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In search of snow in India: skiing in the Himalayas

By: Namrata Bhawnani

October 22, 2015

Skiing in the Himalayas | skiers in Gulmarg

If you’re looking for a fresh snow challenge, India‘s Himalayas offer a unique, uncharted and endless playground. Forget the crowded, manicured Alpine slopes and the cheese-and-fondue routine; going off-piste in the Himalayas is an almost spiritual experience. Whizzing down the raw, rugged terrain from tremendous heights is a powerful and exhilarating feeling and the views are unparalleled. Not to mention, you can ski here at a fraction of the cost as compared to famous resorts in Europe. Take a look at our guide to skiing in the Himalayas.

Gulmarg, Kashmir

Adventure tourism in the Himalayas has been on the rise with Gulmarg in Kashmir leading the way for skiing. Gulmarg has one of the longest ski runs, accessible by the gondola, which offers a magnificent run of 2,213 metres descent. The Gulmarg Gondola has earned the distinction of being one of the highest skis lifts in the world, climbing to nearly 4,000m – almost to the peak of Mt Apharwat.

Skiing in the Himalayas | The Gulmarg Gondola

Ride on one of the world’s highest ski lifts, The Gulmarg Gondola © Dev Verma

The slopes near Phase One of the gondola are gentler, but expert skiers can really push their limits in higher terrain. This snowy playground, dotted with pines and firs, offers some of the finest skiing you can experience and you could even make it to the local shrine in skis! Free Ski Himalayas offers winter ski packages and heli skiing and freeriding programmes. 

Heli-skiing is also gaining popularity in Gulmarg, and Kashmir Heliski offers packages that help you explore the “crisp ‘curry’ powder” Himalayan snow. The best time to strap on your skis in Gulmarg is between December and mid-April.

Skiing in the Himalayas | The Gulmarg Gondola

Take in the views from the Gulmarg Gondola © Free Ski Himalayas

Garhwal and Kumaon, Uttarakhand

The picturesque slopes of Garhwal and Kumaon are the lesser famous cousins of Gulmarg, but just as generously giving in terms of thrills. Another unique opportunity is to try glacier ski touring in Uttarakhand.

Auli: Auli is located about 16 kms from Joshimath and 250 kms from Rishikesh. A cable car runs between Joshimath and Auli, offering unparalleled views of peaks like Nanda Devi, Kamet and Dronagiri. At the government-run ski resort (equipped with snow beaters), the three-km slope (height 2510 to 3049 m) features a 500-m long ski-lift. Also, the tall deodar forest shelters skiers from the wind velocity in this challenging playground. The best time to go skiing in Auli is from the end of December to March. Auli snowskiing and Uttaranchal Tourism offer different packages. 

Skiing in the Himalayas | Skiing in Auli

Ski in Auli from December to March © Incredible India

Dayara Bugyal: Also in the Garhwal region, Dayara Bugyal offers jaw-dropping scenery and inspiring skiing in the Himalayas with slopes over 28 sq kms. Bugyal in local speak translates as “high-altitude meadow”, which gives a clue as to the spectacular scenery here.

Mundali: Mundali is located 129 kms from Dehradun, and is another unspoilt spot for skiers. The powdery snow is a magnet for expert skiers and the views are sublime. Book your accommodation beforehand at the Forest Rest House via the Forest Department (the only accommodation in Mundali) or in Chakrata, 36 kms away. The best time to ski in Mundali is in November and December. 

Skiing in the Himalayas | Gulmarg

Be a part of the ski scene in Gulmarg © Free Ski Himalaya

Munsiyari: Munsiyari is a town in the Pithoragarh District in Uttarakhand, which is slowly coming into its own in the adventure sports and trekking space. Khaliya Top and Betuli Dhar (both about 6-7 kms from Munisayari) have gradual slope pastures and excellent ski terrain. The best time to visit Munsiyari is between November and mid-March.

Manali, Himachal Pradesh: Manali has always been popular with Indian tourists and has evolved as a ski destination with promise. With excellent powder on offer, the skiing is through ridgelines, birch and cedar forests or on glaciers. To experience heli-skiing here, try Himalayan HeliAdventures.

Skiing in the Himalayas | Gulmarg

Feel on top of the world while skiing in the Himalayas © Free Ski Himalaya

Solang Valley: About 12 kms from Manali is Solang Valley, famous for its ropeway to Mt Phatru. At an altitude of 3200 m, there are incredible views of the snow-capped Himalayas. There is also a natural ice Shiv ling (the symbol of Lord Shiva) here at Anjani Mahadev that blesses the valley with its presence in the winter.

From the top station to the base station there is a vertical drop of 500 m. You can buy day ski passes at Ski Himalayas.

Interestingly, from June to October, you can also try grass skiing (skis kitted with wheels) in Solang at the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports, where the institute, situated on forested land on the banks of the Beas, has prepped a 120-m grass slope for this up-and-coming activity.

Skiing in the Himalayas |  Skiing at Anil Raina

Learn to ski on the Himalayan slopes © Anil Raina

Shimla, Himachal Pradesh

Kufri: About 13 kms from the popular hill station of Shimla, lies Kufri at 2662 m, a quiet town that buzzes in the white winters. Skiers head up to the Mahasu Ridge, just above Kufri, for its excellent slopes. The best time to ski in Kufri is January and February. 

Skiing in the Himalayas | A skier in Gulmarg

Take on some of the more challenging slopes © Free Ski Himalaya

Narkanda: Head out about 65 kms, and you’ll reach Narkanda. At 3143 m (8100 ft), this is unexplored, virgin terrain and offers an undiluted head rush for skiers. Featuring some smooth, steep slopes, the conditions are ideal for cross-country skiing. If that isn’t enough, the views alone are sure to impress. 

Sikkim 

The northeast of India has proved to be tremendously popular with tourists and Sikkim is a fantastic ski destination, as several areas remain pristine and unexplored. 

Skiing in the Himalayas | Sikkim

Head to the scenic ski destination of Sikkim © Incredible India

Yumthang Valley and Phuni Valley, Lachung: The Sikkim Mountaineering Association has introduced ice skiing in Yumthang and Phuni in Lachung recently. Phuni is situated about 18 kms from Lachung at about 11,500 feet. The powder snow is inviting, the scenery stunning. From November to March is the best time to go, with slopes appropriate for all abilities.

Skiing in the Himalayas | Gulmarg

Stay in the snow-blanketed resorts of Gulmarg © Free Ski Himalaya

Book your trip to India with Virgin Atlantic and start planning your next skiing adventure.

Have you been skiing in the Himalayas? Where did you go? Let us know in the comments section below.

Header image: Travel to the scenic slopes of Gulmarg.

Written by Namrata Bhawnani

Namrata Bhawnani

Namrata Bhawnani is a London-based freelance travel writer and the co-founder of the ecotravel web magazine www.ecophiles.com.

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