The exploration of powder snow terrains in the Himalaya Mountains is an adventurous and exciting outdoor activity with many positive experiences but also with a number of potential risks and inconveniences. The trip to Gulmarg is for many of our guests a “once in a lifetime” experience and often also their first encounter with the Kashmiri culture and lifestyle.
Below are 10 points former participants in our programs considered important to select us as competent and reliable freeriding program operator for their Gulmarg ski and snowboard vacations.
FSH has been organizing and leading trekking expeditions in India and Nepal since 2001 and started to run powder snow programs in Gulmarg in the winter 2005/2006. Over the past years, we have been confronted with many unexpected challenges and have learned a lot from these. Today our guests can benefit from this experience and can rest assured of trouble free and safe ski or snowboard a trip to the Himalayas when booking with us.
Good contacts and strong friendships with the local population are key success factors for program operators in this part of the world. Only when they understand and respect the local people’s culture and their way of life they are accepted in the Himalaya Mountain community and taken seriously. Especially when things go wrong, strong relations and friendships with the local people are essential to assure the quality of the service and to guarantee the safety of the trip. Since the winter of 2005/2006, we had enough time to build our network in Kashmir and can now rely on many good friends in various places.
To offer exceptional runs in good and bad days we have explored the Mt. Apharwat powder terrain and the tree skiing areas of Tangmarg, Baba Reshi and Drang extensively and identified a number of runs for great powder skiing in all weathers. After several ski seasons in Gulmarg our program manager and our guides know the terrain and most of its challenges from their own experience. Our guests can, therefore, count on us for exceptional and safe powder runs during their stay with us in Gulmarg.
On the mountain your guide is more than just a companion, he is your leader, your Pathfinder, your safety guarantor and your friend and coach. Guiding freeriding groups is a challenging and complex task with huge responsibilities, not only in Gulmarg. All guides working with FSH, therefore, fulfill the following requirements: they are able to ski or snowboard with guests of all skill levels, they speak good English, they have been trained according to international standards, they have strong interpersonal skills, they have a minimum education level permitting them to converse with the guests on diverse subjects and finally they are registered as official snow guides for Kashmir.
Traffic in Kashmir is wild and uncontrolled, the road conditions are far from perfect, and in the winter the streets are often snow covered, especially on the part between Tangmarg and Gulmarg. Consequently traveling by road in Kashmir must be considered as dangerous as skiing on exposed terrains on the mountain. All of FSH’s drivers have been working with us for the past years and demonstrated that they drive with care and can handle difficult traffic and road situations competently.
Clean and properly working jeeps with a complete set of chains are essential for safe trips from the airport to Gulmarg and also for the transports when skiing in the trees or for returns to Gulmarg after the long descents from Mt. Apharwat to Drang. There is nothing worse than being stuck in a broken down vehicle or being unable to move on snow covered roads due to missing chains especially when it is bitter cold (the jeeps have no heating!) and while all others are enjoying their powder runs. We check the vehicles of our drivers regularly and make sure that their vehicles are always kept in perfect order.
When skiing or snowboarding in the backcountry people are well advised to understand that being prepared is important to assure one’s own safety and also for quick and proper reaction to save others should avalanche accidents occur. Short avalanche awareness briefings on the first day are therefore included in all our programs and covers practice sessions for avalanche beacon handling, a search of buried objects and rescue procedures.
A ski trip to the Himalaya Mountains cannot be compared with a ski vacation in a ski resort elsewhere. Many of our everyday conveniences are not available in Gulmarg, and the service offering is quite basic, even in good hotels. In addition to this winter nights at 2’700m are freezing cold and regular power failures the norm. To assure a good comfort level for our guests we are working with only one partner hotel that disposes of the necessary infrastructures for winter operations. Working generators, large water tanks, clean kitchens, etc. and staff that is committed to making the stay of our guests as agreeable as possible are essential for our guests’ wellbeing.
Most program participants are enrolling in small groups and wish to ski or snowboard together. Individual skiers either form their own group or in some cases will be skiing with their “personal” guide. Our normal group size is 4 - 6 people plus one guide, if a group of friends is larger than 6, we provide a second guide. One of our key differentiators from other operators is our flexibility in group formation even if this means that sometimes we may have one guide skiing with just one guest.
When visiting Kashmir most travelers are faced with an unfamiliar culture and a totally different lifestyle. Time focus, service speed and reliability have another meaning here. Even though people are customer focused and service oriented they need a certain push to perform and to provide services that meet our guests’ expectations.
Since the winter 2005/2006 our programs in Gulmarg are managed by a Swiss ski instructor and expedition leader with several years of guiding experience in the Himalayas and with a sound background in the hotel and catering industry. He is in Gulmarg usually 2 to 3 weeks before our guests arrive and will remain there until at least one week after the last guests have left. He is also personally guiding individual skiers or groups but his main task is to assure that all guests enjoy an exceptional ski vacation in the Himalaya and leave fully satisfied with us and with a perfect Gulmarg holiday experience.