Friday, 11 February 2011

Big Storms in Gulmarg, Kashmir 2011 cause large Avalanche activity

Well we were waiting for the snow and we certainly got it! The good and the bad it was - Having a huge storm delivering over 70cms - GOOD - of snow onto a very weak hoarfrost baselayer – BAD!

It took some time for avalanche control work to progress and once they had a chance to bomb the main bowl there was a huge release, probably grade 3 that swept down some 500m vertical just passing the constructed avalanche dam. This avi was right down to the ground exposing rock, tree roots and concrete strength ice balls – a real warning of the potential that the backcountry had to go.

We are very lucky that Brian Newman’s team are there as it means we can go lap the 2nd phase runs of the gondola and know we’re safe, in a controlled area when it is at such a lethal time of potential avalanche activity. I had a great time starting off heading out (walking wide) skier’s left on phase 1 for 4 runs with Tiger, hitting some air off the mushrooms and pulling re-entrys, and then scoring 4 super sweet runs off the top in silky smooth fast powder that was oh so worth the wait.

Again some people were frustrated, but this is serious terrain which needs serious consideration, yes there are delays procuring explosives from the Indian army but to ride over 1000m vertical runs in cold, dry Himalayan powder is worth all that patience – advice – come for a longer stay, the more time the better to settle into Kashmiri time!

I was stoked with my cache of 6000m vertical meters but also very apprehensive of what the next days’activities were to hold, which would no doubt include many riders heading wide out into the very dangerous back country (rated “considerable” on the avalanche risk category). I hooked up with some buddies and really decided I wanted to come home that night, in tact and to live another day.
I thought – what is the best way to achieve this objective? Terrain management was the answer.

There had been clear slide activity on both southerly and northerly aspects, so I played the stats skiing between 20-25 degree slopes. We first skinned up the Apherwat Summit (4,200m) – what a start to a day with super crystal clear views of Nanga Parbat (at 8,100m the 9th highest mountain over in Kashmiri Pakistan), clipped in and dropped the mello skier’s right of the Shark’s Fin bowl! This took us down into the flat, traversing across to again skin-up to Khimlanmarg 1 (5th bowl skier’s left).

Again this bowl is one of the more mello pitches to descend, quite windblown but once in the lower reaches of Lilywide just superb powder skiing! Tom and I decided to keep skiing fall-line right down to the HAWS (High Altitude Warfare School) – weren’t thinking about that one when they named it ;-) into the forest, where the silky pow kept on coming, hitting powder puff mushrooms and finishing right down by the road. A superb ski, relaxed, taking it one-by-one with the group, in constant communication, forecasting our plans to each other (with agreement) and most of all safe and sound and back for some nice chai and great Kashmiri Food!

Unfortunately as predicted there were avalanche incidents – 2 avalanches including 1 burial of a Kiwi guy whom took a 400m ride concluding heading over a 15m waterfall. He was lucky and as a friend watched the video footage, he observed he was under the snow for 12 minutes (far longer than the reported 5 mins), having his guide dig him out. Apparently he came too, blue-faced and was singing in Indian – how bizarre. They were skiing Hapat Khued bowl (3rd bowl skier’s right) south-facing in which this terrain is significantly steeper than that of the skier’s left options. Although in saying that a steeper shot on skier’s left, south-facing in lower Apharwat North Bowl also ripped with a 2m crown measuring 300m. Again luckily the party was uninjured, but again a very close call. Stay safe in the back country!

Check out an excellent resource:

Remember the 5 A’s to consider:


Take a reputated avalanche course and live to ski another day!

For safe backcountry access guiding in Gulmarg contact:
++91 9469639402

As I look out my bedroom window it’s snowing again in Gulmarg!