Saturday, 13 February 2010

Tragedy strikes with huge avalanche and a visit from Kiwi High Commissioner to India

After a huge snowfall of over 4 meters on the top of the gondola in Gulmarg snow conditions were treacherous. During the storm a group of soldiers from the High Altitude Warfare school ventured into exposed terrain on an exercise. A large avalanche came down and buried some 35 soldiers and 21 were not able to be revived resulting in fatalaties. Our thoughts and condolences go out to the family and friends of these tragically lost lives.

The storm kept raging and as a result the very weak layer described as ‘ball bearings’ was crushed by the heavy snow fall, which for powder hounds was a great result to have the deathly weak layer removed. After a very cold night the snow lightened and we hit the ‘Baba Reshi Temple’ run for a couple of days spinning loops being picked up by Jeep while we waited for snow control to take place and the 2nd phase of the gondola to open. This is a great ‘storm skiing’ or ‘gondola closed’ option as it provides some 1000m vertical of 40-45 degrees if you take the right guide to show you the right lines. It was great smashing the powder mushrooms and cream caked rocks, trees and logs making for some extreme powder jibbing and road jumps! Quite a unique environ and very different than skiing my home field of Craigieburn in New Zealand. Kerry, a fellow Kiwi couldn’t stop saying ‘champagne, it’s bloody champagne mate’ which is often what the Himalayas provides, the cold and altitude often retain or create very dry snow conditions!

We were privileged to have a visit from the New Zealand High Commissioner to India – Rupert Holborow, his wife Polly and 2 children. Rupert has been instrumental in helping Billa Bakshi (ski guide extraordinaire from Gulmarg) to bring a container of donated skis for the New Zealand Ski Club of Kashmir providing equipment for local Gulmarg kids. Often Kashmir has a reputation of a slightly edgy place to travel to and it was a great testament to have the High Commissioner visit showing that Gulmarg is a safe place to travel, although caution in Srinagar should be taken. This is a big step in the development of Gulmarg as a world class ski destination, the snow is some of the best in the world and now if we can look to improve facilities and infrastructure it is a very positive outlook going forward.
The opening of the 2nd phase was keenly awaited and when the floodgates opened riders took full advantage of the main bowl. Slightly wind consolidated and sporting huge cornice s on the ridge again, you always have to play it safe in Gulmarg and ‘ratchet it down’ a level! Although the north and north-east faces were to be wary of the south faces were lovely skiing and consolidation meant for safer riding. More snow in the late afternoon – does this place ever stop snowing!

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