skier’s right. It was completely untouched. I felt it fitting to let Andrew drop in first and get first tracks. He jumped in and after I started to lose sight of him, I dropped in after him.


  The turns were great, nice and smooth and deep enough. We weren’t getting faceshots but it was still great skiing and only our tracks were on it. We got down to the road and skitched back to the start. We’d had a call from Brennan that they were out and about, along with Nigel and Jeelani. Jeelani had his radio on so we arranged to meet at the top.


  Sure enough when we got to the top they were waiting for us. We dropped in a little more skier’s left so we could get back to the road easier and wouldn’t have as far to skate back to the gondola. Again, it was another nice run. We got down to the bottom and headed back to the gondola. Brennan and his group were down at the bottom and they had Luke with them. We decided to mix it up and go for a ride up the gondola and do a mid-station lap. The bottom of the gondola had just opened so we could do a nice easy run down.


  The wind was howling when we got off the gondola so none of us wanted to go too far past the patrol HQ which would have meant traversing under potential large slide paths. No one wanted anything to do with that so we dropped in just left of the mid-station and the turns were surprisingly good. Brennan took some shots and we hammed it up for the cameras. It was a fun ski down, having Luke on board with us and the whole group together, we were in high spirits and there was much tomfoolery. In the distance, we could hear some scary rumbling noises, it sounded like some big avalanches were coming down from the top of the mountain……


  We skied down under the old chairlift line and found untouched snow. I poached the line as everyone was talking about where to ski (no friends on a powder day!), maybe they needed me to show them how it was done? Anyway, it was a lot of fun and we were all high fiving by the end. It was still early and we had plenty of daylight left, but where would we go next? We’d already lapped Monkey Hill and with all the scary noises coming from the upper mountain, we wanted to stay away from there. So, there was only one choice really, Baba Reshi! Brennan hadn’t been there yet (as well as none of the clients), so it would be a welcome change. Everyone knew that it could be a bit of a junk show getting back up the road, but they were ok with that.


  So, we were going to roll the dice and head over to Baba Reshi. We’d need to get to the drop in zone. That either means walking (or skating, I’ve done that before and it’s not super fun….) for a mile and a half or we’d need to find a taxi. Most of the taxis were already being used by other groups so it took us a while. Finally we got one out the front of Jeelani’s ski shop. There was a big traffic jam as we put our skis on the roof of the taxi (we were also a bit guilty of holding up the traffic as we loaded up our gear…… oops!). Anyway, were all piled in and it was a really tight fit, 9 guys and all our gear in one Tata Sumo, a new record!


  We got passed the market and then we started having trouble getting up the small hill. One of the chains was really banging on the underside of the vehicle and the driver had had to stop twice to try and tighten the chain (normally the vehicles crap out on the drive BACK UP to Gulmarg, not on the way to the drop in point….!). Finally, with a loud bang the chain finally came off and got spat out behind the vehicle. That left the tire spinning on the road (it wasn’t all snow, some of the bitumen was exposed) and we were doing a massive slow burnout up the hill. The smell of burning rubber was over-powering, we nearly had to get out and walk but the driver finally made it to the top of the hill and we were able to get out at the start of Baba Reshi.


  It was a big relief to be able to breathe in fresh air again. The burning tire was nearly too much for some of the crew. There was a small path leading further up the closed section of the road and Luke was keen to show us a zone further away. There was another group getting dropped off at the same spot and we took off together. Luke was keen to lead us to a zone further up the path, so we followed him for about 10 minutes before we got to the potential drop in zone. The other group kept going and we lost sight of them.


  Looking at the top of the drop in point, the zone looked steep, really steep, surprisingly steep! We had about a 6 foot drop off a wall, onto a somewhat flat landing before we even got to turning. It was hard to tell how much snow was on it too. It definitely had our attention. Looking at it, everyone was pretty pumped. This would be a challenging ski, easily the steepest line we would be skiing. Calmer heads needed to prevail so Luke and I called a bit of a huddle and we came up with a bit of a plan. We’d need to ski it one at a time, with eyes on.  I agreed to go first, the proverbial guinea pig. I really didn’t fancy having to do the jump in, but there were no other close options to get into the line.


    So, I was going first. It took me a little psyching up before the drop, then finally I called out, “3, 2, 1 drop” and off I went. The landing was a little softer than I thought and I managed to stay on my feet, then I had to go straight into a right turn. I started the turn but then something wasn’t right, I had turned my skis across the hill but I was still moving downhill. The ground was moving. I hadn’t initially realized it but I was caught in a wet slide, the snow was thick and heavy and I couldn’t get out of it, my skis were like anchors as the snow pulled me downhill on my side. I couldn't get up onto my feet. My only hope was that the snow wasn’t too deep and I could somehow dig in with my edges and stop myself. I was worried that the snow was going to send my down the really steep part to my left, I couldn’t see what was down there but I was thinking that would be bad……


  There was a tree coming up below me, if I could slow down, I could use that to stop me. Digging my edges in even further, I got to the tree and I managed to slow myself and stop. What a relief. The rest of the snow kept moving downhill to my left. I was fine, a little shaken but ok. I’d been taken over a buried rubbish dump as well, the smell was pretty bad and there was trash everywhere. Nasty……


  Anyway, I got up and surveyed the scene. I still had most of the face to ski. There were still pockets of deeper snow on the face and they were sliding off as soon as you touched them. Then I heard a noise from above and for some reason, Philipp had dropped in as well. I was still on the face and not in a good spot. Then he yelled out a warning, there was more snow coming down. Thankfully it slid down past me to my right. I yelled back at him not to move anymore and to let me get out of the zone.


  So, now I had to move. It was steep and I couldn’t go fast as there were some rocks on the face and I had to avoid those. I had to pick my way down the face and finally I found my way down. I skied through the run out, there were several debris piles. I traversed left and past a large debris pile. That was from the slide I was briefly in. It was larger than I thought it would be. If I had been caught in that, then that could have been bad.


  The rest of the guys gradually made their way down. We all met up in a flatter spot well away from the steep face. It was time to talk about what had gone wrong. Well, in our youthful exuberance and high spirits, we’d definitely been too complacent about our line choice. It was a really steep line, too steep for the recent heavy wet snow. That new snow hadn’t had time to bond yet and we shouldn’t have been on that face in hindsight. The face was short but it had some consequences; there were trees in the mix and some rocks on the face. It could have gone worse for me. So, in hindsight, we should have chosen an easier line; we’d ski more suitable terrain in Baba Reshi before and should have done something similar this time. It was the human factor (having been having fun all day and therefore being in high spirits) that made us not question the line.


  I was upset with myself at being so eager to jump in and not stop and think about it more. We probably all felt too safe together as a group. I wasn’t sure why Philipp had dropped into the line whilst I was still on it. Why he was told to go, I don’t know why that happened. At least he had the foresight to give me a yell when he had dropped in and kicked off another small slide. I know Luke was definitely questioning his line choice as well, but again, we all chose to knowingly ski it, so I don’t apportion any blame to him.  


  So, I think most of us were upset with ourselves after that. The mood was definitely more subdued on the ride back to Gulmarg. That was as close as a call as I wanted to have. Only 2 more days of skiing to go and then I could relax somewhat. I was ready for a break…….     



post #76 of 121
Originally Posted by Mattadvproject View Post

I started the turn but then something wasn’t right, I had turned my skis across the hill but I was still moving downhill. The ground was moving. I hadn’t initially realized it but I was caught in a wet slide, the snow was thick and heavy and I couldn’t get out of it, my skis were like anchors as the snow pulled me downhill on my side. I couldn't get up onto my feet. 




Glad to hear it came out OK Matt!  How big was the initial slide? Would it have been a problem if someone had been below you?

post #77 of 121
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by dbostedo View Post




Glad to hear it came out OK Matt!  How big was the initial slide? Would it have been a problem if someone had been below you?

Hey Dave,

  Thanks for the questions. I'll post the video now and you can see for yourself. The whole slide took about 8 seconds from the time I dropped in to the time it took to come to a stop. The slide starts at the 0:09 second mark and I come to a stop by the 0:17. There is a covered rock that comes into view at the 0:12 mark that diverges the slide and helps push me to the right where I am able to come to a rest.  The rest of the video is me picking my way carefully down the face.


  So, in the big scale of things, as I said before, the slide wasn't that big. It was more of a point release (as opposed to a slab) and only slid where I had directly interacted with the snow. Could you say that it was just sluff that we were kicking off? Maybe, but either way, the consequences were the same. The snow was wet and heavy and with fat skis on, the snow really wanted to pull the skis and take you down the hill, over or through, what was below. It was about 6 inches of new snow that was sliding and was bonding poorly to the bed surface below.


  Another thing to consider, was the trash pile that I had gone through.I wonder how big it was and how that affected the stability? I'm sure plastic Maggi noodles packets and rotting vegetables/fruit don't help bonding...... Did I ski through that pile and then the snow failed from there? I've seen some of these garbage piles in the trees (it really makes me sad to see it) and they can be pretty big. So, I wonder if that was the cause of the problem?


  When I finally got off the slope, you can see all the debris from recent activity. It's hard to say if the debris was just from the 2 slides that we kicked off or if it was from older slides. I think probably a combination of the 2.


  Yes, if someone was below then they could have potentially been caught in the debris coming from above. You definitely don't want to be hanging out in a spot like that though. We are still in the backcountry, so anyone skiing in that area needs to get out of the slide path and to the next safe spot, as quickly as possible. We had 9 guys spread out along start of the drop in zone, the guys to my right were lower down and had a better view of the entire run than I did. They didn't see anyone. We were at the drop in point for several minutes before we dropped in one at a time (apart from Philipp dropping in a little prematurely......) so there was no reason for anyone to be below us.


  Anyway, here's the video, see what you think.





post #78 of 121
Thread Starter 

Thursday 26th Feb

Laps on the chairlift, shoveling out lift, 6 laps in the gondola bowl. Brennan, Brint and Philipp left town.


  This was Brennan and his groups last day in Gulmarg as they were due to leave for Srinagar and their night on the houseboat later that afternoon. Brennan was taking his group for an early morning skin up Monkey Hill, before the lifts were due to open, to maximize their time left.


  The sun was out and it was a beautiful day. We were all pumped to get to the chairlift and see how much new snow was up there, so we got ready quickly and got to the gondola early. It was around 9am and we were the first ones there. We could hear Brennan’s group over the radio, sounds like they were having fun. There was a lot of new snow when we got to the chairlift. There were a few of the gondola guys starting to dig out the bottom of the chair and they had a lot of work to do still, so I figured I would at least try and clear out the ramp and maze, to speed up the process.


  The rest of the guys were keen to pitch in as well and we proceeded to get our shovels out and start work on clearing out the 3 ft of new snow in the lift maze. The turn styles to let people onto the chair were completely buried and we had to clear those out first. A few other groups started to appear, but none of them decided to stick around and went off to do a lap somewhere else. After about 30 minutes, Brennan’s group appeared and they joined us at work.


  It was hard work but fun. We definitely got to practice some strategic shoveling techniques. My group were all on the weekly passes but I asked the lift manager if Brennan’s guys could get some free passes for all the work they were doing. He agreed and Brennan’s group didn’t pay for a group for the whole morning. That seemed fair for them.


  After about an hour and a half we had the area cleared and we could relax a little. A few local guys tried to snake us and get to the front of the line but we weren’t budging and maintained our position at the front of the queue. The patrol went up and started to bomb. Nothing was moving and they all came back for a second pass (to clear the steep face near the bottom of the chair). Then they let us go up. We had a 2 chair gap between us and the start of the crowd (not sure if the chair people gave us that gap on purpose, but if they did, then that was a nice touch and really appreciated).


  It looked like the new snow had really consolidated after the storm; we’d be skiing on approx. 10 to 15cm’s of fresh snow. It wouldn’t be epic but it would be fun. I was happy for the guys to take off and get first tracks. When we got to the top I stopped to do my pack straps up but the guys were already off and running. I’d be playing catch up to them. No problem! We skied big, fast GS turns in the falline, back down towards the chairlift. We then hit up the bottom steep section under the chair. That was pretty good with a little more snow due it’s more sheltered location.


  After the first lap we went straight back to the chair and were straight back on. There were no queues as the first wave had already cleared through the chair. We followed our same line at the start for the 2nd lap, but we headed skier’s right to hit up the large face behind the restaurants. Here the snow was a lot better, at least 20cm’s deep and nice and dry. The skiing was great. I jumped off a small cornice and off a large downed tree; the skiing in this lower section was really fun and we ended up hitting this zone a few times.


  We ended up doing about 6 laps in total. People started to cut to the left, to get to the Army Ridge side. Patrol were not having this and after warning the crowd and many people ignoring them, they shut down the chair. That was us done for the day then. It was early afternoon and I took Andrew back to the hotel. Jeelani was staying out with Nigel in the hope of the chair being re-opened, but it didn’t happen; either way, we’d had a pretty fun day and everyone was happy.


   By the time we got back, Brennan and his group were almost ready to leave. I helped them with their bags and said farewell. It had been a great time for all. I think Brennan was pretty stoked too. It had taken him a little while to adjust to the pace of life and some of the potential frustrations of guiding in Gulmarg but once he got to grips with things, then I think he could really see the potential of the place. He did a great job for us and I look forward to working with him again in 2015/16.


  That just left us with one more day of skiing to go, then we’d all be starting our return journey’s home.



post #79 of 121
Thread Starter 

Saturday 28th Feb

Leaving for Srinagar


  We all had a bit of a lye-in and had a late breakfast. Irshad was coming for us around noon so we had plenty of time to get ready. I had a quick run around and said goodbye to all of the staff at the Khyber and then we were off. The weather was fine and the road was surprisingly quiet. We made it down to Srinagar in a decent amount of time. Then it was time for our usual rounds – lunch at the Shamayana restaurant (naturally I had the butter chicken…..), pick up some beers at the hole in the wall and then off to the carpet shop to check out some souvenirs.


  Then it was across to our houseboat via shikara and some much needed rest and relaxation. We had the usual bombardment from the floating salesmen on the way over, but nothing we weren’t used to already. Then we could chill out and enjoy some dinner with Abdul looking after us like a champion. I had an early night and didn’t even have any beer, I needed the sleep.


Sunday 1st March

Leaving for Delhi. Nigel and Andrew took the early trip around Dal Lake. Flight delayed 2 hours with Andrew. Flight to Delhi, then beers at the airport. Transfer to Red Fox Hotel, few more beers, dinner then Andrew had to say goodbye.


  Nigel and Andrew got up early to do the early morning shikara tour around the lake. I finished packing all my belongings and then Abdul had a nice breakfast ready for us, by the time the guys got back around 8am. We all enjoyed some nice fried eggs on toast and then it was time for Andrew and myself to start heading off. Nigel’s flight wasn’t until later so he’d be leaving separately.


  We got to the airport nice and early. I always allow 3 hours to get through all the security, which there is a lot of. You have to go through an x-ray machine just to get through the main gates. Having said that though, each year it does get a little easier though; finally you no longer have to leave the check-in and go outside to pay excess baggage. That used to be a royal pain in the butt, but now you can pay inside. That might not sound like a big deal, but that means you don’t have to go outside to pay and then have to go through security to get back in. That actually makes a big difference. It’s the little things you learn to appreciate……


  It turns out that our flight was more than 2 hours delayed. By the time it was ready to go, Nigel had also arrived at the terminal, so we all got to hang out together, one last time. Finally it was our turn to board and we said goodbye to Nigel. We had managed to snag seats on the left side of the plane to get the best final views of the Himalayas, but we were both so tired, we fell asleep.


  An hour and 20 minutes later and we were in Delhi. There was an English Premier League soccer game (football in my language! I’m a big Liverpool fan and was desperate to see the Liverpool vs. Man City game). Andrew wanted to have a couple of beers so we got comfortable at the arrivals hall where they have a small bar. It was nice to be drinking some imported beers (Heineken) but they were very expensive, so we only had 4 each…… We bumped into my friend Bill Barker, who is also a tour operator in Gulmarg. He was on his way back to Australia. He had a beer with us and then it was time to head to my hotel.


  Andrew was flying out in the early morning but wanted to have some dinner before leaving. I was staying at a new hotel, The Red Fox in the new Aerocity hotel complex, just outside the airport. It’s very convenient hotel, being less than a 10 minute drive to the new international terminal. The hotel itself is pretty funky, it’s brand new and pretty affordable. The basic rooms are small, but they are quiet and have a decent bathroom with reliable hot water and decent water pressure in the shower. Just the ticket.


  We couldn’t find anywhere showing the game unfortunately (Liverpool actually won the game which I was pretty stoked about) but we did go to the restaurant for some dinner. The food was surprisingly good, with a decent menu and lots of different Indian and western options. The prices were really good, with mains costing 300 to 400 INR (about $4.80 to $6.40). That’s pretty good I thought! So, we had a decent feed and then it was time to say goodbye to Andrew around 11pm. Then I could finally get a really long sleep in, with no plans for the next day.   


Monday 2nd March

11 hours sleep, did not leave hotel, catch up on rest and emails.


  It turns out the rooms at the Red Fox are very dark at night and the curtains work very well during the day. I was so tired from 5 weeks straight without a break that I slept for 11 hours straight. I felt so refreshed when I woke up, however I needed to catch up on emails and writing trip reports, so I lay low all day. I only left my room to go to dinner (which was nice).


  The driver who picked us up at the airport had offered to take me on a trip to Agra to go and see the Taj Mahal, so I did some reading and swotted up about the place. I was excited to go and finally see the Taj the next day and had to be up early for the 3 hour drive. So, another early night for me.....


  I think it's time to add the video's. I'll add the Agra and Delhi reports at the end as we have a lot of video to get through next.......




post #80 of 121
Originally Posted by Mattadvproject View Post


...I’m a big Liverpool fan...


I thought there was something else cool about you... Here's a pic of me from 2008 ... didn't catch a match unfortunately :


post #81 of 121
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by dbostedo View Post


I thought there was something else cool about you... Here's a pic of me from 2008 ... didn't catch a match unfortunately :



Nice one Dave!


  That's a famous sign indeed. I never got to experience Anfield from that particular view, but when I was younger and living in the UK, I used to go to Liverpool games all the time. We had season tickets to Liverpool for a couple of years, during the mid to late 80's when Liverpool were the team to beat in England. I like the fact that you can get a lot of the games on TV here in the US, I get to see a lot more of the games than when I was living in Australia. YNWA!



post #82 of 121
Thread Starter 

Ok Folks,

  Thanks for your patience, we've gone through a lot of write-ups and photos, but now for the part I was personally looking forward to, the video's from most of the days. I'll be editing most of these video's so, I'll try and just show you the good stuff. I'll apologize in advance for all the hooting and hollering and other weird noises that come from me, I do have fun when I ski and I do enjoy watching other people who are having fun, so, you, sorry for being weird! Also, most of the footage is POV, we weren't able to film much with the regular camera due to the heightened avi conditions. 


  Finally, some other technical info. I'm using the original Contour Roam camera, mounted on top of my helmet. I'm 6ft 3 and with skis (Grace KIWI's, 196cm and 138mm underfoot) and boots, stand an inch or two higher than that, so when the snow is hitting me in the face, then you know it's properly deep! So, without further a due, here's the starting footage. This came from our first proper day of skiing with our guys in Session 1. They had just done their avi safety training on day 1 and then it started to dump...... this is what it looked like (you may have seen some of this footage earlier, but I've edited it together in one hit.......).



  This was our first run together, skiing as a group so the first pitch  is pretty short. I wanted to see how the guys were riding before I committed to putting in more turns. Also, this was nearly a meter of fresh, but there was hardly any snow underneath, so I was concerned about how good the cover was. Turns out it was skiing really well, as long as you stayed away from the obvious obstacles like downed trees and stumps that you could see poking out from underneath the snow.




post #83 of 121
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Mattadvproject View Post

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......


Hopefully when I quote this report, it posts the reply to the end of the thread...... here we go! So, I have a lot of video for this day, this was obviously the day with the large avalanche at the end of the day's skiing. I have a small video of that that will get posted at the end. Anyway,  here's the video's of the runs we did that day.



Run 1,  this looks nice visually but you can clearly see how tough the snow was that day; 3 inches of breakable wind crust on top of really nice snow. It was pretty disappointing given we had high expectations, sadly the wind must have been ripping over the peak and right down the face of the main run (looking at the direction of the sastruigi or wind ridges, that were growing). That really changed the quality of the skiing, it was really tough and definitely kicked our butts..... but I personally enjoyed the challenge of this kind of skiing where your balance and movements had to be so precise. The snow underneath the chairlift at the end of the run where it was more sheltered, was definitely easier.




Run 2, pretty similar to Run 1, we just went a little more skier's left. If anything, the crust was a little stiffer at the start and even more challenging. Dan on his snowboard was definitely looking the most at ease, I think a combination of being able to use his back foot more (keep his nose up and out therefore) and the tight turning radius of his board, were definitely an advantage. He was riding well in this stuff.




Run 3 - We went skier's right side of the chairlift this time. It was pretty tracked out but that made for easier skiing in my opinion, you could actually let the skis run and get into some more GS type turns, if you were game. You had to stay strong as there were deeper patches of crud everywhere which you had to power through. I got over to the trees a little towards the end and the skiing was really nice (albeit there weren't too many turns coming in the way I came in), but it was fun.





Run 4 (hopefully this one plays......). Same as Run 3, but we went over the backside of the treed area and found good, untouched snow. The aspect was starting to warm up and you could feel the snow changing, but it was still relatively light, with good sheltered (from the wind) turns to be had.




Run 5, this was the best run by a mile! We skied GS turns, skier's right as per the last 2 runs, but this time we ducked over the other side of the Mary's Shoulder ridgeline and skied what I call, the Hidden Gully. It's a sweet little line, we got to it after a group of Russians had put first tracks on it (0:24). They were all over the place at the end of the gully, once they had extricated themselves out of various self-produced holes in the snow, we dropped in and enjoyed wide open, fast turns in the softening snow. Those were easily the best turns of the day.




So, this is a view of the aftermath of the slide above the chairlift (you can see it here above Tom in the white/black jacket and orange pants, right) shoulder. I don't have footage of the actual slide coming down the mountain (we were too busy getting to a safe spot) and I was already around the side of the ridge so I wouldn't have had a great initial view anyway, but I did film just after the slide had come to a stop. I think I already described what we thought happened in the previous report, so I won't go into detail here. In this video, we re-group and then ski down to Tom. Tom was down a ways lower as he had initially stopped (not knowing) when Jeelani called out the slide. He was fine when we got to him (we could see him from above and could see that he was well-positioned and out of harm's way). We had a quick discussion on how to stop safely as a group and then took off out of the area for a more detailed de-brief in a safer spot.



post #84 of 121
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Mattadvproject View Post

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.


So, we spent the first part of the morning digging pits.Then we did 3 runs from the gondola mid-station. The skiing was really good, the 3rd line being our best. This is what it looked like......



Run 1 - this is not far from the ski patrol hut near the chairlift. It's nice and steep but again, you weren't sure how good the cover was given all the saplings poking through. As long as you went around the large obvious stuff, the skiing was good. I don't mind a bit of bush bashing like this, as long as you aren't hitting bottom (which could be dangerous), I enjoy the mental challenge of this kind of skiing; can you ski a line making good turns without stopping to have to think about it is a fun challenge that some of the guys hadn't really attempted before. Jeelani surprised us all with an aggressive straight line through the shrubs (0:29), thankfully he came out of it unscathed.......




Run 2, we went a little further left, it's maybe a little more open but then you have a long run out down the powerline/water treatment plant area which can be a little tough on a snowboard (snowboarders, make sure you carry collapsible poles in Gulmarg!) when there is fresh snow. It's not a super exciting run, but you at least check out some of the lower level terrain we have in Gulmarg.




Run 3 was definitely the best run of the day. We traversed out a lot further skier's left and you come out to this large open area with a nice mellow, rolling shelf. You get 2 pitches and then you are back in the trees, following the same line back down the powerlines/water treatment plant. The snow was great here and the coverage was good too. Scotty and Avi were starting to find their feet and were making nice turns on this section.



post #85 of 121
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Mattadvproject View Post

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......


This was our first little jaunt into the backcountry, just off the side skier's right side of Mary's Shoulder. The skiing wasn't going to be amazing, but it would be a new line and a chance to work on the protocols that we would need for further skiing in the backcountry. If all went well, we'd ski down to Drung the next day.



There were a couple of convex rolls (mostly small) that I wanted to avoid. The first was on the second pitch where I tell the guys to follow my tracks to the left of it (0:10) and the second is on the final pitch (1:15). There was a narrower ridge and convex roll that I just didn't like the look of (it was getting warmer and I didn't trust it enough to be the first one to make a bunch of turns on it), so I turned on top of it and then did a quick sweeping turn around it and finished with a traverse out to the right. It didn't move (apart from some small pinwheels which was to be expected with the warming snow) and I was probably being a little over cautious, but I'd rather test it first myself and then the rest of the group could ski it, one at a time if I didn't get a result on it. That's what happened. The snow after that little ridge was nice, all the way down through the runout to the traverse line out.




Next we went up the gondola to check out the view from the summit as the guys hadn't seen it yet. The view was as impressive as ever (shame the lighting wasn't a bit better) and the guys really got a feel for the size of the place. You can then see the size of the avalanches that patrol had triggered in the main gondola bowls the day before. They were ominously impressive! The first slide at the top (pretty much the entire bowl had gone at the top, probably D4 in magnitude) had then caused the second bowl to go, though not as big (maybe D3). This failure was caused by the persistent weak layer (depth hoar at the bottom of the snowpack) and the rising temperatures destabilizing the slope, obviously the control work that the patrol did was the trigger. This area had already been skied for quite some time (more than a week), with many tracks on it already and it had been bombed before as well. So, conditions had changed enough that that area was primed and ready to slide again. This was sadly a preview of things to come.....




For our final run of the day, we went up the chairlift and traversed out skier's left to the next ridgeline, in the Army Ridge area. We felt ok crossing the main slide path as most of the snow above it had gone. We still treated it with a lot of respect and went one at a time, as quickly as we could with 2 sets of eyes on. When we got to the other side, we went to the next gully. I stayed up high on the ridgeline where I thought the snow was better and I had a better view of the group. We had a couple of local guys tag along with us for the ski out, one of them had a massive explosion as we exited onto the flats (he was fine) but we kept going as he and his buddy were not a part of our group and I had to catch up with the rest of the group as I was the tail...... All had gone well and we would do the long ski down to Drung the next day.

post #86 of 121
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Mattadvproject View Post

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!





Ok, here's the video from our trip to Drung to hang out with the kids. The ski down wasn't that great this time, the light was flat and the snow only so-so (although we did get to ski a bit of untracked). As the avalanche danger was so high, we weren't able to get to ski it from the top (where the really good turns are.....), but we started from the top of the chairlift.



I had to speed up a lot of the footage during editing and miss out several sections, otherwise the video would be too long. Hopefully, even with this format, you can get a feel for how long the ski down to Drung is. From the top of the chairlift (11,500ft) to the start of Drung (7,300ft) is about 4,200ft vertical drop, spread over about 4 miles of skiing. It still takes most of the day to do a run to Drung, even from the top of the chairlift (you probably lose about an hour or an hour and a half of skiing with a bigger group, when skiing to Drung from the top of the chairlift), especially when you stop in Tangmarg for a late lunch and you have to drive back up. So, it's a big day but not super physically demanding (so probably a nice change for our group who had been doing a lot of skinning for their runs).



Getting to the village at the end of the ski, was the highlight for me and one of the unique things you can do, during a trip to Gulmarg. The kids are awesome! When we got to the village, there were only a couple of kids around; we were at the outskirts of town and most of the kids were playing in the center of town. Luckily we had Jeelani to help us, he was able to ask a couple of kids to go and get the rest of the gang and we would give them all some chocolate as a reward. It took about 15 minutes all up (I know the guys were a little worried they weren't going to show up), but before we knew it, we had about 20 kids around us. Then the fun began.


After we'd divided up all the chocolate, the kids wanted to go for a ride on the back of our skis, so we set up a little track over a couple of the terraces. We all loved it with the kids hooting and hollering nearly as much as we all were. Then we had a little front flip competition and the English guys (Tom and Avi) got the kids to let off their airbags (Pieps Jetforce that are re-chargeable). They loved that! So, all in all, it was a really fun day, we finished it off at the Downhill Restaurant in Tangmarg (of course I had the Butter Chicken!). Good times. Hope you liked it.




post #87 of 121

Hey Matt!  Loved reading the trip report and seeing all your pics.  It was crazy how quickly the place emptied as soon as end of Feb/March hit, when we had some of the best snow conditions.  

And you did see me!  I am in one of your pics!  On the first page, at G3, walking away from the camera.  Green jacket, blue pants, black backpack.  Awesome.


Cheers for all your help and taking the time to answer my exhaustive list of questions.... I had an incredible time.  I don't think Gulmarg is for everyone, but if you can embrace it for what it is, then it will be an experience like no other.  I agree with you, it's a 2 trip kind of place.  I will definitely be back!

post #88 of 121

Great videos! Interesting to read all the reports, then see the videos, and whether or not they match up with what you're picturing. :)

post #89 of 121
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Trixie2000 View Post

Hey Matt!  Loved reading the trip report and seeing all your pics.  It was crazy how quickly the place emptied as soon as end of Feb/March hit, when we had some of the best snow conditions.  

And you did see me!  I am in one of your pics!  On the first page, at G3, walking away from the camera.  Green jacket, blue pants, black backpack.  Awesome.


Cheers for all your help and taking the time to answer my exhaustive list of questions.... I had an incredible time.  I don't think Gulmarg is for everyone, but if you can embrace it for what it is, then it will be an experience like no other.  I agree with you, it's a 2 trip kind of place.  I will definitely be back!

G'day Nat,

  Awesome, glad you like it so far! I saw the photo you meant, I recognized the matching green duct tape of course! Kinda looks like you are snobbing us? Just kidding...... Stoked you had a great season and I'm glad it all worked out for you. I know it was a hard decision to come out but sounds like you were rewarded with a pretty amazing experience. Speaking of amazing experiences, you have to tell us all how it was in March? I've not experienced skiing in Gulmarg in March yet, but by all accounts, it sounds like a great time to go. There seems to be plenty of snow on the ground with a deeper and therefore more stable snowpack. I heard (quite enviously!) reports from Luke Smithwick of only a handful of people out on the mountain and plenty of fresh snow. How was it for you? I'd like to know more! And don't worry, if you go back next year, I still have that beer you owe me on your tab.....



post #90 of 121
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by dbostedo View Post

Great videos! Interesting to read all the reports, then see the videos, and whether or not they match up with what you're picturing. :)

Thanks Dave,

  I totally did that on purpose! Ha ha! Well, not really, as I mentioned at the start of the blog it's too hard with the internet connection in Gulmarg to be editing and uploading video's as well as doing the write-ups (especially after working all day!), so I'm glad it works out well this way then. I'd like to have the video with the original write up at the time but it's too much work. I figured it would be easiest (though it takes up more room....) to quote the original post and then put up the corresponding video's.


  For me, I use the writing to try and get more into the mental aspects of what we do; especially the decision making process and the thoughts behind it. The blog helps me to collect all my thoughts for the trip and analyze the decisions I made. It's a tool I can refer back to over the years. Obviously the video is then the visual manifestation of that decision making process...... Stoked that that all works for you and I'm happy you've been following all this time (sometimes I wonder if I post TOO much information.......). My question to you then is does the video match up with what you were imagining? What do you think?




p.s. Just about gotten over the terrible result over the weekend, looks like the Reds will have to try again next season....... Time to give the young guns a run in the team!

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