Frequently Asked Questions
Below is a list of questions and answers which you may find useful during the planning stage of a trip to Gulmarg. We have tried to include most aspects, however, feel free to email Bill with any of your queries that we have not covered.
Where is Gulmarg?
Gulmarg is situated 60kms west of Srinagar, the summer capital of India’s most Northern Province, “Jammu and Kashmir”. The resort sits on a mountain plateau at 2600 metres in the Pir Panjal range of the Himalaya with the line of control between India and Pakistan only a few kilometers further west.
How do I get there?
Most foreign visitors to Gulmarg fly into Delhi from where there are several daily, 1.5 hr flights to Srinagar. The drive from Srinagar to Gulmarg takes around 1.5 to 2 hrs depending on road conditions.
What airline should I fly to Srinagar on?
There are many airlines that fly the Delhi to Srinagar leg and from our experience they all offer about the same standard of comfort and timeliness. Only hint is to avoid the early morning flights, as during winter, these often cancel due to fog.
Do you recommend any hotels in Delhi?
Apart from the more expensive establishments, hotels in Delhi have a habit of being great one year and less than average the next. Best bet is to check out Lonely Planet or Trip Advisor for latest reviews. If you are just overnighting, there are many near the airport, however if you have a longer stay, you may as well head down town to get amongst the madness. For those who can afford it, “The Imperial” is one of the classic hotels of the world.
Do I need a Visa?
Yes, most foreign nationals need a Tourist Visa to visit India. Check with your Indian consulate for details.
Who do you recommend for travel insurance?
We do not recommend any specific insurer, however many regular clients choose IHI BUPA. Be sure to read the fine print of any policy you decide on to make sure that they cover off piste skiing and boarding.
When is the best time go?
The peak season for Gulmarg is late January until late February. During this time you would expect a good cover and consistent, dry, snow falls. Providing the usual late December storms arrive to ensure a good base, early January can be great as the snow is usually cold and remains dry at lower elevations. During March the alpine snow is often at its best however the snow below tree line will turn into more spring like conditions, often offering perfect corn all the way to the valley floor. Outside of the peak season visitor numbers are greatly reduced allowing many extra laps straight off the gondola before having to work a little for untracked lines.
How experienced do I need to be?
You need to be an advanced to expert skier or boarder who is comfortable riding off piste in a variety of snow conditions to fully appreciate Gulmarg. Although great snow is usually on offer somewhere around Gulmarg, at times, you may need to travel through less than ideal conditions to get to it. You do not need any back-country touring experience as Gulmarg is the ideal location to learn.
How fit do I need to be?
At 4000 meters above see level and off piste runs in excess of 1000 meters vertical you need to be of above average fitness to really get the most from a Gulmarg adventure. The hardest climb we routinely do is the half hour skin / walk from the top of the gondola at 3960mtrs to the summit of Mt Apharwat at 4150mtrs. Although there are many awesome runs which require much less effort, you should come prepared and fit enough to enjoy the views and epic lines off the top. As a base level, being able to jog comfortably for about half an hour in undulating terrain should see you enjoying all that Gulmarg has to offer.
What is the resort like?
To call Gulmarg a resort is both selling it short and overstating it at the same time. The lifts and run preparation infrastructure are not yet up to the standard of western resorts however the terrain available and amount of snow fall, far exceeds many big, international ski destinations. La Grave in France and Craigieburn in New Zealand are comparable in that they share a relatively raw mountain experience. There is avalanche control and some hazard marking in the main bowl however this only accounts for about 10% of the terrain ridden by most visitors. Cutting laps straight off the lift is great although the best way to fully appreciate Gulmarg is to use all available transport options, the lifts, the taxis, the helicopter and your legs. Many of the best lines require a short hike to access or return from, and taxis are often used when dropping below the plateau to lower villages. The recently started heli operation now adds a new dimension and gives access to some amazing terrain.
How many lifts are there?
There are a five beginner pomas scattered across the golf course in the village area, although the main attraction for visitors is the Gondola. This rises in two stages from the village at 2600 mtrs to near the summit of Mt Apharwat at 3960mtrs. There is also a high speed quad chair. (Installed in 2011) The load station is at the mid station of the gondola and the top station is at Mary’s Shoulder which is half way up the main gondola ridge.
Are there any groomed runs?
At present, the only runs that are groomed regularly are on the pomas in the village and one trail from the mid-station down to the base station. With the installation of the chairlift, grooming may take place on the lower section of the upper mountain but this is not guaranteed and you should come prepared to spend 100% of your time off piste.
How busy is it?
As of winter 2011 it was estimated that on a big day, during peak season, there were approximately three hundred skiers and boarders on the mountain. Outside of the peak season of late January until late February these numbers are reduced dramatically.
Snow and weather
How much snow does Gulmarg get?
The average annual snowfall at the top station of the gondola is somewhere in the vicinity of 10-15mtrs with the vast majority of this falling between late December and late March. Storms of varying intensity come through on a generally regular (every 1 to two weeks) basis during the season. Accurate snow depth and storm snow records have only been logged since 2006.
What is the snow like?
As anywhere, the quality of the snow varies from storm to storm and at different elevations and aspects. During peak season storms, you can expect dry powder that rivals anywhere in the world, all the way from the summit to low in the valley. After a few mild, fine days, south aspects at low elevations will become sun affected, and although usually primo powder, the upper mountain can sometimes suffer from wind crust. However, if you know where to look, quality untracked snow is on offer nearly every day of the season.
How cold is it?
Mid-winter temperatures hover around minus 5 degrees Celsius at the tree line and minus10 at the top station of the gondola. The crest of Mt Apharwat gives great protection from the prevailing wind which comes from over the back of the mountain so wind chill is rarely a factor. Even in January, it is not uncommon to shed a layer while basking in sunshine at the mid station. The layering you use at your usual winter destination will be sufficient for Gulmarg.
Are there many avalanches?
As with any big mountain that receives huge snowfalls, avalanches do happen and Gulmarg is no exception. After each storm, avalanche control is performed in the Gondola Bowl by the Ski Patrol, and a daily, “Back-Country Avalanche Advisory” is posted by Gulmarg Snow Safety. Knowing how to interpret the findings of these two important aids and making appropriate daily objectives is what can make the difference between life and death. With the help of Gulmarg’s mild temperatures, instabilities in the snowpack usually stabilise quickly leaving generally safe riding conditions, however avalanches are a very real threat waiting to catch the unwary or impatient. There has only been one ski related avalanche death since the upper gondola opened in 2005 but a number of close calls have also occurred.
What skis/board do you recommend?
Big! The vast majority, if not all of the skiing / riding is off piste. Think more of what you would ski / ride if you where heli skiing rather than visiting a resort. Skis 100mm or wider under foot are optimal while many regular Gulmarg visitors cruise around on K2 Pontoons or other similar style mega fats. Boards should be big mountain powder boards and splits can be handy for some approaches.
What back-country equipment do I need?
All guests are required to carry an avalanche safety kit including beacon, shovel and probe and also have ski or snowboard touring equipment. For skiers, alpine touring or telemark bindings and skins are needed while snowshoes and poles are required for snowboarders. Other accessories like a water bottle, an extra layer and personal first aid supplies should also be carried in a 20 to 40 litre day pack with ski/board carrying capability.
Do you rent equipment?
Yes. We have avalanche safety equipment including packs available for rent as well a selection of alpine touring skis with skins or snow shoes and poles. Sorry, we do not hire telemark skis, snowboards or any boots.
Why do I need a guide?
The benefits of having a competent guide in Gulmarg are. 1. Knowing where to go to find the best snow. 2. Knowing where it is safe to ride in relation to the avalanche danger present. 3. Avoid getting lost. 4. Arrange taxi’s when riding to lower elevations. 5. Introducing you to the locals. If you are a competent back-country skier with plenty of time on your hands, Gulmarg is a great place to explore for yourself, however, if you are on a tight schedule, then hiring a guide is definitely the best way to make the most of your time.
How many people per group?
Our maximum client to guide ratio is four to one, but on many occasions you will find yourself in a smaller group. We have enough experienced guides on hand to break groups up into as small as needed to make sure that everyone is with compatible skiing or boarding partners.
Where do we ride?
We utilize the whole area surrounding Gulmarg. On any given day you may find yourself riding inbounds, hiking to the summit, using taxis to cut laps off the road or getting heli dropped on a remote ridge to ski miles back to town. We go where ever is needed to score the best possible snow and make sure that you get to experience all that Gulmarg has to offer.
Can we do extra back-country safety training?
Yes. If you would like to delve more deeply for your own future endeavours, we can spend as much time as you like teaching you the fundamentals of snow science, avalanche awareness and safe travel techniques.
Do you have a guiding only package?
Unfortunately not. With a limited number of suitable guides on hand, our priorities are for those guests who have booked the 15 day “Best of Gulmarg” package and our guides are dedicated to them. There may be occasions (usually early or late season) where a guide is available for casual daily hire. Check with Bill just before your arrival to see if this is the case.
Do I need any inoculations?
Yes. See your travel doctor for the latest recommended inoculations for travel to India.
Are there medical facilities in Gulmarg?
Yes, BUT. There is a medical facility of sorts in Gulmarg however it is not to be relied upon. In Tangmarg (30 mins away) there is a hospital which can suture wounds, x-ray and splint simple fractures but for more complicated procedures, Srinagar and Delhi are the options. It must be stressed, that although medical care is available in Kashmir, it is not of the same standard as many countries.
What happens if I get injured?
We have systems in place to deal with any situation. Our guides carry all the equipment needed to perform first aid and evacuate someone from the mountain. On days of fair weather, we can call on Kashmir Heliski to help out if needed. An air ambulance service based in Delhi can be called upon for any serious trauma or medical emergencies. While in Gulmarg, it is best to knock your exposure to risk back a few notches by skiing and boarding well within your ability.
Can I drink the water and eat the food?
The water in Gulmarg comes straight off the mountain and many guests choose to drink it, however if you prefer, bottled water is available. Bottled water is definitely the best option while in Srinagar. Most guests eat all the delicious food that is served up to them with no problems, but like travelling to many countries, it is not uncommon for some people to have a spell of digestive tract disturbances.
Is altitude illness an issue?
As we are sleeping at an elevation of 2700 meters, altitude illness is not a major concern. You will notice the thin air (especially while hiking to the summit at 4000mtrs) and it will take a few days to acclimatize, but it is rare for anyone to suffer from severe altitude illness. For the first few days you should take it easy, avoid alcohol and drink plenty of water.
What religion are the Kashmiri people?
Most (about 95%) of Kashmiris are Muslim. The other 5% are mainly Hindu’s but there are also Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians. The “Call to Prayer” can be heard echoing across the plateau from the Mosque near Gulmarg market five times a day. Many locals will stop work to pray during these and other times.
Do I need to dress in a certain way?
Kashmiris have been hosting tourists from many different nations for many years and are used to a wide range of dress styles. You are unlikely to offend anyone in your regular winter attire. For women, there is no need to be covered up or wear a head scarf (unless visiting a mosque) however, revealing or tight-fitting clothing is frowned upon.
What is the food like?
Evening meals are a mix of Kashmiri and Indian cuisine with the occasional western influenced dish. Vegetarians and non vegetarians are both well catered for with chicken, lamb, dhal and mixed vegetables, all with a little spice, usually on the menu. Breakfast is more of a western style affair with cereal, porridge, eggs, fruit and toast.
Is tipping customary?
Yes, tips are expected in most of the service industry in Kashmir. For good service, 10% is the standard for restaurants while it is polite to tip other hotel staff, porters and taxi drivers.
Is Kashmir safe?
There has been ongoing political unrest in Kashmir for many years. The struggle for independence has continued since 1948 and during the 90’s the tensions were at their peak. Over the last decade the troubles have eased somewhat, tourism has returned and the vast majority of locals are now striving for a normal, peaceful life.
Although life is getting back on track for the Kashmiri people, strikes, curfews, militant attacks and violent demonstrations still occasionally occur in many parts of Kashmir. Most take place over the summer months however there is always the possibility of violent clashes at any time of year. Gulmarg itself is removed and insulated from the rest of the Kashmir valley and you should feel safe in the relatively peaceful mountain environment. Since first visiting Kashmir in 2006, we have not been involved in any incidents, or had any major interruptions to our trips due to the civil unrest.
We advise you to check your governments travel warning before making arrangements to travel. Be assured, we would not hesitate to cancel our trips if we thought the current situation had changed and become less safe for our guests.
The information above is based purely on our own understanding and experience. Seek independent advice before travelling.
Is there Heli Skiing in Gulmarg?
Yes, since 2011 there has been heli skiing in Gulmarg. Kashmir Heli Ski is owned by local legend, Billa Bakshi and operated by Tim O’Leary from Alpine Heli Ski in New Zealand. Steeps, trees and mellow bowls are all part of the huge terrain they can access.
When does the Heli Skiing operate?
The season usually starts in early to mid January and runs through until early to mid March. They will fly every day that the weather allows.
How much does it cost?
There are two main options to choose from. Single runs at a set price or a full day where you will do many runs and has proved to be great value for money. Check with Kashmir Heli Ski for the latest packages and prices.
Do Bill’s Trips utilize the Heli?
Yes, most of our guests do at least one run while many opt for the full day. In addition to this, we offer a heli touring day where we utilize the helicopter to drop us on a remote peak and spend the day skiing back to the village. All Heli options incur an extra fee.
When do I book the Heli?
Bookings are best made once you have arrived in Kashmir. We will assess the weather forecast and snow conditions then give our opinion as to which days and option will offer you the best experience.
What can I do on a rest day?
One of the great things about a Gulmarg experience is that you do not need to do much to be entertained on a day off. A stroll through the market place to shop for local handicrafts or just soak up the atmosphere is not to be missed, however just kicking back at the hotel and taking in the view while being entertained by the hotel staff is enough for many. We can also arrange trips to a nearby shrine or to see carpets being made at one of the local villages.
Can I buy carpets?
Along with many other handicrafts, carpets and shawls can be bought in either Gulmarg or Srinagar. All quality and price options are available, they accept credit cards and have a reliable courier service to your door back home.
Is there any nightlife?
Nightlife is one thing that Gulmarg is not famous for. Most guests are too tired at the end of the day to do much more than have a couple of drinks in their hotel bar, eat a feast and then sleep, in preparation for the next powder day. However, if you are keen to meet up with other travelers, there is often a party of sorts happening at one of the hotels near the gondola. Tuesday nights at the Avalanche Awareness talk regularly turns into a bit of a get together.
Why stay on a houseboat?
No trip to Kashmir is complete without staying on one of Dal Lake’s famous houseboats and going for a shikara cruise on dusk. Many guests claim the Srinagar experience is just as good as the two weeks of epic powder they have just had. Staying on the houseboat also allows for an easier transfer to the airport on the day of your departure.
How much is a beer?
Not too many years ago, beer and spirits were hard to come by in Gulmarg. Most locals do not drink, however moderate drinking by westerners is tolerated and alcohol is now available at most hotels. The price for a large can or bottle is between 200 to 300 rupees. Please drink responsibly and respect the Muslim culture.