Updated: Dec 24, 2020
You may have heard of people who go to Gulmarg every year to ski. It’s an annual tradition. There are sets of people, either friend groups, solo travellers, or even families, for whom the winter season has to include a ski trip to Gulmarg.
But what happens on these ski vacations? How many hours does one ski for? What do you do afterward? And finally, what is about them that makes people want to do it again and again and again?
Here is capturing a typical day in the life of a skier in Gulmarg-
8 am-10 am: Wake up, breakfast and get set for the day
Strangely, the alarm clock signaling its 8 am feels great. Snoozers snooze in their cozy blankets.
The hope and prayer are simple - Just a fresh carpet of snow that the skies would have laid for the day. It’s funny how the speed of getting dressed increases with the inches of snow.
You wake up, brush and flush. Get into ski clothes and head for breakfast. Breakfast is spent to load on as much as possible, guilt-free. You need the carbs for the energy, the fat to keep you warm, and some hot kahwa/ tea/ coffee for the feels.
The main ski lift opens up at 10 am, so most skiers try to be up and ready by then, and set off for a day of mad adventure.
10 am-1 pm: Walk to the ski lift, board the gondola, and start your ski day!
Around 10 am, most skiers leave their hotels with ski boots on their feet and skis on their shoulders.
As you walk down the snowy lanes, you can see so many others like you, marching towards the ski lift with a great sense of purpose and excitement. It is infectious.
Daily pass holders buy their ski pass, weekly pass holders avoid the queue and march up straight to the great Gulmarg Gondola to meet your ski guide or ski buddies. A French ski lift established by the govt gives access to the majority of the ski slopes.
The gondola takes 12 min to go up to what is called Phase 1 of the ski slopes. This is the busiest section of Gulmarg. As you walk a few metres from the gondola drop point to the ski start point, you can see many day tourists too. Honeymoon couples, oldies, protective parents with little children, trying out the unique sport of “dhakka skiing”, where a guide will plant the tourist on skis, and drag them manually over flat ground. Day tourists, aside, the skiers are all visibly excited to start the day.
You soak in the view around, put on your gloves and goggles, and dust your skis off snow chunks. The ski run starts here and now!
The next 15-20 minutes involve gliding down the slope, feeling the cold wind in your face, and the soft snow under your skis. You pass by high trees, their leaves covered with snow. You pass by many other skiers, both men, and women, of all ages, even little children, each one thoroughly enjoying their run as per their own level.
You pass by some easy portions, where you go fast, and then some difficult portions, where you fall. Or if you don’t, it gives you an extra kick. And after completing your ski run, surrounded by nothing by whiteness, feeling nothing but pure bliss, you reach the base of the ski gondola. You take off your skis, put them on your shoulder, and you’re ready to repeat!
If you're a beginner, you can get an idea of your first few days here.
And if you're a complete first-timer, then check out Hello Skiing.
1pm-2pm: Lunch or no lunch.
After completing a few rounds, each round lasting 30-45 minutes, hunger is kicking in. But you don’t feel like taking a break. You are addicted; you want to do one more round and one more after that.
For skiers wanting a lunch break, a 5-7minute walk from the start of the ski run will take you to a row of little restaurants. Parathas, Kashmiri pulao, Maggi and kahwa are among the favourite orders.
Others, who are too overcome by the ski rush and don’t want to waste time eating, will just munch on some nuts, chocolate bars and have a quick coffee made available by hawkers just at the beginning of the run. No precious time is wasted!
2 pm-4 pm: Exploring alternate ski routes
Only 2 hours of the ski day is left before the gondola shuts at 4 pm. Let’s go!!
Experienced skiers will lookout to see if the Chair Lift/ Phase 2 Lift is open to take skiers to the higher slopes.
Intermediate skiers will want to try out different routes within the Phase 1 slope areas. Gulmarg offers back-country skiing around the intermediate slopes itself. So with lower risk, skiers can try for more thrilling routes. The gondola ride time of 12min is good enough for catching a break, or nibbling chocolate to re-charge some energy. Most skiers will start checking their watch starting from 3 pm, trying to optimize their last run in sync with the last gondola round at 4 pm.
4 pm-6 pm: Get back to the hotel for a hot shower and evening snack
It’s 4 pm and even though you’ve not had enough of skiing, the gondola is shut for the day. Loosen your ski boots, put your skis back on your shoulder and walk back through the snowy roads to the hotel.
Having a hot shower and getting out of ski clothes feels great. Sitting in fresh warm clothes with some kahwa and omelette feels even better. A much-deserved treat after all the hard work done through the day.
6 pm-8 pm: Unwind and enjoy the warmth in the cold
This is a time for leisure. Some prefer to remain in the cozy warm hotel and unwind with a book and a cup of tea. Some prefer to go to one of the few bars of Gulmarg to get warm with some brandy. Some prefer to walk around the little town, sit in a café, visit the market to buy chocolate and oranges for tomorrow’s gondola ride, or even try some ice-skating in the local rink.
If lucky, there could be a local community event happening near the bunny slopes. When that happens, the town truly comes alive.
Skiers of all levels get together for some music and bonfire, and the tireless ones even attempt night skiing in the bunny slopes. If the spirits are high, one can even opt for an evening on the higher slopes. Go up in snowmobiles, and settle near the Phase 1 restaurants for some sheesha and kebabs around a bonfire.
8 pm-10 pm: Dinner and the night sky!
It’s dinner time. Walk around town to find a good place for dinner.
Options are either the restaurants/ cafes attached to the hotels. Or the dhabas in the market. Or if very tired, then even a meal in your own hotel feels great.
Catching up with old or new ski buddies over dinner, watching ski videos of the day- the funny falls, the scary moments. And guiltless devouring of some gaajar halwa or other desserts, because you deserve it and you will need the energy for tomorrow.
If not cloudy, one can even see a blanket of stars in the sky. And the snow on the trees shines silver with the moonlight. The night time in Gulmarg has a magic of its own. It puts you in touch with the soul of the world, and your own soul too.
Time to get back to the room, and dive into the warm blanket, ready for a 10-hour sleep session! Much needed so that you’re up tomorrow for another fantastic day of skiing or snowboarding!
Conclusion: Reasons why you go back year after year
1. What I personally love about Gulmarg is the routine you get into so easily. It’s a given that the morning time is dedicated to skiing. No discussion required there. The entire town is out there skiing.
And evenings are so soulful, that it truly disconnects you from the rat race of city life. 2. The reason people come here year after year is because Gulmarg is a place that takes you so far away from your daily life, and so easily. And every year, the better you get, the more fun you have. 3. You meet interesting people, fellow skiers, everyone passionate about trying out unique experiences. And sometimes you meet the same people year after year. 4. And lastly, it feels like a vacation where you come back empowered. You feel like you’ve achieved something. The ski trip demanded many moments of courage, patience, and strength. And you managed to give it all, and you come back having slain through the snow!
Nitisha Sethia is an outdoor sport lover and editor of Adventure Play. Ex-McKinsey & Co. and IIM Ahmedabad, Nitisha left her corporate job to follow her passion in the outdoors.
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