Thank God, we had early snowfall in Gulmarg this year and the ski enthusiasts took its full advantage by conducting ski mountaineering exploration on Mount Apharwat as early as November, which obviously helped to expand the snow sports season at Gulmarg. Usually skiing would start here from December last week as by then many tourists used to gather here to celebrate both Christmas and New Year eve.
On seeing enough snow accumulating at Gulmarg the Tourism Department appreciably opened skiing officially from 10th of December. After the drag ski-lift started operating at Baby Slope, the skiers and enthusiasts started thronging in larger numbers. The J&K Youth Services Department started its first ski course consisting of 100 trainees from different schools. The domestic tourists and visitors from the Valley too started coming there. It was a nice idea of Tourism Department to hold some promotional activities like Skiing, MT Biking, ATV, Snow Mobile and Sledging etc. competitions as well as some cultural programs during the opening function that resulted in sending a good message outside and helped to fetch the attention of domestic tourists towards this world famous ski resort Gulmarg. Pre-poning the winter sports and opening Gulmarg for winter tourism early was a good idea of Tourism Department, which is undoubtedly helping to bring too many sports activities to Gulmarg this winter.
The Opening Function was followed by Celebration of International Mountain Day, organised by Tourism Department, in association with Adventure Tour Operators Association of Kashmir, J&K Ski Mountaineering Association, J&K Mountaineering & Hiking Club and MTB Association of J&K at different places in the valley. The two-day celebrations witnessed too many adventure and awareness activities including Sport Climbing Championship, MTB Race, Ski mountaineering race, first ever Snow Cycle Slalom and some other promotional programs. A seminar on Mountain Biodiversity was also held in which many eminent subject experts took part. To inculcate a spirit of adventure sports among local youth, Tourism Department also invited Smt Apurna Kumar (IPS) as Chief Guest. Smt Apurna is a leading female climber of India who has climbed all the 7 highest summits of the world and also took a ski expedition to North Pole. She was an inspiration for local female adventure lovers.
It is expected that Gulmarg will remain too busy with winter sports activities this winter. Different organisations have already chalked out their programs. Winter Games Association of J&K is all set to host different activities like district and UT level championships, which will be followed by National Junior Ski and Snowboard Championship for boys and girls. With the success of first Khelo India Winter Games in March 2020 the Union Ministry of Youth Affairs and sports is pleased to allot 2nd Khelo India Winter Games to J&K this year as well, which will be held in the first or second week of February 2021. The Secretary Sports Council, Dr. Naseem Javaid Chowdhary played a commendable role in making the first Khelo India Winter Games a grand success and also helped bringing 2nd such games. It might not have been possible to make the endeavour a success without him. Not only Khelo India the WGAJK shall also hold a three nation Himalayan Ski Race in which India, Nepal and Bhutan are expected to take part. It would be first ever international snow sports event in the valley. The WGAJK would organise these events under the aegis of J&K Sports Council and Ministry of Sports. The J&K Youth Services and Sports is expected to conduct 14 daylong 6 regular skiing courses with carrying capacity of 100 trainees in each program This is perhaps first time that such a large number of students of both Jammu and Kashmir regions are being trained in this scintillating sport. The Department needs now to concentrate on Snowboarding sport as well, as it is becoming very popular world over. Besides, the Department should organise Inter-District and State level championships to select its teams for other major championships. It could also encourage a spirit of competition among budding skiers and help J&K to raise a talented junior ski team.
Besides Youth Services Department, the Indian Institute of Skiing & Mountaineering has already booked six courses of 14 days each with carrying capacity of 70 trainees in each course. The Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering and Winter Sports, Pahalgam has planned five courses with 70 trainees in each course. The Principal of JIM&WS, Col. I.S. Thapa is a dynamic person who has a desire to see adventure sports grow all over the Union Territory. He is a very helpful person and extends his help to any voluntary organisation, whenever and where ever needed.
The Tourism Department too has decided to hold 6 introductory courses of 7 days duration for local male and female youth. The main aim of these courses is to attract local youth towards adventure sports. The present Secretary Tourism, Mr. Sarmad Hafeez and Director Tourism, Mr. Nisar Ahmad Wani have great vision of adventure tourism and they are leaving no stone unturned in promoting and developing this most important sector of tourism.
Some local educational institutions are also preparing to conduct their winter sports programs. The Biscoe School shall hold at least two 14-day long regular ski courses and some short introductory courses as per past practice, while Presentation Convent shall conduct only one course this winter. It is hoped that other educational institutions like Degree College Tangmarg, Kashmir University, CUK, IUST, Burn Hall, and D.P.S etc. shall also conduct similar courses. Notably some State Ski and Snowboard Associations of Indian plains are also planning to train their children here to raise their teams for participation in forthcoming Junior National and Khelo India Winter Games.
Not only snow sports athletes there will be unprecedented rush of ice skating enthusiasts as well, as the local and national Ice Skating organisations are preparing to hold state and national level ice events such as Ice Stok, Curling, Speed Skating, Figure Skating and Ice Hockey etc in near future.
The unexpected rush of athletes that shall throng Gulmarg indicates that we may fall short of accommodation at Gulmarg. The J&K Government needs to settle the dispute with hoteliers as early as possible, by extending their lease period and allowing them to repairs and upgrade their infrastructure. The Tourism Department needs to gear up for this hectic schedule of events. They need to repair their groomer which is needed to pack snow at Kongdori as otherwise it may not be possible to hold any national or international event there. The J&K Cable Car Corporation must gear up men and machinary because they are also the main beneficiaries. Extra manpower needs to be engaged for maintaining the ski slopes. Tourism Police need to be alert to avoid walking on groomed ski slopes by tourists. JKCCC should provide concessional Gondola and Chairlift passes to local youth. Similarly the Gulmarg Development Authority needs to gear up. They need to maintain its Ice Skating rink and clear all link roads. They could charge maintenace fee to ice skaters particularly the organisations those intend to hold any event or training program there.
Aptly also Adventure Tour Operators Association of Kashmir has submitted a Detailed Proposal to Tourism Department for developing winter tourism at hitherto ignored Dudhpathri Resort. If approved, the first ever National Ski Mountaineering Championship will be held there. Notably the Ski Mountaineering sport is developing fast in the world. International and Youth Olympics are held regularly in this sports and efforts are afoot that it may be included in the forthcoming Winter Olympics as a competing event. This sport does not need any mechanical transport, such as Chairlift or Gondolas to carry skiers atop the slopes. This sport is combination of Nordic and Alpine skiing. One has to climb the ridges and slopes with the help of seal skin of ski crampons as is done by a cross country skier and then descent like an alpine skier after removing the climbing gear.
Notably the Ministry of Sports has sanctioned 3.19 crores for conduct of Khelo India, 39.76 lacs for International Ski Race and 1.47 crores for purchase of ski equipment to J&K recently. This is first time that such a huge amount is being spent on snow sports
Author is General Secretary Winter Games Association of J&K and ATOAK, and former Adventure Sports Coach, Kashmir University.