Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Kashmir, you just can't get enough!

For the fifth time in two years I find myself back in Kashmir. This time it is Indian Kashmir, where I have spent the last three winters working on a project that I may never send. We’ve all worked a proj that is so above our heads that even small progress is satisfying. So here I am, chipping away at something that is super fun and extremely rewarding, training Kashmiri men to become ski guides.

The Pir Panjal mountain range is the front range of the Indian Himalaya. It is home to Gulmarg, the only “modern” ski area in the entire Himalaya. The Indian government built a gondola in an alpine zone with the intention of sharing the mountain landscape with the domestic population. Most of the action in Gulmarg happens in the summer, when families and couples travelling from Delhi and Mumbai attempt to escape the oppressive heat and head for the hills. On a busy summer day 5,000 people will ride the gondi. During the course of the whole winter, there may be 2,500 people that ride this lift, all foreigners and all looking for powder.

The terrain around Gulmarg is ski touring paradise. Virtually all of it is above tree line, moderate elevation (4,000 meters, 13,000 ft) with peaks up to 5,000 meters. One of the best parts is that it is non-glaciated, which makes the route-finding and navigation so much easier and safer. With Himalayan scale and remoteness, it would be very easy to totally hose yourself by dropping the wrong side of a ridge or riding too deep into a river drainage and not be able to get out easily. As with any area, local knowledge is super valuable. It is the difference between being safe and shredding pow all day or postholing and skinning for several hours just to get back to a road or village.

The locals guys here in Gulmarg are ripping skiers and know the area really well. They are great mountain hosts. My mission is to set them on a course to become mountain guides. Over the past three winters I have been providing instruction and training scenarios related to avalanche rescue, safe ski techniques, first aid, weather observations and snow science. As well as the softer side of things like managing a clients emotional needs. The project has been going really well. The guys are stoked that someone is reaching out to them and giving them skills to be safe and responsible while sharing their home area. We’ve all grown quite attached to each other after many long days in the hills and riding some of the best powder lines of our lives. Becoming a certified ski guide can be a long road and these guys know that most of the road lay ahead of them. Regardless, they are very grateful and excited to learn all they can. For that reason I’ll keep coming back.

-Dave Watson

No comments: