Winter Sports make an important component of winter tourism in Kashmir. There is need to focus on these sports and go for massive publicity and promotional programs forthwith. Gulmarg is considered the best resort for different winter sports in India. With the efforts of Tourism Deptt we have been successful to promote alpine skiing, heli-skiing and snowboarding here to a large extent but we still need to explore possibility of developing other snow and ice based activities to attract more tourists to the state.
There are many winter games like alpine and nordic skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, ice hockey, bobsleigh, luge and biathlon etc. for which we have natural facilities available in Kashmir. All these sports are recognized Olympics events and are promoted at continental levels too. There are some other snow based games like ski-mountaineering, snow rugby, mountain running, snow baseball, snow cycling and ice stock etc. those were introduced by Tourism Deptt and some other voluntary organizations and are now regularly played at Gulmarg for some time. Efforts of the association are afoot to introduce Snow Kayaking at Gulmarg this winter.
The Winter Games Association of J&K is all set to host number of winter games at Gulmarg during winter with the support of J&K State Sports Council and Tourism Department. Appreciably the Sports Council has first time approved several programs of the Association like 7 District Ski Championships, State Winter Games, Ski Mountaineering expedition and pre-national Coaching Camps etc. for boys and girls of different age groups. The fascinating activities would be conducted under the name and style "Get Together at Gulmarg". The teams those are selected for national championships would also be financed by the Sports Council. Notably the Association shall first time hold district ski championships in Drass and Patnitop this year. A proposal is also submitted to the Council to organize 6th National Winter Games at Gulmarg this year. The last Games were held in 2008. WGAJK has submitted some more developmental projects to the Sports Council this year.
In its endeavor to promote winter tourism in Kashmir the Tourism Department too has chalked out many promotional winter activities. Committees are formed to make the winter tourism a grand success this year. The Department is willing to host the 6th National Winter Games at Gulmarg and have taken up the matter with Indian Olympic Association. They have also planned to organize some Ice Skating coaching camps for local youth. Like last year a mega National Ice Skating Championship was also planned but unfortunately the Ice Skating Association of India has already allotted it to Himachal Pradesh. The man and machines are geared up and some more sophisticated ski equipment is being purchased for the use of local athletes who are selected for national and international championships. The Department is also holding first-ever national level Ice Climbing Championship at Pahalgam. This is an added activity and would help to attract climbers from the country and abroad. J&K Cable Car Corporation is expected to host its annual Gondola Cup.
To attract the foreign enthusiasts massive publicity in foreign countries is needed to be initiated well in time. Last year the Tourism Department deputed two officials to Austria to publicize the winter sports and itt undoubtedly helped the state to boost heli-skiing here. But this year there is apprehension that the helicopter may not hover in Gulmarg with Heli-Skiers due to unrest. There is need to gain the confidence of foreign winter sports athletes who love to ski in Kashmir Himalayas.
Not only this we need to explore possibility of introducing winter sports in other snow bound resorts of the state like Sonamarg, Aru, Yousmarg and Dudhpathri etc. Winter Games Federation of India and International Ski Federation (FIS) are searching a long track at lower altitude in India where International Long Distance Cross-Country Skiing Competitions could be conducted. Interestingly we have possibility of introducing long distance Cross-Country skiing in Dudhpathri area, where we have the best and longest route for such potential International event but many of us lack the knowledge. We need to explore Dudhpathri route to use it for such major events. Similarly we need to develop ski-mountaineering in Lidder and Sindh Valleys where we have long ski runs and challenging hills and mountain ridges. In early 1980s the J&K Ski & Mountaineering Association had introduced this sport in Lidder Valley. Due to less snowfall in Pahalgam area there is least possibility of promoting alpine skiing at an international level but ski-touring could be fascinating for them. Ski-touring received boost in Pirpanjal range for last some years, as the Mount Sunset and Sunrise lure the foreigners. Ski Mountaineering needs special ski equipment. There is need to keep mountain ski equipment readily available at all ski resorts. Tourism Department had procured some Mountain Skis decades back but those are now obsolete and unusable. Snowboarding is becoming increasingly popular amongst the youth as it is more adventurous.
Similarly Ice skating events too needs to be encouraged in the state. Ice Skating is played not only at Gulmarg but in many other places like Drass, Kargil and Leh. At the time of less snow fall ice events like Ice Stock, Ice Skating and Ice Hockey etc could be best alternative to be offered to the intended winter sports enthusiasts at Gulmarg. With the late snowfall the national skiing and snowboarding championships could not be held last year and the hoteliers and other business community were dejected about the sharp drop in tourist inflow. For last some years we have witnessed less snow fall at Gulmarg which badly affected the winter tourism in Kashmir. Appreciably, the brilliant and meaningful winter tourism planning conceived by Tourism Department last year changed the scenario at Gulmarg in the first week of January when first-ever National Ice Skating Championship was held there. The Championship attracted a large number of skaters and technical officials from far off states like Telengana, Assam, Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh etc. The championship brought joy and pleasure to the sports fraternity and tourism players. Keeping in view the popularity of Ice Skating and Ice Hockey in India we need to appreciate, encourage, patronize and promote them at a larger scale. Gulmarg Development Authority has constructed an international size Ice Skating rink at Gulmarg where we conducted several Ice events in the past. The rink needs little more expansion like laying of an exclusive preparation cabin for the players. The GDA should also provide some machines for ice polishing and maintenance..
(The Author is Director Adventure Call Tours and Travels and former Adventure Sports Coach, Kashmir University)