BY OBAID YOUSUF RESHI
Gulmarg is a very popular tourist destination in Jammu and Kashmir which is famous for its lush green meadows in summer and a white blanket of glittering snow in winter.
It lies at an elevation of 2650 metres (8,690 ft) and is one of India’s premier ski and snowboarding destinations. It is ranked as the 7th best ski area in Asia. Gulmarg is only 55km away from Srinagar which makes it an ideal place for day-trippers.
It homes the highest ski lift in the world taking skiers and snowboarders up to an elevation of 4390 metres (14,403 ft). Thus, offering more challenging ski and snowboarding runs.
Gulmarg has three major ski slopes which are skied down by different categories of skiers as per their experience levels. In European and American countries a slope is categorised based on colours as per difficulty level.
Ski slope colours refer to the steepness of the gradient and the level of difficulty. Green is an easy shallow & wide slope for beginners. Blue is for intermediate skiers who can turn on steeper faster gradients.
Red is for very good and confident skiers that like challenge. Black is for expert skiers who can handle very steep, uneven gradients.
Every new skier has to understand the ski slope colours before they venture beyond the baby slopes. Not checking before descending a beginner, intermediate or expert run, could leave a skier in mortal danger.
Unfortunately, the slopes at Gulmarg have never been colour graded before hence no such information is available to the skiers before they run down a slope especially those who come from outside India.
The author of this article is himself an avid skier and adventurer and has attempted to colour grade and categorise Gulmarg slopes following set international standards. Let us begin with the very first slope that a beginner steps his feet on; this is known as “Baby Slope” or “Bunny Slope”. It is a smooth slope having mild and gradual elevation loss from top to bottom. “A slope is rated by its most difficult part, even if the rest of the slope is nice and easy”.
The baby slope that we have at Gulmarg has a running distance of over 280 metres. Its elevation at top of the slope is 2673 metres above sea level and the bottom elevation where the slope finish is around 2642 metres. There is an elevation loss of -31 metres from top to bottom and notably, the average slope gradient is recorded at -12.2%.
This gradient is quite comfortable for beginner skiers. As per European standards, a slope that comes between the gradient of 0-20% is regarded as a beginner slope and is denoted by a Green colour.
The next ski slope that we have at Gulmarg is called “Highlands Park Slope”. It is the second most difficult slope to ski down after Baby Slope. This slope has a running distance of 222 metres. The elevation at top of the slope is 2687 metres and the bottom elevation is around 2649 metres, which makes it the highest slope to ski down at Gulmarg.
Here we have recorded an elevation loss of around -38 metres from the top of the slope to the bottom of the slope. The average slope gradient for Highlands Park was recorded at -21% and is suitable for early intermediate skiers. Under the guidelines, any slope that falls between the gradient of 20-30% is denoted by the Blue colour.
The third and last slope that most experienced skiers run down is called “85 Slope” named after Hut No. 85 there. It comes after Highlands Park Slope in difficulty. This slope is relatively shorter than Baby Slope and Highlands Park Slope measuring only 160 metres in length but has a steeper curve at the start which makes it a little challenging for some skiers.
This slope has an elevation of around 2673 metres and the bottom elevation is 2649 metres. On this slope, we have recorded an elevation loss of -24 metres but this loss is very quick. The average gradient for this slope was -41.1%. Any slope which falls between the 30-45% gradient mark is suitable for advanced intermediate skiers and is marked by Red colour.
There are other steep and rejuvenating alpine ski slopes and terrains in Gulmarg for advanced and off-piste skiers who have years of experience. Any such skier can enjoy skiing down Mt. Affarwat 4390 metres (14,403 ft) where one can reach by Asia’s longest and world’s second-highest cable car “Gondola”.
Other peaks like Sunshine and Sunrise offer beautiful powder (Pow) skiing experiences to expert and enthusiastic skiers where one can reach only by helicopter. The gradient of such peaks and slopes is usually higher than 45% and is denoted by Black colour.
The development and maintenance of these winter sports resorts are usually carried out by their relevant development authorities and as such Gulmarg Development Authority should mark these slopes by placing labelled placards that could provide information to skiers and snowboarders as we see in European and American countries.
There is also a need for homologation of slopes for hosting international championships. Gulmarg has a tremendous potential to host such championships but the only thing that prevents it is non-certified FIS slopes. A minor tweak in our slopes could place Gulmarg on the FIS championship map.
(Note: All the research and calculations mentioned in this article are done by the author himself.)
Obaid Yousuf Reshi is an avid skier, member ATOAK and Director Adventure Call
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.