The FIS races could earn huge foreign exchange once the ski slopes at Gulmarg are homologated
It is an established fact that adventure tourism is an important sector of our tourism industry. Appreciably every pleasure tourist now dares to undertake one or the other soft or extreme adventure in Kashmir valley. It may be rafting, skiing, trekking, climbing, snowboarding, mountain biking, paragliding, flat water sports, zorbing, mountain running and allied soft adventure products. Unlike other Himalayan states adventure is now becoming increasingly popular in Jammu & Kashmir as well. Kashmir is a best play-field for adventure sports.
The concept of tourism has altogether changed in the modern times. People earlier used to wander from place to place with the intention either to undertake pilgrimage or explore different cultures and places but today Adventure Tourism is more popular among youth. They have the desire to explore new and virgin areas, know more about unknown places, and reach to the highest and lowest points of the blue planet. They are now gladly accepting all challenges of the nature, because a trip to mountains has a soothing effect on soul. The families too are gladly now undertaking the soft adventures.
With the focused attention of Chief Minister, Jenab Mufti Mohammad Sayeed on adventure tourism this sector has started reviving fast, but there is earnest need to help develop winter tourism further in Kashmir. Appreciably Mufti sahib has chosen a right person as Secretary Tourism, Jenab Farooq Ahmad Shah, who has been closely associated with winter tourism for long. Not only worked in different capacities at Gulmarg but he being President of Winter Games Association has been instrumental in promoting winter tourism at Gulmarg. His contribution to winter sports is certainly immense.
We have tremendous potential for winter tourism but it needs a slight push by the Government. The vast snow covered area with magnificent and varied graded slopes at Kongdori and Khilanmarg make it world class ski resort. We have all basic infrastructures here but we still need the surfacing of few ski slopes to make them of international standard.
We have now many beginner, recreational and backcountry ridges and slopes at Gulmarg but for serious competitive skiing we need to upgrade few slopes here. No doubt we have been holding National Winter Games on these slopes for long but unfortunately we could not conduct a single international championship here as these slopes needed to be homologated and certified by the International Ski Federation (FIS). Surprisingly lesser known Auli in Uttrakhand could host South Asian Winter Games few years back, while premier ski resort Gulmarg was neglected. A little investment on skiing has more returns if utilized in a proper way. There is urgent need to upgrade the Marry Shoulder and Gujarhut slopes those have huge potential of becoming best venue for international ski competitions.
Mount Apharwat is well connected by a Gondola from Gulmarg. A subsidiary Chairlift is also now operative at Kongdori. The natural width of the Marry Shoulder slope is more than 40 meters but the gradient near Upper Terminus Point of Chairlift is very steep with a gradient of 27 degrees. At bottom of this stretch there is depression followed by flat stretch for about 15 meters near the intermediate disembarking station. The steep area of the ridge needs to be leveled as per the international standards. After certification by FIS we will be able to host any major international event and the FIS races here. Pertinently no other slope in the country has such a wonderful terrain where all the four skiing events could be conducted simultaneously. It would attract large number of committed winter sports athletes and thus help grow our economy and generate huge employment for locals.
The slope between Khilanmarg 3020 meters and Gujarhut at 2720 meters, has been used for training as well conducting competitive events in the past. During last few seasons it has been damaged by avalanches. Some measures to safeguard against the avalanches have been taken by the Government and some others are in progress. It is hoped that in a couple of years the slope will be fully protected from avalanches. The gradient of the slope is as per the requirement of the FIS races. The width of the slope being more than 40 meters all along, it can be easily developed for competitive FIS races. The vertical drop of the slope is 300 meters and therefore Slalom and Giant Slalom races can be conducted on this slope. But we need to install a ski lift here that would provide mechanical lift to the skiers from base to the top of the slope.
Before holding FIS races can be justified it will be appropriate to understand a few things about skiing as a sport, international skiing organization and the economic benefits that can accrue out of skiing. Main sport of winter games is skiing. It will be reasonable to assess that it comprises 75% of winter games. Skiing has large number of disciplines. It is the most developed sport of the world. FIS is the richest International Federation in the International Olympic body. FIS has developed a strong economic model to promote skiing. Conducting of FIS races is the key of economics of skiing. There are approximately 2000 FIS races registered with Federation Internationale-de- Ski every year. Qualifying in five FIS races is the minimum qualification for an athlete to participate in World Championships and Winter Olympics
FIS races can only be conducted on homologated ski slopes. In an alpine skiing FIS races in Slalom, Giant Slalom, Supper-G and Downhill approximately 800 to 900 athletes takes part. There will be Coaches and other interested people also coming along with the athletes. They pay for their expenses. Since India cannot hold FIS races due to non-availability of homologated skiing infrastructure our athletes have to go to European countries to earn FIS points. Participating in one FIS race costs them approximately Rs. 3 lacs. This is the reason for poor performance of Indian athletes. If FIS races are conducted in Kashmir scores of foreign athletes will come here to take part in these races. Development of Kongdori with international standard slopes can provide huge attraction to the tourists from world over. With 2000 FIS races registered with FIS every year keeps most of the ski resorts busy during skiing season. In a FIS race, say slalom 100 men and 100 women to 140 men and 140 women athletes (200 to 280) are likely to take part. It is estimated that in a year more than four lacs of athletes are participating in such international level races. Every resort holds 2 to 4 races in a year. That means if Gulmarg is able to hold few such races we can earn millions of dollars out of these races, in addition to our normal recreational winter tourism.
Summer slump that ski resorts use to face has been overcome by innovating grass skiing. Now most of the ski resorts are doing grass skiing in the summer with very little investment benefiting from enhanced period of utilization of the resorts. Only investment required is laying of grass and purchasing of grass skies
Since the previous regimes of our Govt failed to develop Gulmarg as an international Ski Resort the local tourism players and winter sports athletes have pinned hope in Jenab Mufti Mohamamd Syed to get the Kongdori and Khilanmarg ski slopes homologated and turn Kashmir into an International skiing destination. It is mentionable that winter tourism will only be sustainable if the Marry Shoulder and Gujarhut slopes are homologated.
An FIS race is comparable to an Indian Premier League match of cricket from the point of view of economics and glamour.
Holding of FIS races every year in Gulmarg is the key to achieve excellence in skiing and give a boost to quality tourism. A FIS race is comparable to an Indian Premier League match of cricket from point of view of economics and glamour.
We still have few months of dry season with us. This is time now for Government to pass order to homologate the slopes which would undoubtedly turn Gulmarg into Mecca of winter sports. It is anticipated that project may cost about 40 crores of rupees to the Govt. However, to raise funds the Government may rope up with J&K Bank, GDA, Tourism Department and J&K State Cable Car Corporation. The JKSCCC is the direct beneficiary of winter sports.
The author is Director Adventure Call Tour and Travels.