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Gulmarg 2015/16 Trip Report

post #1 of 43
Thread Starter 

It's that time of the year again when I'm starting Gulmarg planning mode. This year will be further complicated (in a good way!) by a month long trip to Hokkaido in Japan in January for 4 weeks of skiing and exploring the north island. Can't wait for that one, it's been a long time coming. Expect a separate detailed trip report for that one......  


  Anyway, I have been posting about the current conditions in Gulmarg in the 2014/15 trip report, but I promised that I would move that to a new thread. Gulmarg just had a ton of new snow yesterday, so I have some new pics to share. If you've been following the end of the last thread, you will know that Gulmarg has already had a lot of snow already, more so than in previous seasons. This is not always a good thing, for those of you with a bit of an understanding of snow science and the knowledge of the prevailing avalanche conditions in Gulmarg; if we get that early snowfall and subsequent cold, dry weather, then that's how we get that persistent weak layer (think the formation of depth hoar at the base of the snowpack). That's not an uncommon situation in any continental snowpack  in the US, but it's definitely a persistent occurrence in Gulmarg.


  Now this season seems to be starting a little differently. I've been following the weather and getting updates from locals in Gulmarg, it would seem that this year, although there has been a lot of early snowfalls which has left a lot of snow on the ground, most crucially, the temperatures have stayed warm for most of the Fall. My hope therefore is that we haven't seen the cold temps that would traditionally cause the grains to turn to facets. So, I'm hopeful of a much more stable early season snowpack.


  Obviously I am saying all of this from the relative warmth and safety of my couch. I'm not in Gulmarg right now so I have not personally been out there and checked out the snowpack myself, but I have reasons to be optimistic (that will need to be confirmed!) that Gulmarg might have a more stable snowpack this season. We'll have to see what happens, but this could be a good season to go to Gulmarg, especially early season. We've earned it after last season's tragic and trying conditions. Just my 2 cents!


  Well, without further a do, here's the latest snowfall pics from Gulmarg. These were taken yesterday and were provided to us by Mushtaq Ahmad, a local from Gulmarg. Many thanks to Mushtaq for sharing these photos.



Start of phase 2 of the gondola, the snow is really filling in.




Looking out at the Kongdoori meadows, the plateau opposite the gondola mid-station.




Evidence of wind-loading down low. Could be lots of new snow up high, potentially with the formation of a deep wind slab. I wonder what that will be sitting on top of? A good question to ask.....



Plenty of new snow in the village.




Almost 1 meter of new snow down low at the mid-station. Expect there to be 2 to 3 times that amount up high with potential wind-loading. Winds must definitely have been strong, not much penetration in the first few steps, suggesting a pretty stiff slab.








Hmmm, can't wait to see how white the mountain will be looking when it comes out of the clouds..... hopefully we'll get some pics of that too.


That's it for now! Hopefully we'll get some more pics of the upper mountain in the sun, soon.




Gear mentioned in this thread:

post #2 of 43
Thread Starter 

Well the sun came out in Gulmarg yesterday and my friends sent me some great photos. The mountain is filling in nicely and looks resplendent in white! The cover (especially higher up) looks really good. They've been skiing from the mid-station of the gondola down, but the upper mountain is looking good to go now. It's a shame the upper mountain can't start until the ski patrol gets going (not sure when that will be). Compaction of the upper slopes would be a good thing right now..... Thanks to Jeelani Rather and Mushtaq Ahmad for these latest photos.



Upper mountain coverage is looking great! It's not normally like this in December......




Mt.Apharwat looking good in all white.








  The new cabins are loaded and ready to go. Same with the chairlift. Still needs a bit more snow down low, but for this time of year, it's looking amazing. This could be the season for Gulmarg, I've got all my fingers and toes crossed!


Hope you like the new photos.



post #3 of 43
Originally Posted by Mattadvproject View Post

Well the sun came out in Gulmarg yesterday and my friends sent me some great photos. The mountain is filling in nicely and looks resplendent in white! The cover (especially higher up) looks really good. They've been skiing from the mid-station of the gondola down, but the upper mountain is looking good to go now. It's a shame the upper mountain can't start until the ski patrol gets going (not sure when that will be). Compaction of the upper slopes would be a good thing right now..... Thanks to Jeelani Rather and Mushtaq Ahmad for these latest photos.



Upper mountain coverage is looking great! It's not normally like this in December......




Mt.Apharwat looking good in all white.








  The new cabins are loaded and ready to go. Same with the chairlift. Still needs a bit more snow down low, but for this time of year, it's looking amazing. This could be the season for Gulmarg, I've got all my fingers and toes crossed!


Hope you like the new photos.




Hmm... I can only see the photos in your quote above when editing it, not in your original post or my post of your quote... not sure what's going on there

post #4 of 43
Thread Starter 

There must be a glitch in the Matrix, they came up when I wrote the original post..... let me try and post them again or try editing the original post.....

post #5 of 43
Thread Starter 

New photos..... take 2!









Well, I'm going to be a little lazy and not label these again..... I think you get the idea! It's looking very good in Gulmarg for this time of year. Thanks again to Jeelani Rather and Mushtaq Ahmad for the use of these photos.


Ta da!

post #6 of 43
Thread Starter 

Well, no rest for the wicked! I was only back in Denver for 11 days (after 1 month in Japan) and now I am back in India for 3 weeks. I'd only just gotten over the jet-lag too, so time to get groggy again! This trip report is going to be a little different, I'm not guiding a regular group, I have a film crew coming out from the US, so the story is going to be a little more about their adventure, hopefully. I have 4 days in Gulmarg before the crew gets here, so will make the most of my time to get a feeling for the snow conditions. Hope you enjoy the reports!


Day 1 – Sunday 14th Feb


  Travel Day/s – Absolutely no dramas this time, no delays, all my bags turned up, all went very well. I flew United from Denver to Newark and then the long flight from Newark to Delhi. I have to say I was impressed by the Newark International Terminal; it’s pretty good now. There are a ton of eateries and casual bars. They all have the same I-pad payment and ordering system which is pretty slick. In a way it’s a little sad, with I-pads out on all the tables, everyone just sits there tapping away. Whilst I appreciate the connectivity, I’m just not a fan of people having their heads down in their phones and I-pads the whole time. Each to their own I guess; it’s just a sad reflection of how society is heading, but who am I to complain, I was one of those zombies too……


  Anyway, rant over! Made it to Delhi fine just after 9pm on Monday (local time), was pretty tired but ready to soldier on. I had a new visa that I had applied for and was a little anxious/nervous to try it. When I got to immigration there were plenty of signs pointing in the direction of the e-tourist visa counters and when I got there, there were only a few people ahead of me. I’m always a little nervous trying out something as important as a new visa system (all I had was a piece of paper with a confirmation number on it, no physical visa had been stamped onto my passport yet) and my nerves weren’t helped by a gentleman in front of me not having the correct confirmation documentation in front of me and him being told that he wouldn’t be allowed into the country. How that happened is beyond me, I personally had my visa confirmation checked twice (once in Denver and once in Newark), so I don’t know how he got this far?


  My anxiousness proved unwarranted and after having my bio-metrics taken (finger prints and photo), my passport was stamped and I was in, no problems at all. I walked past the regular passport lines and the queues were huge, I sailed right passed them and felt a little smug that the e-tourist visa got me through so quickly. I liked the fact that it had only cost $60 too, much cheaper than the old 6 month multiple entry visa that requires you to send the passport away. This is a much better system and I can definitely recommend it if you are just in India for a month or less.


  All my bags turned up (always a huge relief, I’ve had bags not make it before if you’ve read my previous blogs and it’s a major hassle, so I’m always really happy when all the bags turn up in India) and I found my driver to take me to the Red Fox Hotel. I’ve come to really like the Red Fox; it’s really close to the airport, the rooms are clean with Wi-Fi and great hot water and it’s inexpensive, the service is good and the staff are friendly. It’s always a nice start to the trip but by the time I check in, it’s straight to bed and then up early for breakfast and then the flight to Srinagar. I must also applaud the Red Fox and the Lemontree ownership group for being a hotel that employees people with disabilities; I think that is awesome and really forward thinking. I consider that a huge positive and another reason they will get my business in the future.  


 Day 2 – Tuesday 16th Feb


  So, Monday was all a bit of a blur and I think I may have time travelled a little bit, but I made it to Terminal 3 without a hitch. I was flying Jet Airways, the check in was relatively quiet but again I got pinged for excess baggage (they only have a 1 bag, 15 kgs allowance) and I was flying in with 2 bags. Oh well, it couldn’t be avoided and I knew it was coming. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a window seat on the right side of the plane (flight was full), but I was able to sneak a quick peak now and again and the Himalayas were looking majestic as always.


  We landed without a hitch and again, both my bags turned up and I went out to arrivals and my good friend and driver Mustaq was there to meet me. It was a beautiful day in Srinagar, definitely not feeling like winter. The sun was out, it was warm and everything was looking pretty green. Srinagar can look pretty drab when it’s overcast, but today was nice. The drive to Gulmarg was pretty quick, without much snow on the road the drive was fast and Mushtaq didn’t even have to chain up. It was ironic though, without all the snow on the road (and the subsequent challenge of not driving in any of the slippery ruts!), you got to see how pot-holed the road is, so if you are not sliding around in the ruts, then you are ducking and weaving around all the holes. You can’t win either way! Still, Mustaq is one of the best drivers in Gulmarg and he has the racing line pretty dialed, snow or no snow, I definitely trust him to get me up to the mountain in one piece! Thanks Mustaq!


  I dropped in at the Khyber and the Hotel Highlands, just to say hello to some folks, then Mustaq took me to Nedous Hotel. Nedous is a new hotel for me, I had never even set foot in it before, but I had become friends with the owner, Aqil Nedou over Facebook and he was really keen to host me and my group, so I thought I’d try somewhere new. Most of the other hotels I deal with management, not the owners and let’s just say that business practices in India and Kashmir can sometimes be a little different. I was keen to be able to negotiate and liaise directly with the owners and cut out the middle men.


  Well, I’m happy to say that I’m glad I made that choice, meeting Aqil was really good. He’s a younger guy, but still very experienced. His family has been running hotels in India for more than 180 years so they understand hospitality. It’s pretty crazy, I have my own personal butler who looks after me, something I’ve never experienced before, we’ll see how that goes (when I didn’t come to dinner I had 3 phonecalls to see if I was ok, I was just snoozing on the bed as the jet-lag had kicked in and I was stuffed from lunch, so wasn’t up for any dinner). Kashmiris in general really want to look after you. Take for example the late lunch I had. I ordered some curry and they brought it out in individual pots, one for the curry (mutton rogan josh) and one for the rice. They put it out on the plate for you and then you eat as much as you can, then they load you up again! The process repeats itself and you finish up really stuffed. Now, if they see an empty plate, to them that means that you are still hungry, so that’s why the keep loading you up. There are 2 ways around this, you either eat all the food they bring or you leave your plate with food on it still…… crazy, but just the way it is over here.


  Aqil had very kindly upgraded my room to a suite for 2 nights; it’s the biggest hotel room I have ever stayed in. I have a living room with couches, a big bedroom with king-size bed, a dressing room and then a big bathroom. It’s pretty impressive, I’m slum it here for 2 nights and then I’ll be back to a regular room. Just having my own room on this trip is more than enough for me.

  So, tomorrow morning (well actually today as it’s 4am and I’m up working as I can’t sleep), I will meet Jeelani and Dawood (my local guiding team) and maybe some other locals and we have 4 days on snow to do some training (dialing beacon skills first and then tons of pit digging and stability testing), before the crew gets in. Now, this trip is going to be a little bit different than normal seasons; I’m actually hosting and guiding a group of pro-skiers and crew from Level 1 Productions. They are coming out to Gulmarg for 2 weeks of filming for next season’s film, then I’ll take them to Delhi for 2 nights with a stop in Agra to see the Taj Mahal (can’t wait for that as it’s spectacular, I did it last year for the first time and I can’t wait to go back!).


  I’ve guided film crews in Gulmarg before (2013 with Soulryders) and the guiding work is definitely different, I definitely don’t ski as much, I’m (with Jeelani as well) there to take the crew around so they can access the best snow possible and then provide protection/security as they ski their lines. So, I’m often hanging out at the back as the athletes do their job, I focus on the safety side of things. The quality of my turns is irrelevant, I still ski but it’s not about that as much as with a regular guided group, that’s a lot more focused on the skiing and not so much on getting the shot. What I really do enjoy about working with athletes and film crews is watching them work and shred lines, that’s pretty cool, but most of all, it’s sharing the stoke of being in an amazing place and with amazing people, that’s the part I really love. That happens with the regular groups too, but in this situation, that stoke is being documented in front of your eyes, it’s pretty powerful stuff.


  Anyway, I have to respect the privacy of the crew and when I meet them in Srinagar on the 21st I’ll have to discuss with the owner what I can and can’t document myself on this blog. Hopefully I’ll be able to post full reports, but we’ll have to see. You will at least get that for the next 4 days. Hope you enjoy the ride…. I still have to finish Japan as well…… so much to do!!


post #7 of 43
Originally Posted by Mattadvproject View Post

Well, no rest for the wicked! I was only back in Denver for 11 days (after 1 month in Japan) and now I am back in India for 3 weeks. I'd only just gotten over the jet-lag too, so time to get groggy again! This trip report is going to be a little different, I'm not guiding a regular group, I have a film crew coming out from the US, so the story is going to be a little more about their adventure, hopefully. I have 4 days in Gulmarg before the crew gets here, so will make the most of my time to get a feeling for the snow conditions. Hope you enjoy the reports!



I only wish my life had those difficulties haha

post #8 of 43
Thread Starter 

Day 3 – Wednesday 17th Feb

  Time to get out on the mountain! Although I was keen to get some turns in, I wanted to make sure my local guides (Jeelani and Dawood) were prepped and ready, so it was time to take them through some beacon training. This is always a great way for me to keep my skills honed, but I was keen to see how the guy’s beacon skills had developed since our pretty intensive training the year before.


  We took the first gondola up and headed over to the chairlift. I had to go and say g’day to the guys at the ski patrol hut first and then we jumped on the chair. The snow was pretty chopped up, but there was no one around. I’ve never seen it so quiet in Gulmarg. Below us, local skier Arif Khan was doing some slalom training on a specially groomed private course. It’s good to see Arif getting some support from the local authorities. Arif has represented India internationally in slalom and GS for many years. He competed in the World Championships in Beaver Creek last season and made it to the slalom finals, but unfortunately he had a DNF and wasn’t placed. It was an amazing achievement for him to make it that far and I think that with the right support, he can go a long way.


  So, we ended up doing one run from the chair, but I was able to get through 5 training scenarios, starting with single burial practice and then moving on to multiples. The guys have definitely gotten better; a lot of last year’s lessons seem to be sticking and their basic beacon skills are pretty sound. The main feedback and area to improve on, was communication and teamwork, making sure they are working as a team and communicating well so that they are as efficient and fast as possible with their searches. As I said to the guys, my expectations are a lot higher this year after all the training we did last year and it was great to see the development from last season. Great job Jeela and Dawood! I do enjoy teaching them and I like that they are focused on improving. They definitely want to improve themselves as guides and it’s really rewarding to see their growth.


  So, that was the major part of the day. We stopped at the outdoor restaurants near the gondola mid-station and I had some chicken biryani and then we headed back to the hotel. It was time for the weekly avalanche safety forum that night, hosted by Luke Smithwick. The venue had shifted to the Hotel Hilltop, which was a little bit of a shame as the old venue (Pine Palace Heritage) was a little better and had a bar for a quick beer but Luke’s talk was as informative as ever. I had dinner with Luke afterwards and met with the manager of the hotel to discuss some business. Jeelani was kind enough to give me a ride back to the hotel on his snowmobile. It was a big day and lots of fun. I slept pretty well that night.


Day 4 – Thursday 18th Feb

  After the beacon training the day before, we really needed to head up the mountain and go and check out the snow. Most of the slopes close to the gondola were pretty skied up, so the plan was to skin up past the summit and over to Lienmarg (my favorite zone on the mountain!). Shark’s Fin had been skiing well so we decided we needed to get a run in there too. One of Jeelani’s mates, Danveer, came along as well. That was fine; we had a nice little group of 4, so we could still move quickly yet remain focused on the task at hand (working on guiding principles in potential avalanche terrain, that is, looking for ways to reduce risk as much as possible). For me it’s an honor to be able to hang out with the locals and I definitely enjoy their company and their will to learn.


  I definitely didn’t set a record on the 1 hour skin, but I was just happy to make it to the top, given that I knew the altitude was going to kick my butt (which it did). Just being back on that mountain, seeing the view again and being surrounded by such beauty, was inspiring. I definitely spent a fair bit of time taking it all in (whilst I rested of course….).


  We got to the start of the Shark’s Fin. The main line was about to get hit by a massive group of 12 plus people, so there was no point following them. We had a nice line in front of us that didn’t involve any extra skinning and was untouched, so we opted for that line. We talked about our line choice and plan for the run and dropped in one at a time. The lad’s let me drop in first and off we went. It was only about 10 big turns, but it was worth it. The slope was steep with lot’s of snow on top, so I did a little ski cut at the top before I kept going. The turns were fast and fluid. Dawood and Danveer skied it well, and then Mr. Straightline Jeelani shut it down with 3 high speed turns. He definitely likes to ski fast!


  Then it was a decent traverse with a few sidesteps to get back to the main ridgeline and the start of our run into Lienmarg. One of the potential hazards on the avi report was the cross loading and wind loading at the top of the northern aspects. We looked at a north facing bowl but it was pretty loaded at the top, so we decided to skirt around the potential starting point and dropped in on a more mellower ENE aspect and found a whole run of 1,000ft vertical of untouched snow. The snow was definitely wind scoured and sun-affected, but it still had a bit of softness to it, although it could be a bit grabby on the skis and a little inconsistent. Still, it was pretty exciting to have such a long run of untouched snow in front of us.


  Then we traversed right, one at a time to get back to the ridge and over to the paperbark trees. We came to an east-facing bowl that was completely untouched so I jumper in again and took the honors. The snow was a bit more predicatble and softer than the first run and I took the run out further into the trees and onto a more northerly aspect. Here the snow was better again and we had a really nice long run through the trees in untouched snow. Then we had the long run out back to the army road and the ski/walk past the HAWS (High Altitude Warefare School) training camp where Jeelani had arranged a taxi for us.


  I looked at my GPS and that was about a 12 mile round trip, not bad for a day’s work!

post #9 of 43
Thread Starter 

Now, I don't often have time to download the videos of the day, but I got back early and have been on the computer all afternoon, so I was able to download all the footage from today. I also wanted to do this so that the film crew could see some of the conditions. They are unedited, so apologize if they run on a little. Hope you like!


Shark's Fin, start of the ski day...... that was the warm-up!



Nice bowl in middle Lienmarg zone



Lower in the Lienmarg zone, in the shade of the paperbark trees.

post #10 of 43
Thread Starter 

  Apologies for the long delay in my Gulmarg adventures..... I did make it back home safely to the US and now I can finally post the rest of the trip report. Enjoy!


Day 5 – Friday 19th Feb

  The focus of the day was to get out and explore the snowpack, we’d had our fun the day before testing conditions by getting out and skiing likely film locations, so this day, we wanted to dig around. I really wanted to see what was at the bottom of the snowpack, if we had a persistent slab and depth hoar at the bottom of the snowpack.


  Unfortunately, the weather was changing and we couldn’t get up to the top of the mountain. The cloud was coming in, snow was forecast and the wind was ripping. We’d have to console ourselves with using the chairlift, which was totally fine as we could still get a lot done.


  It was just going to be myself, Jeelani and Dawood this day, Danveer was not with us. We took the chairlift up and then sidestepped uphill to gain the Mary’s Shoulder ridgeline. We got our probes out and here the snow was more than 3m deep. It would take a long time to dig all the way down to the base…..


  We selected a spot and started digging a 150cm wide pit. There were several thick layers of wind slab, with stiff, compact snow that made the going really hard. It took about 2.5 hours to dig all the way down to the bottom and sure enough, there was the depth hoar, with several layers of wind slab on top of it. There were at least 2 different hoar layers at the base, with ice crusts inbetween and then a lot of wind slab on top. Not good! The depth hoar grains were relatively small, 2mm >, definitely smaller than in years past, but they were definitely still there. Overall, this layer was pretty well-insulated from above, but if you did trigger a slide it could potentially step down to this weaker layer and the resulting slides would be catastrophic.


  This was nothing new for Gulmarg, large avalanches are always a problem in Gulmarg and the nature of the terrain (massive terrain traps) give great cause for concern. If it goes big in Gulmarg and you are in the wrong spot, there is no way out in an avalanche……


  Stability had been increasing and the whole mountain had been skiing really well for most of January and into February, so we’d still have to keep an eye out if that was going to change. Turns out it was due to change, in a big way…..


  After our big ordeal digging that massive pit in some nasty conditions, we were all pretty spent, so we finished around 3:30pm and headed down to the mid-mountain restaurants for some lunch.  We went to the guys favorite spot and went inside where they had a fire going. We were all pretty cold and wet, so it was nice to warm up and eat some food, plus I got to meet Jeelani’s dad, so that was a really nice surprise! Then it was back to the hotel and an early night for me.  

post #11 of 43
Thread Starter 

A couple more photos to add to the updates......


Jeelani, my head local guide and chief homie, heading up to the chairlift for beacon training, day 1 on the mountain.



Massive crowds skiing the main gondola bowl........



Looking south along the Apharwat ridgeline. Not too many people in sight there either.



Signs of life! Jeela looking flash.



Dawood, one of my other local guides, beacon training in the training park. The flag above denotes the last seen point.



Jeelani doing the same.



Probing complete, time to dig up the victim. This was further down, where I had buried my skins bag with another beacon in it.



Lunch at the mid-mountain restaurants. A great place to be on a sunny day.



More local restaurant action.



The new gondola cabins, nice and new, but still need better carrying capacity for fat skis.



Early morning view of Mt. Apharwat. On my way to pick up the first members of the Level 1 film crew.












Sifting through the refuse for some breakfast......



This guy actually knew how to pose for the camera. Thank goodness.......

post #12 of 43
Thread Starter 

Day 6 – Saturday 20th Feb

  The original plan was to head back out on the mountain and dig some more pits, but I had an opportunity to go down to Srinagar, to check out some more houseboats. Unfortunately I had had to part ways with my old local fixer (basically the guy who helps me put together my transportation and houseboats) and I didn’t have the houseboats organized yet. I wasn’t too stressed as it is low season for the houseboats, most are undergoing spring cleaning and maintenance, so I wasn’t worried about them all being full (there are over 800 on Dal Lake alone), it was just a matter of finding a couple of decent boats, at the right price and in the right location.


  My friend Bashir Ahmad had offered to drive me down to Srinagar, to meet his friend Nomar (a houseboat owner) and look around. The drive down was absolutely crazy. We left at 11am with a view to meet the houseboat owner at 1pm. There was new snow on the road and the road had gone to all hell. Cars without chains (which were the majority!), were slipping out all over the place and getting stuck, blocking the road. It took us 2 hours just to get to the first switchback (which normally only takes 15 minutes), it was that bad.


  It took nearly 4 hours to get to Srinagar, that’s a record for me. At least the Kashmiri’s have a great sense of humor about things, it can be fun watching everyone pitch in to try and help out. You know the road is really bad when the local drivers get out and commandeer the vehicles of out of town drivers who repeatedly get stuck, to move their vehicles out of the way. It’s definitely a circus!


  So, getting down to Srinagar was a relief. We met Nomar at Stream restaurant and had a bite to eat (butter chicken time of course!). We looked at 2 near the main road. The first lot were not so nice, they were in a very busy part of the lake and there was a ton of trash in the water. The second boats were a lot nicer, but they were still very close to the lake and you could hear all the traffic going by. My idea of a decent houseboat stay is to find a tranquil place, away from all the hustle and bustle, where you can relax and unwind. These first 2 boats didn’t really have that.


  Then we drove out to the other side of the lake, to a smaller side-lake called Nigeen Lake, which was supposed to be much quieter. Here there are a further 400 boats. We looked at 2 boats that were moored right on the shore, so you didn’t need to take a Shikara ride over to them (which again, is normally part and parcel of the whole experience). The boats were owned by Nomar’s sister and husband and he had said the views were amazing. Well, the view from the back of the main boat was pretty good, but it was just of the Srinagar fort and not the surrounding Zabarwan mountains.


  So again, these boats, as nice as they were, didn’t really tick all the boxes that my old boats had. I would keep these boats in reserve, if I couldn’t find an alternative. I was close to saying yes, then a couple of loud blasts pierced the calm. I looked around the corner and a man in a small boat was shooting ducks with a shotgun, right next to the houseboat. Apparently he was a poacher! The owner told me that people weren’t supposed to do that but that it didn’t normally happen, but I wasn’t too stoked by someone firing guns right next to the boat, so it was still looking like I needed to find somewhere else. I still had plenty of time so I didn’t have to rush my decision. Maybe I could speak to the owner of my old houseboats direct and negotiate pricing myself? That would seem to be the way forward, but I was wary of going over the head of my ex-fixer……  

post #13 of 43
Thread Starter 

Day 7 – Sunday 21st Feb

  I checked the avi report and it said that there had been up to 1m of new, wind blown snow on some of the leeward aspects and that a couple of cornices had released natural overnight, causing avalanches in the Apharwat South and North Bowls. You could see them from the back of Nedous Hotel when I got up in the morning for my routine inspection. This was an obvious sign that the snowpack had received a lot more load up high, but was it enough for the snowpack to have reached its tipping point again? I left Gulmarg for Srinagar again, with that question in my mind. The film crew was due in around noon and I had to be there to meet them.


  The road was a much mellower experience this time. Mushtaq came to pick me up and the road was in much better shape and there was no one around (it was around 9am when we were leaving), so we made good time. Mushtaq had arranged for me to meet one of the owners of the Pakhtoon houseboats (Noor Pakhtoon, the father of Manzoor Pakhtoon who I have met several times), the houseboats that I had previously stayed on. He was happy to see me and was even happier to do business. He had no problem to work direct with me. He put me onto the phone with his son Manzoor, I explained the situation with my ex-fixer and he agreed to work direct with me. Problem solved! I was happy to be coming back to the Pakhtoon houseboats, the boats I knew so well and definitely my preferred option. That would make life much easier and I could relax a little, knowing that was off my plate.


  With that all settled, we continued on to the airport nice and early, so we had plenty of time to get through the security (to even get through the main gate, you have to get out and go through an x-ray machine, before they will even let you inside). Then we had about an hour and a half wait, before the first member of the team arrived. That was Josh Bibby, a pro-skier from Canada. He was in on the slightly earlier Jet Airways flight. Then the rest of the crew arrived; Josh Berman (owner of Level 1 Productions), Jeff Schmuck (editor of Forecast ski magazine from Canada), Robin Lee (cinematographer from Hong Kong) and Laurent de Martin (pro-skier from Switzerland and the youngest member of the crew). There were 3 more people still to come, but they weren’t arriving till a couple of days later.


  Everyone was present and all accounted for. No one had any missing bags (always a relief!), so we had some time and decided to give them the scenic tour. We went to Dal Lake for lunch at the Stream restaurant (THE best butter chicken in all of Kashmir, in my opinion!) as the guys were pretty hungry and I wanted to start off with a bit of a bang. They took some photos of the lake and then we hit the road. They enjoyed the craziness of the drive through Srinagar and up to Tangmarg, getting plenty of shots and video, along the way.


  We stopped off at the Baba Reshi Shrine, on the way to Gulmarg. They checked out the mosque and the Shrine from the outside, but they were most interested in their first monkey sightings! It’s always fun to see your first monkey, I never get tired of seeing them, they are definitely entertaining. After an hour or so, we continued on to Gulmarg and then we did a quick tour of the market area, even popping in to see my favorite tailor, Mr. Khan! Mr. Khan is awesome, such a friendly guy and he never forgets a face. He was surprised to see me as he didn’t know I was coming. We had the traditional Kashmiri Kawah (spiced drink, sweetened water with cinnamon, cloves, saffron and lemon, very tasty and good for you) and then headed to Nedous Hotel, on the other side of the resort.


  The guys checked in and then I introduced them to Aqil Nedou, owner of Nedous Hotel. He was keen to meet them and show them round the property. We had dinner and then everyone hit the hay early, we’d have a potential big day on the mountain, the next day……    

post #14 of 43
Thread Starter 

Day 8 – Monday 22nd Feb 

  Our first day out on the mountain with the crew! I was keen to get the guys up to the mountain, to give them their first proper view of things and then to put them through their paces in the beacon park. Even with a bunch of pro-skiers and filmers, I still want to make sure they have good beacon skills, should we need them, so the plan was to head up and get them on the chairlift. We’d worry about going to the very top, after that.


  So, we always start with the obligatory briefing on how to load the first stage of the gondola, which is never easy. We made it through that, and got off at the mid-station and then crossed over to get to the chairlift. Here they were able to have their first decent unobstructed look at the front of Mt. Apharwat. Everyone was suitably impressed. We could also check out the recent avalanches on the mountain; we could see the 2 in the Apharwat Bowls and then some further south, lower down towards Drung. They were a couple of obvious red flags. Anyway, that wasn’t going to change our first priority, getting up the chairlift and over to the beacon training area off the side of Mary’s Shoulder.


  I was on the first chair with Josh Berman and Jeff Schmuck and the rest of the crew was at least 10 chairs back, with Jeelani. We were chatting, enjoying the view and I was giving the guys the lay of the land, when we heard a massive whumpf. I looked around and couldn’t see anything. The guys asked me what that was, I said I wasn’t sure, I thought it might have been a whumpf but I couldn’t see anything. Then we got a call on the radio, it was Jeelani and he was saying there was an avalanche coming down. I asked where and he said in the main bowl.


  We were going up the steep part of the chairlift, towards the top and then the chairlift stopped. We still couldn’t see anything but Jeelani was saying the slide was off to our right and that 3 skiers may have been caught. There was an agonizing wait of about 5 minutes and then the chairlift finally got going again. As we neared the top, we finally saw the avalanche. It had broken off on an outcrop above the unloading area of the top of the chairlift. There is a natural ridgeline up there that had swept the debris away from the top of the chair thankfully, as the debris and crown were both huge. We got off on the top and waited.


  The patrol came past and went over to the debris pile. We offered to help as they had switched their beacons to search (asking us to do the same) and went entering the flanks of the avalanche. Some of the blocks of snow were as big as them so the debris was really hard to move through. The rest of the crew made it to the top. The patrol grabbed Jeelani and took him with them to help. We asked again if they needed us, but no they didn’t. One of the patrol supervisors came by and he said no one was buried, so they were just doing a routine sweep, just to make 100% sure.


  We headed onto Mary’s Shoulder to look south to see if anyone else had been caught in any slides out there. We looked for a while; we couldn’t see any other skiers out there so eventually we started to come down. Everyone was pretty spooked (for me this was deja vu, the slide had happened in exactly the same spot as it went the previous year. This was all after hundreds of people had been skiing it for several weeks, plus multiple control efforts by the patrol during that time.


  We decided to get off the mountain and I would try and find out more. That night I got a call from Luke Smithwick, head of the patrol, on what had happened. Apparently, the groomer had remotely triggered the slide! We had seen the groomer up there that day, about half way up grooming a strip down for skiers to use from the top of the chairlift. It was the extra weight of the cat on the slope, that had caused the slope to fail and for the avalanche to break off. Wow! The slide had come pretty close to the cat,  I don’t even know if the driver would have seen it coming? Pretty amazing really, again we were all super thankful that no one was hurt. 3 people had gotten out of the way, they were fine, but imagine if the slide had taken out the chairlift? That would have been really bad…… We would have been jumping off probably…… not good. Thankfully it didn’t come to that. I can imagine being the guy running the unload station at the top of the chairlift, he would have had way too much of a close-up of the slide. He must have been pretty shaken up.


  We called it a day early and headed back to the hotel. The guys had been looking at building a “Pump track” in the hotel grounds and we decided to start work on it that evening. A pump track is basically a series of small jumps and banked turns that would culminate in a large jump at the bottom of the hotel’s rear terraced garden. There was a few nice natural jumps towards the back of the gate and a nice flowing line could be built all the way down to the bottom of the property (it’s a big property!). We started digging a take off ramp and booters at the start of the course. We’d finished the top by the end of the evening and Laurent was able to get in a few nice jumps.

post #15 of 43
Thread Starter 

After taking the crew the scenic way back to Gulmarg, we had a quick detour to see the Baba Reshi Shrine. Normally we ski down to the Shrine, but there was very little snow down there this season. Here Laurent de Martin gets his first view of a snow monkey on the roof of one of the Baba Reshi buildings.



After the avalanche, we decided to get off the mountain. On the way down, the crew checked out  some potential jib features. This is a likely looking roof that they wanted to session. Sadly, when they went to build a ramp onto the roof about 10 days later, all the snow at the base of the building was all gone. Just shows how hot it got when we were there.



An Indian news film crew interviewing our film crew about Gulmarg. Our film crew filmed the film crew, filming one of the members of our film crew in an event that could have caused the whole of the Matrix to collapse.....



Too many cameras......



Level 1 Productions owner Josh Berman getting interviewed. Those hand-held mikes, they sure do want to creep up higher on you every time and get in the shot.......



Back to more serious matters...... you can see the big avalanche that came down above the chairlift. That's the same spot the slide came down in 2015. Scary stuff!



You can see the two groomer lanes where the cat had been operating. It definitely came close to him.



Long distance shot of the slide...... still pretty big and obvious.



Beautiful shot of the full moon over Mt. Harmukh. Berman getting the shot.



I got the shot too...... just need to photo shop out those powerlines!

post #16 of 43
Thread Starter 

Day 9 – Tuesday 23rd Feb

  So that was the group’s introduction to Gulmarg. Everyone was pretty shaken up by it all, Robin especially. He had been in Gulmarg the previous season and had seen some of the massive avalanches that year too. It was a wakeup call to the rest of the team though; they had all seen the true nature of the mountain and seen it at its most dangerous (thankfully from a safe spot). No one was keen to make any rash decisions. In a way, this turned out to be a good thing though, it definitely brought the guys back down to reality and helped highlighted the need for the group, to be as conservative as possible.


  I had seen reports of more avalanches in the backcountry. Someone had taken a shot of a big slide out towards Drung somewhere (we couldn’t see it from the hotel at least, later we saw that it was on the West side of the ridge) and reports of another slide in the Khilanmarg area. We chatted over breakfast about our options for the day. I told the guys that the slide was triggered by the cat and was not skier-triggered thankfully. That was a small consolation, but it still showed that the snowpack was very touchy and indeed, with the new wind-blown snow, the snowpack was now at a state where the persistent weak layer was now reactive again. Large avalanches were now possible, especially as the days were heating up. This was the exact same conditions we had seen in 2015. It would be foolish for us to push it any further, even if the gondola was open.


  The team agreed that they wanted to keep it mellow and we continued work on the pump track for the day. Later on I got a call from Mushtaq saying that the 3 other guys had arrived in Srinagar (he was at the airport to meet them), but that one of the guy’s bags had not made it on the flight. Apparently it was due to arrive on another flight later that afternoon. So, they had no option but to wait to see if the bag was going to turn up. Thankfully, when the next flight came in a couple of hours later, the bag did turn up, so the crew could leave and make their way to Gulmarg.


  We were hard at work digging when the rest of the crew arrived. This time we had 2 more pro-skiers, Wiley Miller and KC Deane and then the team’s photographer, Elliott. Bernhagen, all from Canada. We finally had the whole crew together. We continued work on the track and then as the sun set, we took the short walk up the Highlands Hotel for a couple of welcome beers. The new arrivals were all pretty jet-lagged and they fell asleep in their chairs……

post #17 of 43
Thread Starter 

Here's a couple of clips of the pump track being tested. Sadly, after all the work we did on it (2 days), it was never completed and when it really warmed up, a lot of the snow melted out. So, I can show you these short clips of Laurent de Martin speed testing the upper jumps knowing that this segment will not make it into the final production. Here's a couple of shots of Laurent at work.... apologies for the vertical video..... It's a shame that this was never finished. There was a pretty big jump at the end and we had this big, bright Kashmiri themed dance party planned for the final shot as the athletes jumped into frame, it would have looked really good. Oh well, not everything works out.








post #18 of 43
Thread Starter 

Day 10 – Wednesday 24th Feb

  We all met around 730am for an early (by Indian standards) breakfast and to discuss the plan for the day. Again, no one wanted to push it, so after reading the avi report and reading no news of any fresh avalanche activity, we decided to head to the top of phase 2. We would have a look around and only IF we liked what we saw, we would try and find some protected lines, down lower. My idea was to head north, over to Lienmarg and look for a protected line in the paperbark trees. We’d have to ski down an isolated, low angle ridgeline to get to our potential zone and at any time, if we didn’t feel good, we could turn around. The focus was on scouting the terrain and any filming would be a bonus.


  It had looked before like the wind had really been blowing up high the day before. I was interested in seeing how conditions would be as it seemed like the wind direction had changed overnight. Early on it had looked like the winds had been coming from the West and loading the bowls up again, but as we got up higher, it looked like they may have shifted more from the East and had actually taken the snow out again. I saw new sastrugi growing on the top of the main ridge pointing from the east to the west. The snow looked really firm and wind-scoured in the main bowls, rather than wind-loaded. Either way, it didn’t look like great skiing up high, with Shark’s Fin looking particularly gnarled.


  We couldn’t see any new avalanche activity up high so we started the long traverse out north. We got to the start of our ridgeline in the Lienmarg area and had a good look around. The snow in the main bowls looked pretty nasty; there wasn’t a lot of snow on top of our ridge so we had a decent line down to our potential filming zone. I went first, doing a series of ski cuts along the top of the start zone. Nothing was moving, the snow was set up pretty hard and didn’t feel too slabby (it didn’t have that hollow, brittle sound associated with wind-slab), so I kept going. No activity. The rest of the team followed, one at a time and we progressed safely to our zone.


  The paperbark trees looked good; they were protected from the wind and the north-facing aspects were protected from the sun’s rays, plus it was lower angle without exposure from above, so the crew decided they wanted to set up for some shots. We stayed in that zone for about 4 hours, they got a lot of shots done with some great drone footage, it turned into a productive afternoon. This was probably about as good as we could expect it to be, in terms of the snow and filming conditions. The light coming through the trees was awesome and we milked it to well past 4pm. By this stage, you don’t want to take the main snow road past  the army base as they don’t like people being out there that late (you would be stopped and questioned), so we stayed high skier’s right and traversed all the way back, without the need to skin or hike (something I’ve not done before, so thanks to Jeelani for showing me that line and for keeping us out of trouble with the army).

post #19 of 43
Thread Starter 

Our canvas for day 1 shooting in the backcountry.....


Not a bad first zone..... I think Josh Bibby got first tracks and then we got film lines down each of the subtle ridgelines that are in there.



Setting up the shot from the Eagle's Nest! Here we have Elliott (taking photos), Josh Berman filming with the RED Epic and Jeff Schmuck on the radio marshaling the scene. Robin was out of shot working the drone. It's quite the production. It's one thing having the athletes skiing their lines safely, then it's another consideration to get the crew into a position where they can film safely too. Whilst they weren't able to capture all of the vertical using the RED and the stills camera (that's where it's great to have the drone for follow-cam action or long-distance perspective shots), shooting from this point allowed the filmers to capture the size of the terrain at least. 



Elliott and Josh, filming one hitters in the trees, a little lower down from the open bowls.



Jeff Schmuck, living large!



Robin Lee, getting the 2nd angle. The crew ideally had at least 1 RED camera going (Berman), plus still shots (Elliott) and then Robin would be flexible, shooting either his RED or from the drone. You can imagine how much gear there is to shift around (normally 2 RED's, 3 tripods, several still cameras, 1 drone, plus all the ski gear), it was a lot of gear.



Nice light and open lines in the paperbark trees. It's hard to look at these lines for several hours and to not go skiing on them..... that's the nature of the work though!




post #20 of 43
Thread Starter 

A couple of video's from the day.... these are unedited, so the quality is not great.....


Laurent de Martin showing how to do a decent pow slash!



KC Deane with a few nice turns and then a little pop with a shifty thrown in for good measure.

post #21 of 43
Thread Starter 

Day 11 - Thursday 25th Feb

  We were happy with our zone the day before, so the plan was to head back there and find a different line or two. Berman had wanted to set up on the same ridge and film the guys skiing a more southerly aspect (it looked pretty wind affected). We got to the zone and after a little confusion, set up the shot and got the drone out to get some overhead shots of the athletes filming some more open lines. The snow was pretty wind-affected, but the different perspective made the shots look pretty given, even though the snow conditions were marginal.


  We came back to the northern aspects in the end and got some more footage in the trees. We saw a guy completely by himself, come down to the right of the zone and it was after 4pm. Crazy to see someone skiing these lines solo and taking some pretty bold lines as well, we lost sight of them and we were left wondering where they ended up……


Eagle's Nest Mark II.



The athletes choose a safe spot to wait in as the filmers get set up.



Robin Lee sets up the drone, aka the angry swarm of bees!



Elliott getting set up to shoot his stills. You can see how wind affected the snow was in the background.



When they found a zone with multiple shots in it, the athletes would often bootpack or skin back up, to get another shot. These boys worked hard for their shots and it was impressive to see! Laurent de Martin nears the top.



Robin Lee manning the RED with Nanga Parbat (9th highest mountain in the world) in the background. Not a bad backdrop......



Jeelani was with the athletes on this shoot, so poor bugger, after he'd skied a line, he had to bootpack back up as well. He needed a cigarette after that one (I keep telling him to quit!).

post #22 of 43
Thread Starter 

A couple of quick videos from the day......


KC Deane (I think) snagging the last line of the day before the light disappeared.



I managed to get a couple of turns in on one of the pitches that had already been filmed on, as we made our way back to Gulmarg at the end of the day.

post #23 of 43
Thread Starter 

Day 12 – Friday 26th Feb

  As much as the guys wanted to find new lines, my suggestion was to keep filming in our zone and maximize the potential to find good snow and terrain. I also liked the fact that this area doesn’t normally get inundated by people, so it’s safer (less chance of someone skiing down on top of us) in that regard. That would prove to be an issue on this day.....


Heading north to Lienmarg. It's about a 30 minute skin to get around the summit and then another 20 minutes to traverse out to the start of the run. Jeelani with the beautiful Sunset Peak in the background.



Yours truly!



  We didn’t know where that person had gone as well, so we didn’t know how much his tracks would interfere with any potential shots. We would know when we had eyes on. Unfortunately, the person had definitely tracked things up a bit, but Berman felt we could still get some good footage. Unfortunately, other groups were spreading our way and as we were setting up, a couple of different groups appeared on the 2 ridgelines we were set up. It’s a public area, so people can go where they like, but for safety, it’s good to at least communicate your intentions and to let people know that we had a crew and that we were filming in that area. Most of the groups were pretty cool and gave us a wide berth; only one guy decided (local guide guiding a group of Russians) didn’t want to give us any room.


Wiley Miller in front of the Shark's Fin



Sadly it had been ravaged by the wind and would not have made for good skiing and was potentially unsafe.



  After the initial rush, we were able to get everyone into position and the crew got the drone out again and got some good distant shots (the drone has a 4K camera on it, so it looks pretty sweet!), plus good footage from the ridge with the RED camera. The Indian Army were having a firing day and there was the sound of gunfire echoing around the mountains, all day as we filmed. That definitely adds to the local experience! Then we got down into the trees and Elliott set up for some good photos, pretty similar to the 2 previous days really. We were back a little earlier this time, though we still took the high traverse out to avoid the hiking. It would have been sweet to have skied low and gotten in some end of the day turns, but it wasn’t to be. It’s tough looking at all the untouched pow and not getting to ride it yourself, but that’s always how it is when working with the film crews. Keep them safe, get them to the goods, make it home each day, that’s the motto. Any skiing for you, is a bonus……..


  We got back a little earlier and Berman was keen to get out and do some filming in the market area of Gulmarg. His plan was a little different though, he wanted to sit on top of a taxi and drive around town on the roof. He had a 'Ghostbuster-esque' rig that he uses to support the RED. As always, the locals were not shy and he got plenty of shots of people waving and having a good time. Even the soldiers walking around were happy to see us and we got stopped a few times to stop for photos. All in a days work!


Want to catch ghosts and take steady 4K shots? Then this is the rig for you! Berman at Nedous Hotel getting ready to go to town.



What could possibly go wrong here? He did have a harness on and was clipped onto the roof rack, all that was missing was a cushion...... we'd rig that up the next day.



You definitely get a lot of looks when you drive around town like this!



Definitely did this a few times!

post #24 of 43
Thread Starter 

Here's a couple of quick clips from the day......


Wiley Miller skis a nice ridge in the Lienmarg area. You can hear the drone in the background following him and you can see that solo skier's tracks in the background that we were trying to work around.


The filmers had to cross from their film spot to the zone where the skiers had been riding, so we had a little bit of skiing to do. These were some of the few freeski turns I got to do and I definitely enjoyed this short pitch. The snow was pretty changeable (hence why I change lines a few times), with the snow affected by the wind and the sun. It was still nice to get some turns in though and I could enjoy the run without having to carry any extra gear too (no tripod or drone!).



Wiley getting more turns in the same zone, just a bit lower in the Paperbark trees. The athletes found several lines to ski and we stayed in the area for several hours. I ended up moving across to the next ridgeline as this zone was a little exposed for my liking. All went well and the crew got plenty of footage.

post #25 of 43
Thread Starter 

Day 13 – Saturday 27th Feb

  By the 4th day of on mountain shooting, the crew was feeling like they had exhausted the ski/film options in the Lienmarg area, so with Shark’s Fin still looking marginal, the team wanted to try some runs in the southern area, past the main army base. The snow was untouched by still looked pretty wind-affected, but stability was getting better each day and there had been no new avalanche activity for several days, so we decided to set up some shots over towards the start of the Drung bowls.


  Now the challenge here was definitely going to be using the drone and keep it out of sight of the military. Drone use in that area is definitely frowned upon (as the film crew knew), so the objective was, don’t film anything with any military significance and don’t fly the drone blatantly. The crew to my amazement started setting up the shot one ridge over from the army base and were about to send the drone up right there and then.


  Now if they had put the drone up there it would have been in plain sight of the base, so I suggested we at least put the drone up behind this big knoll and keep it low. The noise was the other concern so they’d need to post a lookout to monitor the noise and any subsequent reaction from the army base. If anyone came running out, then we’d have to get the drone in straight away and pack up and leave.


  So the athletes all went out to their respective start points on the southern ridges, I had good eyes on and we sent the drone out. The other guys on the frontside of the knoll couldn’t see the drone, but as it started to come back in (camera or gimbal re-set), then you could definitely hear it. They flew it out several times and on the last go, some soldiers did come running out of the base to look around. They couldn’t see anything so eventually they went back inside. That was close enough and by that stage, they had gotten the necessary shots in that area so we packed up and moved back to the north. As we were packing up, some people came over towards us and it was a couple of the TGR athletes that had just arrived in town (Ian McIntosh and Lucas Debari). Their crew was getting into town as well, so it would be a full-on Gulmarg pro-shoot fest!


  There were some reasonable shots to be had lower down in some open paperbark trees, so we filmed some more and then we were done for the day.


I didn't get any shots on the mountain apart from these and a few video clips. I'll pot those in a minute. Now, on the way up the gondola, I did get a few more shots of the slide in the main bowl. Here you can see how close the slide got to the top of the chairlift. I'm glad I wasn't the liftie at the top, watching that come towards me......



Thankfully there is a gully that will naturally divert most of the debris away from the ridge and away from the chairlift. It went all the way to the main gully and joined with some debris from a natural cornice collapse.



That's a 3m crown right there. Hard to see that when there is no contrast, but the high spot was 3m and you are looking right at it in this photo. Average crown height was 2m. If you come to Gulmarg, as you have seen, avalanches can and do happen. I'm not trying to scare people away, but people need to understand what can happen here and what the consequences are. I've had some of the best runs of my life here in Gulmarg, but I've seen what can happen when conditions are not favorable. I have a lot of respect for this mountain, it's a very humbling place at times......



post #26 of 43
Thread Starter 

Day 14 – Sunday 28th Feb

  No one was really inspired by the snow up high in the southern zone, so the crew decided to get back to their roots and make some jumps down at the bunny hill near the main poma lift. This was the day that I was really looking forward to as I knew the locals would have a blast! Luke Smithwick had given me the number of a local cat driver who worked on the golf course area and said the guy was keen to help us push some snow around into some jumps. As is always the case in Gulmarg, nothing is ever going to go as smooth as you think, so when we initially were told that we had a grooming machine to help, the next minute we didn’t, then all of a sudden we did! Invariably it always helps in these situations to organize things yourself, so when I finally got the grooming guy on the phone myself, I managed to get everything sorted out. We only had about a 45 minute window after I called him, so we had to hustle to get everything together in time to meet the guy.


  His name was Gullu and we met him over by the poma lift. I’d been told many different things, but it turned out Gullu was a good driver and understood how to push piles of snow to make jumps. His English was great too and he totally came through for us. In 30 minutes, we had 3 big mounds, enough snow to make a gap jump and a tabletop jump. The guys went to work shaping the takeoff and landings and I went off on a mission to get some salt (to salt the inrun so it was fast enough). When everything was built, we had 2 nice medium sized jumps and a crowd of eager spectators waiting to see the epic throw down.


  We left for an hour or so to get lunch and when we came back, it was on. The crowd had dispersed (everyone was back to skiing themselves), but as soon as the crew came back, so did the crowd. The guys took some easy straight airs just to get things figured out and then out came the tricks. Spins at first, but then backflips, corked 3’s and a whole list of tricks. The crowd’s reaction was restrained at first, they hadn’t seen anything like this before, but after a few laps by the athletes, they got into it. Then the locals started hitting the jumps and the carnage ensued.  The jumps weren’t big and the landings were pretty soft, but some locals who were still trying to figure out turning, were definitely trying hard to catch some air. There were some pretty spectacular crashes, but thankfully everyone came out unscathed.


  Some of the notable locals that I remember, we had one young skier who had never hit a jump before, he went for it. He managed to clear the gap on the first try on the first jump, so on his second ever jump, he went for a backflip, as you do! He pulled it around so hard that he almost got a second rotation in, but he landed on his head. He was ok, just shaken up, but that was him done for the day. I asked him if he meant to do what he did and he said yes. He definitely had some guts, that’s for sure! There were a couple of younger kids who had been trying to hit the first jump and clear the gap all day. Finally when the sun started to get a bit lower and the inrun a bit faster, they finally made it all the way across. They were stoked! The crew gave them some Spy sunnies and they were even happier! These guys are crying out for a small park to be built and maintained on the beginner hill, they would absolutely love it and I think the jumps would get a lot of use.


  What a day, the whole day was filled with so many cool happenings and interactions with the locals. It was one of the best days I’ve ever had in Gulmarg and I know the locals were super happy as well. It felt so good to be involved in something like that. I had told the guys that this trip was not just about the skiing, but experiencing the culture and meeting the locals. The got that cultural overload that day and everyone started to see the big picture after that. It was pretty cool round. The next day we had planned to build an even bigger jump up at the mid-station, so the athletes could really put on a show. I was excited for the locals to witness a proper pro-sized jump in Gulmarg. They would be a couple more special days too…….



post #27 of 43
Thread Starter 

Some photos of what was a pretty special day in Gulmarg.......


Gullu, pushing snow for us on the bunny hill, enough to make 2 jumps.



The mini cat was the perfect tool for the job! In about 25 minutes we had enough snow for a gap jump and a tabletop. Thanks Gullu!



Then the hard work had to begin, hand-shoveling the take-off and landings, gotta get those jumps just right! Laurent de Martin says hello, with Mt. Apharwat looking splendid in the background.



KC Deane, sled ninja, stand up style on the bunny hill.



One of the locals going off the first jump. He had borrowed Laurent's skis and the extra wax helped him clear the landing, he was pretty stoked!



We had a lot of the locals trying to hit the jumps, it was great to mix in the athletes with some of the kids. This little guy and his buddy tried for hours to get enough speed to clear the gap. They went for it all day.....



It's a little hard to see, but that is actually Josh Bibby inverted with a sweet, tweaked out backflip. The locals liked the flips and that would inspire a couple of others, to try to get upside down.....



Local skier hitting the lower table-top.



Laurent de Martin getting upside down.



Josh Bibby, half way through a screamin seaman! (that's when you do a daffy, then take one ski and quickly cross it over the second, hopefully bringing it back across, for the landing).



Josh Bibby, this time a straight back-flip.



Indian tourist posing in front of the camera gear.



The two young guys that hit the jumps with us all day. Finally as the sun started to get a bit lower, the in-run started to get faster and the guys were able to clear to the landing. They were so happy! As a reward for their hard work and determination, Josh Berman and the crew gave them some new Spy sunglasses. They were so stoked! Such a great day and so many happy people, film crew, athletes and guide, included. That was definitely one of my all time favorite days in Gulmarg.

post #28 of 43
Thread Starter 

Will have to post that video again after the video has been released......

Edited by Mattadvproject - 3/29/16 at 12:54pm
post #29 of 43
Thread Starter 

Alrighty, back from a little visit to Belize with the Wifey, so time to get this blog finished! Unfortunately I can't show you the video of the jumps day that I edited until after Level 1 releases their new movie in the Fall, so I'll have to finish the blog with photos until then...... On with the show.....


Day 15 – Monday 29th Feb


  A friend from Gulmarg had shown me a photo of a gap jump done in Gulmarg, way back in 2007. As far as I knew, no one had ever filmed it in a ski movie, so I figured this was going to be a legitimate jump. There are several man-made mounds underneath the gondola near the mid-station that have a nice steep inrun next to the chairlift. It’s a big gap but definitely doable, given I’d already seen the photos.


  I showed the potential gap jump to Berman on our first day going up the chairlift and he was into it. This was to be the day that we would start work on the jump. Now, it would take a lot of work to shape a  jump with a decent inrun and a nice landing, but with the help of a cat (again, organized by Luke Smithwick with the assistance of the J & K Tourism Dept.), we had everything we needed. The driver was keen to help (a different driver this time) and we headed over to the site. We groomed as much of the inrun as possible and then moved snow to make the jump, on the front of the first mound.


  It took several hours to make the jump and then more time again to smooth out the inrun. All that was left was to hire a snowmobile to take the athletes to the top of the inrun. Most of the snowmobile drivers wanted crazy money (like 2,000 INR per run), but we found a guy who would stay with us for the rest of the day, shuttling athletes for only 2,500 INR for about 3 hours, until he ran out of fuel.


  This was about a 60 to 70ft gap, definitely a respectable distance and height. The inrun was everything, getting the right amount of speed for the takeoff was crucial. So, the guys spent several laps just getting the speed dialed, without actually going off the jump. Laurent was the first to hit it with a straight air. He stepped up and went for it, clearing well down the landing on his first go. He did another jump to confirm his speed and then he started spinning.


  By this stage, the locals had started to take notice. We had a lot of people watching from the nearby restaurants and the people going overhead on the chairlift, were getting a great view. Laurent threw a couple of big, smooth 360’s before shutting down the day with some impressive 720’s. He was definitely feeling it. The rest of the TGR crew had arrived and they came over to watch. We had quite the crew cheering on Laurent. He really impressed. One of the TGR guys, Lucas Debari, also gave the jump a go on his snowboard. The light had turned pretty flat but he went for it anyway. His first straight air was pretty sketchy, with lots of rolling down of the windows just to stay balanced. He made the landing in one piece though, much to everyone’s relief. We had a few beers with the TGR crew that night at the Highlands, everyone was in high spirits and looking forward to a second day hitting the jump.


Day 16 – Tuesday 1st March


  The rest of the Level 1 guys were ready to step up and hit the jump. It was decided to do some more work on the jump, especially the inrun (which had a deep compression in it where it transitioned to the flatter part). We had the cat come back, they did some more work on shaping the jump and then we improved the inrun. It took about 3 hours to get everything dialed in. In the meantime, we hadn’t been able to organize the same cheap deal on the sled towing (Jeelani’s buddy who had driven for us the day before, he wasn’t working), so we went to see Luke and he put us in touch with the head of the lifts. They offered us 2 free passes for the chairlift, so that meant we effectively had to pay 50% off for the 4 athletes that would be riding the chairlift and hitting the jump. That was as good as it was going to get so we took the deal.


  Again, the jump needed to be speed checked, so the athletes made their way up (getting off at the chairlift mid-station to save time and energy) so they were able to lap pretty quickly. Laurent was first again to get his speed dialed and start hitting the jump and then Josh Bibby, KC and Wiley all hit it up. We had a great assortment of big tricks, from 720’s, to big laid-out front flips, backflips and even a 900. It was a pretty cool session, with the locals again really excited by what they were seeing. Everyone came away stoked and un-injured! Always a good day on the mountain when that happens! I’m sure the locals will talk about that jump for years to come. I’m happy to have been a part of it!



post #30 of 43
Thread Starter 

Some more photos of the big jump days in Gulmarg.......



Here's a closeup of the refurbished gondola station (G1) on the way up to the mid-station. This had been a 2 year project and I have to say, it's looking pretty good. The front of the building looks really cool, very different to a regular gondola building. If you remember back to my blog last year, the front of the building had been a gaping hole and a construction site (see next photo) for the last 2 years. It's looking very different now.......



Re-post of a photo from last summer showing the building still under construction.



There has definitely been a lot of work put into the new design, you can see a lot of hand-carved wooden detail on the outside, reminiscent of the carvings you typically see on the houseboats on Dal Lake.....



Although the building wasn't officially open and ready for use, I was able to poke my camera through and get this quick snap. The interior is also greatly improved, but I'm not really sure of it's purpose. It looks like a kind of a waiting room? Hopefully there will be a decent restaurant in there soon (like there used to be many years ago) as this would complete the improved experience I think (that's just speculation on my part though).



The Kashmiri's are renowned for their wooden carvings and they are put to good use here. I hope the building is well-looked after and the beauty of this building is maintained for years to come.



Back to the jumps! Luke Smithwick (red) and Wiley Miller get the cat ready to push the snow for the inrun and the jump.



Pushing the snow for the booter.



Luke Smithwick, head of the Gulmarg ski patrol. checking out the action from the chairlift. Anyone riding the chairlift when the athletes hit the jump had an amazing view. There were several skiers and snowboarders from the Indian alpine team, training that day that were using the chairlift and they were loving the entertainment.



It took us a while to get the jump ready and the weather wasn't quite co-operating with us. The sun kept playing hide and seek with us, so we could only film when it was light and when the contrast was therefore better and safer for the athletes. Wiley Miller is getting psyched!



Trying to keep the locals from walking all over the landings and take-off was a bit of a challenge as they are always keen to get a close-up. I felt bad asking them to hang back a bit for us but most people were cool about it.



Laurent was the first person to hit the jump on day 2. The rest of the crew would session it on day 2. Here is Laurent halfway through a sweet 360 with grab.



Laurent going even bigger with a 720.



The jump sent you a long way up and a long way out, meaning that the athlete was in the air for quite some time.



The TGR crew saw us building the jump later in the day and came over to watch. TGR rider Lucas Debari was super keen to hit the jump, so he hiked up and did a big straight air, even though the light was pretty bad. He looked like he was going to loose it in the air, he was winding down the windows a ton, but thankfully at the last second, was able to straighten up and make the landing. It looked pretty sketchy though!



Then he went back up and pulled a stylish 360. Respect to the guy!



Day 2 saw us having to make more changes to the jump. Once everything was ready, Laurent went for it again and that inspired the others to follow......



KC Deane's first straight air saw him having to make some big adjustments in the air. Thankfully he also managed to find his landing.....



Laurent with another stylish air. Unfortunately I was needed to help on the radios as Schmuck was filming on the second RED (Robin also had the drone up), so I had to stop taking photos. All the athletes got some great tricks and shots in the bag and it was a great day of filming. The locals were pretty happy too, they got to see some huge jumps up close and personal and they were all pretty blown away. It was another feel good day and everyone came home safe!



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