Above: Gulmarg scenery.
Amid the soaring peaks of Kashmir, a skiing outfit reaches for new heights.
By Dean Wilson
When your list of provisions includes an avalanche transceiver, an air bag, a shovel, and a snow probe, you know you’re not in for your average ski trip. But if you’re planning to tackle the remotest slopes of Kashmir’s Pir Panjal Range, you’ll need all this—plus access to a B3 Squirrel helicopter, now at your disposal thanks to Kashmir Heliski.
Home to some of the region’s most majestic peaks, Pir Panjal attracts its fair share of adventurous spirits, among them New Zealand ski veteran Martin Jones.
“I was blown away when I first skiied Himalayan powder,” says Jones, the man behind the new heli-skiing venture, based out of the northwest Indian hill station of Gulmarg. Once a popular summer getaway for British colonials, the town began attracting a different breed of tourists with the 2005 opening of the Gulmarg Gondola—the highest and longest cable car in the world—which carries skiers and snowboarders up to the 4,000-meter-high ridge of Mount Apharwat.
“With their high altitude and low latitude, peaks in the Pir Panjal regularly receive some of the heaviest snowfalls in the Himalayas,” Jones says. “Then the fine days and cold nights frost-dry the snow, so you get the lightest, driest champagne powder around.”
For its debut season this January, Kashmir Heliski. will give small groups of experienced skiers and snowboarders exclusive access to Pir Panjal’s most remote slopes, some of which offer unbroken vertical descents of more than two kilometers. Thrills like this do not come cheap: a seven-night heli-ski package costs around US$10,000. Still, it’s reassuring to know that your money not only buys you a weeklong adrenalin rush, but also goes toward supporting the local community. In partnership with Kashmiri ski guide Billa Majeed Bakshi, Jones operates a number of other ski clubs and sports schools in the area, with profits invested into providing jobs and training for local instructors and improving the infrastructure in Gulmarg and neighboring ski villages.
Kashmir Heliski operates from about January 10 to February 20. The Pir Panjal Powder Week Heli-Ski package includes six days of guided heli-skiing, equipment rental, airport transfers, seven nights’ accommodation in Gulmarg, and meals for US$9,500 per person. The Powder Shot package offers one heli-ski experience and refreshments for US$411.
Originally appeared in the December 2009/January 2010 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Himalayan High-Flyer”)
UPDATE: At the time of the original article the company was called Gulmarg Heliski. Now it’s called Kashmir Heliski, and it has since opened up new runs.