(Even though quite well known as a Tourist Resort, the existing Skiing facilities need urgent upgradation for it to qualify on International standards as a Ski Resort)
At the moment Gulmarg is the most popular tourist resort in spite of the uncertain and fluid political conditions in the valley. Notwithstanding various sudden upheavals, Gulmarg has continued to attract tourists. However, it has always been more attractive to winter sports enthusiasts especially skiers from within the country and abroad. Before the departure of the British from India, Gulmarg was the most popular and fashionable resort both in summer and winter. In fact, the winter sports especially Skiing started in Gulmarg almost at the same time as it grew popular in Europe as a sport. The Ski Club of India was established in 1927 by Major Hadow and Major Metcarp with B N Peston Ji who was designated as its first Secretary. A number of tournaments were introduced. These included the famous Lilywhites Cup. Lilywhites was a big sports firm in London. The firm continues its existence even now in the famous Piccadilly Square of London! There were many other trophies. Some of the ridges also had British names like the “Merry Shoulder”, a very good ski slope from Apharwat downwards. All the competitions were held at Khilanmarg. The pony track to Khilanmarg was kept open throughout the winter. Most of the rush used to be at Christmas and Easter events. In 1938 it is reported that the attendance on the Christmas Event at Khilanmarg was 500.
Unfortunately, the departure of the British virtually killed the skiing part of Gulmarg. The only skiing was done by the Army’s High Altitude Warfare School to train troops for winter warfare. The sport was rekindled in mid-sixties of the last century by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India by starting a Winter Sports Project. The first batch of instructors was trained in the Ski School under the supervision of some expert skiers from abroad. The first batch of the National Ski Instructors who became part of the Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering (which was set up in late sixties), trained thousands of skiers from all over the country. The State also set up a School under the Department of Youth and Sports. Thus Gulmarg once again started developing as a ski resort. However, in the meanwhile the skiing facilities and standards had gone ahead in various ski resorts all over Europe and other places. In contrast, Gulmarg did not receive equal attention but continued to be famous summer resort for Golf and leisure tourists.
In 1987, after the visit of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi accompanied by the then Chief Minister Dr. Farooq Abdullah, it was decided to set up a Gondola lift to the Apharwat Mountain to make available the world famous ski slopes. Due to the turmoil of nineties the Gondola remained half-complete but was finally commissioned after some years. However, instead of skiing, the Gondola lift to the top became a greater attraction for summer day visitors to Gulmarg. Actually it has earned many times the original cost of its installation! Unfortunately, the main attraction of Gulmarg, the excellent ski slopes got neglected and Gulmarg mostly remained a summer attraction.
According to some experts from European Ski Resorts, Gulmarg is capable of holding many international level races. The Beta slope above Khilanmarg is ideal for holding the “Kilometre Carree” (the fastest kilometre) race an important global event held in France. All other international races can be held on the Apharwat slopes. Had attention been paid to the development of various ski facilities, Gulmarg could have been an ideal location for holding Asian Winter Games. In fact, a bid for the same was made in late eighties but had to be withdrawn after the turmoil of the nineties.
The first and foremost requirement is the homologation of the Apharwat and other ski slopes by FIS (International Ski Federation). Those people have visited Gulmarg a couple of times and asked for certain measures which remain unfulfilled. To become a real International level ski resort Gulmarg needs certain important measures to be taken in various fields. First are the slopes which need to be prepared on international specifications and then homologated. It will need avalanche control measures and international level ski patrol and rescue service. Once various facilities on international standards are developed in collaboration with some developed ski resorts of Europe, Gulmarg can be an important global destination for skiers. People may even forget its summer influx of mostly day visitors usually coming for Gondola rides.
Proper development of Gulmarg as an international level ski resort will open up the entire “White Gold” of Kashmir. As the Arabs have the “Black Gold”, the oil, similarly Kashmir has the “White Gold”, the snow on its mountains! The Pir Panjal Range could easily be home to a dozen ski resorts like Gulmarg. There are millions of skiers in Europe, America and other places looking for newer resorts. The possibilities of winter sports like skiing, cross country skiing, mountain skiing, heli-skiing are immense in Kashmir. Incidentally, the number of skiers in Europe is in millions. Germany has 14.6 million, France has 8.6 million, UK has 4.9 million and Italy has 4.9 million. All other countries have in the range of 2 to 3 million skiers. It is a huge market! If we have the world class facilities for skiing and also standard accommodation and other facilities, we can attract millions of skiers who are desperately looking for new areas. We could even have charters coming to Srinagar for skiing at Gulmarg and other resorts which can be easily developed. In fact, there may be many developers from abroad interested in collaborating with locals for putting up various facilities. This aspect needs to be seriously explored. The only requirement is for the government to honestly and sincerely consider the plan for developing Gulmarg into an international level ski resort. In fact, once Gulmarg reaches optimum level of development, there will be many other areas which can follow suit. Will someone seriously consider such a proposal and explore all the possibilities?