• Prattusha Mukhopadhyay

Gulmarg: Skiing with Prattusha

Updated: Feb 18

For starters, I would like to introduce myself as the least athletic person that you could come across, on any given day. I can easily transition into a couch potato, not get out of bed for days, spend hours musing over the “wanderlust” reels on Instagram, and miss meals due to the sheer lack of the energy to go and serve them to myself. So, if despite being this far from adventurous, I could master the art of snow plough, and come back transformed from the experience (mildly successfully), I can guarantee you that this is worth it. And it is not a once-in-a-lifetime event.


Once a skier, always a skier.



Best Time to Travel

Kashmir is very aptly titled Heaven on Earth and is best traveled throughout the year. Summer Kashmir is a whole different experience as compared to winter Kashmir. Albeit, if you wish to experience tons of snow sports, especially skiing, you must plan your trip between late November and early March for the best ordeal. I visited during early February, and snow conditions were near perfect this time of the year to imbibe the experience of skiing.


The perfect length of the trip would be at least a week if one wishes to successfully learn the basics of skiing, and for college students/ professionals who can afford to get 2 full weeks off, there is an option to enroll with JIMS or IISM for their 14-day ski course which includes everything from food, stay, instruction, ski gear to entertainment (at the small trade-off that you would have to follow their strict military rules of waking up early, sharing your rooms with strangers, participating in their events, etc.)

The temperatures from December end to February end often reach as low as -5 degrees in Gulmarg, but there’s nothing a Decathlon salesperson can’t fix for you in terms of the right attire. When skiing, the perfect outfit is tremendously important. More on this in the further sections.



Let’s ski right in!



Pre Ski Prep: The Workout

Any mountain sport needs a basic level of fitness, and skiing is no different. You might feel like it’s more comfortable than trekking, but do not be mistaken, skiing demands great core strength (how else will you lift your skis and carry them everywhere?), intense quad strength (you will be using those legs a lot for 6 hours a day, and if you’re into a white-collar job like mine, the only time you’ve used your legs all year, is while tapping them during a Zoom call with your team), you’ll need to have a strong lower body, the ability to stretch your legs a lot for the perfect snow plough and of course you’ll need to have the energy to climb altitudes seamlessly – you might have to do that multiple times a day with your skis on the baby slopes because ski lifts are crowded, and you could fall off them a lot if you don’t get the technique right.


Here is the fitness routine that I have put together based on my experience with the sport, and most of these can be done at home during Quarantine before you are set to leave for your ski vacation. Period of workout - 3 to 6 weeks.


  1. 30 squats daily for 2 weeks- then gradually take it to 50 or 60 squats to the end. The thighs and quads are extremely essential while skiing as most of the balancing will be controlled by this area. So we need extremely strong muscles

  2. Squat jumps are also extremely useful. You could mix your workout up with alternate squats and squat jumps

  3. Lunges

  4. Planks - every alternate day

  5. Weights (dumbbell deadlifts) - This is extremely essential and it helps to be self-sufficient in being able to walk with your skis and ski boots which each are almost 5kgs!

  6. Cardio - Although not essential, to have a well-rounded workout session, you can mix this in once or twice a week, to prepare your body for all the climbing you will subject yourself to while in the mountains. The views are breathtaking, but there were periods when they literally took my breath away!

Now that we have spent a month doing squats, Pilates, planks, some weights, and a fair mix of cardio to strengthen our core, it’s time to fly to the Winter Wonderland!


The Basics of Skiing

To begin with, in Gulmarg there is no dearth of ski instructors. Multiple agencies connect tourists to ski instructors for a fixed price per day, and these instructors stick with you for the entire week that you need to finesse the art of twisting and turning down slopes. These agents also have their shops where they keep ski gear, and on day 1 your instructor will help you identify the best shop to get yours.


The wand chooses the wizard, Harry!


Gear selection is important. You will be stuck with the same ski and shoes as well as the poles for the rest of your ski trip, if anything doesn’t fit – address it immediately. Once you’ve found your perfect match, you will have to make do with it for the rest of your vacation.


You can easily get your ski instructor via the agent that you contact upon arrival at Gulmarg. I had 3 instructors over 10 days (for varied reasons, I couldn’t stick to one instructor, but this is again a story for some other day). For best results, one should be able to stick to a single instructor for the entire duration of their course, unless of course there is a fundamental issue with the instructor, and in that case, it makes sense to switch to a different one to get your money’s worth as well as the best learning experience.





Instructors generally start with teaching you to wear your ski, and then go on to teaching the famous (or infamous) snow plough – you can’t snow plough all your life! At some point, you will have to unlearn it. But it’s a great ski starter trick. You’ll be doing a lot of practice on the crowded baby slopes until you have achieved the stature of being promoted to Phase 1 which is when you can zoom up the slopes on the Gondola and zoom down a 5km stretch on your skis and enjoy some truly breathtaking views of the Affarwat all the way down.



TLDR version of a day-wise itinerary

You would start the day with a heavy breakfast at the hotel, be met by your instructor around 9.30 AM (slopes open up at 10 AM), and proceed to your ski day (fully dressed) by 10 AM. On most days you will be having Maggi and slice for lunch – for lack of better options, and to prevent being too full so that you can continue to ski until the slopes close. At 4.30 PM, while the ski slopes are closing, you return- tired, ravenous, and ready to feast on some hot chai/coffee and good food. You come back to your room, change from your thoroughly moist clothing, appreciate your war marks from the day’s tossing and tumbling, snuggle into some winter home-wear and prepare for a night of entertainment and resting. In predominantly ski countries, there’s a term “après ski” which means a ski party (generally held at night after the ski day is over).


Note- on some days, Gulmarg also has a very vibrant night ski atmosphere. This is mainly held for the people training to be part of competitions, but you could have your go at night skiing too if any cell of your body has the energy left to experience it. The best way to arrange this would be to have a pre-discussion with your local ski instructor.





Accommodation

We were 6 budget travelers and we wished to spend most of our money on the ski experience rather than on an extravagant stay, but it depends on your overall budget, the desire for comfort, and the group consensus. A couple of extremely important checks while booking the perfect stay are -

  1. The availability of hot water on each day of the trip

  2. The availability of electric blankets and heaters at your hotel

  3. Food should be easily accessible as temperatures drop early in the day and late at night, and breakfast before the ski day is mandatory. At night, you will need to take in an incredible amount of protein to restore all the lost nourishment from the day's hard work, and skiing will have you too tired to walk to a restaurant in search of delicious food.

  4. Proximity to the slopes. Walking even a kilometer stretch on slippery ice can be a huge challenge, especially with heavy ski equipment. So be sure to book accommodation as close to the slopes as possible.

We stayed at Hotel Sahara which is a budget hotel very close to the Baby slopes. Of the 6 of us, 4 of us were amateurs, so we wanted to stay close to these slopes to cut down on cab fares for traveling.


Sahara Hotel was a budget stay we were able to afford at close to ~2k per room. The only caveat was that they did not have 24-hour heating, but on the upside, they always provided us with gas heating in the evenings just before we went to bed. The rooms had well-equipped electric blankets, so nights were spent comfortably. The other options we had explored in similar budgets were Hotel Mama, Mount View Hotel, and Hotel Pine Palace. JKTDC huts by the government are also excellent choices but do not have hot water in their taps. If your budget is on the higher side, there are options such as Kola Hoi Green Heights, Grand Mumtaz, Highlands Park, Rosewood, and Khyber Himalayan Resort and Spa.








Clothing & Packing

Layers:

  1. Thermal uppers and lowers: Although this is extremely important at night, as a thumb rule, we never wear thermals during the day during skiing. Skiing in itself is an exercise that generates body heat, and just as is the case of trekking, we do not need to trap this heat due to constant physical exercise which keeps the body warm. That being said, once you are back from skiing, and temperatures start to drop, thermals become the most important layer.

  2. Fleece top and bottom layer - Decathlon has ski bottoms that are warm from the inside with a thin fleece lining and spandex from the outside to serve as quick-dry. Ski bottoms are the last layer, ski pants are worn over this layer.

  3. Second thicker fleece layer (top)

  4. Down jacket/Padded jacket - waterproof

  5. Quick Dry pants -Outermost lower layer (I go with Decathlon Forclaz pants which are comfortable and loose while at the same time, quick-dry as well)

  6. Rain pants (as an alternate option to Quick-dry pants)

  7. Waterproof gloves (2 sets)

  8. Skull Caps

  9. Mufflers/Scarfs for cold winter night walks

  10. 8-9 pairs of socks

  11. Ski bag - A ski bag is big enough to carry all your daily stuff + it has straps to hold your skis so you don't have to lift it

  12. Ski helmet with UV glasses (if intermediate level) OR Ski goggles (for beginners)

Additional Clothes/items For Females:

  1. Dry fit tops

  2. Sports bras

  3. Menstrual Cups

Medicines:

  1. Avomine (motion sickness)

  2. Diamox (acclimatization)

  3. Paracetamol

  4. Band-Aid

  5. Moov/Volini

  6. Knee Cap

Food Essentials:

  1. Cuppa Mania

  2. Knorr Soup

  3. Chocos

  4. Peanuts

  5. Dry Fruit

  6. Chocolates

Miscellaneous items:

  1. Electric kettle

  2. Hairdryer

Must-Try Kashmiri Cuisine

We spent our first day in Srinagar and started the day at Chai Jaai with some lip-smacking cafe items. Following that we had lunch at Mughal Darbar where we tried the world-famous Wazwan. When in Kashmir, make sure to have loads of Butter chai, Kashmiri kahwa, Mutton Rogan josh, Wazwan, and Yakhni.


Budget for a 7 day Ski trip

Sl no.

Budget specifics

Per day cost in INR

Days

Total cost (INR)

Cost for 2 people in INR

1

Accommodation

2,000

7

14,000

7,000

2

Food

400

7

2,800

2,800

3

Ski Instructor

2000

7

14,000

7,000

4

Ski Gear

700

7

4,900

4,900

5

Gondola Day Pass

740

7

5,180

5,180

6

Ad hoc Cab rides

200

7

1,400

700

7

Coffee at cafes

300

4

1200

600

43,480

28,180

8

Flights to and fro Srinagar (Mumbai-Srinagar)

14,000

14,000

14,000

9

Cab to Gulmarg

2,000

2,000

1,000

Total Cost

57,680

43,180

Note: This was our budget, with hotel costs at a conservative INR 2,000 per room, and some other costs on an aggressive scale such as ski instructor between 2 folks, gondola ride for all 7 days (first 4 days for beginners is on baby slopes, where the ski lift costs INR 200; the next 2-3 days are spent on phase 1 which is when the Gondola pass comes into play). Hence, this is mid-range between a conservative and an aggressive budgeting.

The flight costs have been considered as an Average Mumbai to Srinagar flight, as I had traveled between these locations. For folks staying in the north, the one-way flight is much cheaper at INR 2,500.




Tips for Women

One of the most important factors for women would be appropriate skincare. Our bodies are not accustomed to the extreme cold weather that persists in Gulmarg, so a proper regime for moisturizing, sunscreen, and skincare at night is extremely essential. One could run to their dermatologist to get themselves the perfect products before the trip, based on their skin type. Personally, I use Aderma Sunscreen with SPF 50 and Triqua Moisturiser. Cold cream is best avoided before going into the sun. For lips, it is important to carry a lot of petroleum jelly or lip balm as the weather causes constantly chapped lips and lip tanning as well.


Besides the skin, the other challenge could be physical fitness. It is tough to carry heavy skis and shoes on an upslope each day, especially very snowy days when the roads are slippery. A 1km walk has taken me over 40-50 mins with appropriate breaks and I have come to realize that a ski bag with straps that helps you mount your skis on your back instead of holding them in your hand is extremely essential. I have shared the link for this Bag on the packing list above. A proper ski helmet with UV glasses is also essential to protect your head and eyes well from snow blindness, especially if one is planning to go till Phase 2. If you are a beginner, just Ski goggles from Decathlon would be sufficient.


The third factor to take care of is if Aunt Flo comes knocking just around your ski vacation. My personal experience is that shifting to menstrual cups is a game-changer in such a situation. A menstrual cup is good for 6-8 hours, which is just the amount of time you will be outdoors, skiing. It is hassle-free and doesn’t feel like anything or cause friction. Insert your cup in the morning before leaving for the slopes, and empty it once back in the evening.


Safety-wise, I have felt like Gulmarg is extremely safe for women, and the locals are incredibly helpful especially because we are forever struggling with the weather and the weights. They often trick you with the prices especially since travel-oriented revenues are their main sources of income (and ski season is peak earning season for them) but you need to be aware of all the price points and consistently negotiate with them to get the best deal for yourself. Sarojini and causeway shoppers, here’s where all your practice will come in handy!


Last but not the least, for all you aspiring influencers out there, get some matching uppers and lowers so that you can have magnificent pictures of yourself skiing. I followed a few influencers myself to get myself the best clothes, but eventually, when it came down to it, I stuck with a waterproof down jacket and quick-dry pants. That being said, Columbia has some immensely cool ski outfits.


Pro tip: Make sure you buy a vibrantly colored jacket that contrasts well with the white snow and gives you some great pictures for the gram!


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