Last January, Sreekumar B., 35, and a unit business head with ad agency Leo Burnett, travelled to Gulmarg for a skiing holiday. This month, he’s going back, this time with his wife. “It’s great not to think of myself as a first-timer,” he says
Why go on a ski holiday? Had you ever skied earlier or tried other winter sports?
Hailing as I do from the south of India, Kashmir has always fascinated me. I love the snow-capped mountains, but had never skied in my life. So when my pal Akshay told me he was planning a skiing trip to Gulmarg, I got really excited. I had done a few treks and bike trips, but a ski holiday was something else. I try and plan at least one trip every year that is out of the ordinary, and this one fit the bill perfectly.
Any apprehensions about travelling to Kashmir?
I had been there on work in 1997. While shooting for a commercial, I did a driving trip from Srinagar to Leh via Drass and Kargil. I think Kashmir is as safe as any Indian state today. It’s just that there is a lot of media attention and every incident in the Valley gets blown out of proportion. This time around, I was a bit tense initially, but the place and the pristine surroundings just took over and all the tension and uneasiness dissipated.
I guess you flew into Srinagar.
That’s right. My wife, Sarita, was to join me on the trip but had to drop out last minute due to some office compulsion. We had jeeps waiting at Srinagar airport to take us to Gulmarg. Three hours into the journey, we stopped at Tanmarg for a sumptuous Kashmiri lunch. Gulmarg is an hour from here, and we reached by mid-afternoon. The weather was great but since it had not snowed heavily till then in that season, the other semi-pro and pro skiers were hoping for some fresh snowfall—which did happen on Day 3. Overall, the drive and the weather made for a perfect introduction to a skiing holiday.
Are you athletically inclined? Did you need to do any kind of prep prior to the holiday?
Even though I’m a sports enthusiast, I wouldn’t call myself athletically inclined. One does need some amount of preparation in terms of getting one’s clothes and shoes in place. You can actually hire fleece jackets and gloves in New Delhi itself. The skis and other gear are available in all sizes from the government-run adventure gear shop. Since I was travelling with Mercury Himalayan Explorations (www.himalayanadventure.com), everything was organized, including the ski instructor. I think it’s much easier for a first-timer to sign up with a reputed tour company which actually prepares you well before you leave for Gulmarg.
How physically demanding is skiing? What was your first experience of the slopes like?
As a novice skier, the first day was both exciting and embarrassing, specially as there were kids aged between four and 12 skiing skilfully all around and I was just trying to stay on my feet. But I guess you get used to falling after a while. The sport is physically demanding, since one needs to carry one’s skis back to the top of the slope after skiing down—you can also hire someone to carry them back, but that takes away all the fun. As a novice skier, it’s easy to look at the ski lift and imagine that it is a cakewalk to get on to it, but you soon think again—it is tricky and calls for a bit of practice on your balance before you get onto the ski lift. It is cold as hell if you are not in the right clothing, and the snow is not so deep in the baby slopes (which is where you go as a first-timer). Also, Gulmarg is very much a tourist destination and on public holidays you do have a lot of people coming in from Srinagar and Jammu to gawk at the skiers.
How well equipped are the Gulmarg slopes for skiers?
Gulmarg in winters is a skiing destination and is well equipped. There are private and government-run adventure gear shops that take care of all your requirements. The government also operates a ski lift at the baby slopes and has a cable car that takes you to the pro slopes, which are really steep and challenging. Some of our group, including a 10-year-old, skied down the pro slopes. You just need to plan your reservations and itinerary to enjoy a great skiing holiday in Gulmarg. In all, I spent five days in Gulmarg and a day in Srinagar. On an average, I spent about four hours on the slopes every day that I was in Gulmarg.
How easy/difficult is it to pick up skiing?
No great training is required— just the basics of balancing your body weight with skies on, it’s like learning to ride a bicycle. A fast learner would take about 10 minutes to grasp the basics, and if you’re on the slow side, like me, it should take you about 30 minutes. You start and end your first ski trip on the baby slopes, unless you are a natural skier and have mastered enough of the art in three days to go up to the pro slopes.
The ski instructors basically cover aspects of balancing and manoeuvring skills and then let you do your own thing, correcting and helping you as you go along. It is important to know how to carry your skis as they are quite heavy. Like I said earlier, you need to have the right kind of people with you if you are a first-timer. You need to learn your basics first, rather than just aim to ski with the pros.
The first independent effort— what was it like?
It was fantastic. I think I skied about 400-600m without a problem, and then got distracted and had a good soft tumble. It was embarrassing the first time around, but you see a lot of first-timers go down the same path and that eases things.
What’s a day on the slopes like?
The day usually begins after breakfast at the hotel, when you hit the slopes. You do have vendors with hot tea and you take breaks after three or four runs on the slopes. The time you spend on the slopes and skiing usually depends on yourself and how much you want to do. We averaged around two hours in the morning and two hours in the mid-afternoon.
But a holiday in Gulmarg is about much more than just skiing. The place is enchanting. When we were not on the slopes, we would be walking around town, discovering the place.
At the end of five days, how did you feel about your skiing prowess?
By the end of the holiday, I had learnt to balance myself and ski around on my own a bit. It is not like I can ski without help, but I am no longer a first-timer—feels great to say that. I got onto the ski lift on Day 3, and felt a great sense of achievement in doing that.
As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Share your last holiday with us at firstname.lastname@example.org