Heli-ski highs in Gulmarg

Haroon Rashid | Updated on March 31, 2011 Published on March 31, 2011

Airlift! Gulmarg Heliski's helicopter transports skiers to mountain tops that were hitherto inaccessible. - Haroon Rashid   -  Business Line

The gang.   -  TO BE GIVEn


heli thrills

sking   -  to be given.

heliskiing   -  to be given

Known for its slopes and pretty meadows, the hill-station of Gulmarg received extended snowfall this winter, much to the delight of locals and tourists. It also witnessed the return of heli-skiing to its scenic slopes after a gap of nearly 25 years, with Gulmarg Heliski running the show for six weeks during January and February.

The heli-ski service received tremendous response from foreign as well as domestic tourists and has propelled Gulmarg to literally new heights in adventure tourism.

Says Martin Jones, director of Gulmarg Heliski, who set up the company together with his Kashmiri partner, Billa Majeed Bakshi, “The mountains in Gulmarg are big and beautiful — with 66 peaks over 3,000 metres altitude and 22 peaks over 4,000 metres, which provide ample opportunity for heli-skiing.”

The hill-station already boasts a cable car service that is among the world's highest it runs through pine trees before soaring beyond the tree line to 3,980 meters above sea level. The cable car takes tourists to mountain tops from which they can ski down. But while the cable car provides access to only a few slopes, heli-skiing has opened up dozens of other peaks, hitherto inaccessible, to skiers.

Gulmarg Heliski operates a 2009 AS350 Squirrel B3 helicopter to ferry skiers to the mountain tops in Gulmarg. More than 300 people used the service during the six weeks it was offered this year.

“I always thought heli-skiing was for the most extreme, but I had a blast skiing nothing but soft, fresh powder. It was pure bliss!” said Lisa, a first-time heli-skier, from Canada.

Tourists are delighted by the fresh tracks and the absence of crowds here, unlike at many of the jam-packed ski resorts abroad.

The foreign skiers included Germans, Americans, Kiwis, Danish, French and Italians.

Gulmarg Heliski took the adventure-seeking skiers to several virgin terrains such as Mount Apharwat, Triple Peak and Sunset Peak. The service covered both easy and challenging ski routes. “One Powder Shot run includes the heli lift from Gulmarg up to 4,000 metres and the guided heli-skiing, with four guests per guide. The run covers about 2,000 metres of vertical,” said a company official.

From trained guides and a rescue team to first-aid supplies, the heli-ski company says it was well prepared to ensure a smooth service.

Upbeat about the positive response to the heli-ski venture, the State Government has extended its support and hopes to turn it into a star attraction in the coming years.

Nawang Rigzin Jora, Minister for Tourism, said heli-skiing would help attract more tourists to Gulmarg, located barely 56 km from Srinagar. “With such facilities being added, I hope next year Gulmarg will receive record number of winter tourists,” he said.

Spurred by the success, the tourism department wants to introduce similar services in other places. Farooq Shah, Director Tourism, said “the tourism department would also start heli-ski facility in Aharbal, Sonamarg and Kolhoi areas. We will provide full support if more such companies come forward”.

Last year, Gulmarg was rated among the top-ten ski destinations in Asia by CNN International. It ranked seven, ahead of heavyweights from China and Japan. In fact, CNN recommended it as one of the best ski destinations for downhill thrills. With added features such as heli-skiing and other infrastructure, Gulmarg looks forward to a thrilling ride with adventure tourism.

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Published on March 31, 2011
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