Sixty kilometers west of Srinagar, Gulmarg has been a summer resort destination for many years. During the Raj era, the Indians and British used it as a cool retreat to escape the oppressive heat of an Indian summer. A golf course was built at the turn of the century and during the winter of 1927 the first skiing took place. In the years that followed a few pomas were established around the golf course and a double chair was built in the trees at the base of Mt Apharwat.
Whispers of the huge skiing potential of Gulmarg started circulating the international ski community and pioneers of the area include none other than the legendary “father of extreme skiing” Frenchman Sylvan Sudan who started a heli ski operation in the area and in later years, Australian mountain guide John Falkner. In the late 80’s a plan was hatched to build a gondola to the crest of Mt Apharwat but unfortunately this coincided with escalating political unrest in the region so the project was put on hold. Nearly two decades later, once local tensions had eased somewhat the grand project was finally completed.
Winter of 2005-06 saw the opening of the final stage of the gondola and it was the first time in many years that foreigners had returned to Kashmir in substantial numbers. A local ski patrol was selected and an intensive training program began. At first, stories of virgin slopes, awesome powder and huge vertical got the ski bums rumbling and then the international snow scene became aware of the “Worlds Highest Gondola”. Skiers and boarders from all over the world are now enjoying the magic of Gulmarg.
One of the greatest things about the resurrection of Gulmarg as an international skiing destination is that the local villages which have been doing it very tough for some time are now starting to thrive thanks to the long awaited return of tourism to their beautiful area.