Monday, January 31, 2011

Exploring the North End of Gulmarg

After spending one day walking around and visiting pretty much all the hotels and accommodation available in Gulmarg, we finally our best guest was The Pine Palace. With somewhat reliable internet, hot water and central heating, even my Dad found it comfy!

With the accommodation settle, we moved to what we were here to do: SKI!

With a really bad snow year and no snow in the past 2 weeks, we weren't expecting much. To get use to the altitude (Gulmarg is at about 3000m), we decided to skin to mid-mountain. The tiny climb of 400m took us about 1h30 thanks to the altitude!

The visibility was rather low and we didn't venture too far. We skied Apharwat North Bowl and found some pretty surprisingly good snow…. and a lot of rocks! The problem is the snowpack is quite shallow and weak and doesn't cover quite much the sharp rocks nicely hidden under.

The rather foggy weather cut our motivation for our second day. The (about) 2cm of snow on the ground didn't excited us much either.

We skinned all the way up to mid-station where the visibility was still quite bad.

We jumped in the gondola and the clouds seemed to get thinner and thinner and at the top we were welcomed by a great inversion!!!

Stoked to get some great weather, we hiked and hit the backside of Apharwat to what is called the Shark's fin. As we were skinning up, we realized the overnight snowfall was probably about 15-20cm! The snow was nice and my dad was starting to get his skiing confidence back when he hit a rock that leaves him airborne.

Here he is showing his natural flying talent!

Fortunately, he didn't get hurt, but we figured we had to stay alert at all time!

We hiked back to the front and ski down Khilanmarg Bowl 2. We had some surprisingly good visibility almost all the way down this about 1200m vertical run. Always alerted, we made it down without any other big misadventure!

Today was really a great day, blue sky, mild temperature but no new snow. We toured a bit further far the backside of Apharwat.

As our morning hike put us behind most of the skiers, our planned run as been already skied. We didn't changed our plans and made it down this rather chopped-up snow.

Again, the view was really stunning!

The mountains surrounding Gulmarg are certainly some of the most impressive I have personally seen. It is really a shame the snowpack is so thin, because the terrain the gondola gives access is one of the best I have experienced!

The lack of snow is forcing the skiers to share the snow leaving us to not ski fresh pow at every turn… I guess it could be worst!

Again, there isn't much snow on the forecast for this week, but fortunately, it seems like it will change over the weekend!
In the meanwhile, we keep on experiencing India with is….. surprising food!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Directly from the foot of the Himalaya

For all of you reading the blog much for the skiing part, well you can skip this one since for the first time, there isn't no even a single skiing pictures!

We finally made it to Gulmarg yesterday evening where we are to stay for the next 3 weeks.

After spending three incredible weeks to Japan, I flew back to Montreal where I spent 53 hours before catching my plane to go to Delhi. The 4.3cm of snow on the ground and the temperature threatening to plunge under the -30 degrees didn't give me any temptation to stay there much longer!

After celebrating my brother birthday and trying to catch up a bit on laundry, I jumped on the plane with my Dad for a nice 16 hours journey!
We decided to stay in Delhi for 2 days to walked around and to get a taste of that buzzing city! We landed at midnight local time and I was quite glad my Dad had previously arranged a taxi to our hotel since I felt quite mentally slow to face the massive crowd of touts and corrupt taxi driver waiting for us at the airport!

We spend our first day mostly walking around town in the Old Delhi part.
We used the metro to move around town and it worked great! Being just before their national holiday, a lot of the official places where closed leaving us a much smaller list of things to do. We walked around Chadni Chowk which used to be the main street of Delhi which is now an unstructured and diverse market. 
This rather smelly and poor part of Delhi offered some scenery not for the fainted hearts!
On India's 62 years of independence, we went to visit the much nicer and modern part of Delhi which was used as the central place of the celebration.
After some more sightseeing, we were done and went back to our hotel and buy our plane tickets for the following day to go to Srinagar.

Srinagar (pronouncing Chrinagar) is the capital of Kashmir. After a flight of about an hour, we landed to a rather unsnowy place. From the airport, we caught a taxi to go to Gulmarg. You don't have to worry about not being able to get a ride! About 30 drivers are waiting for your just outside of the airport. The price is fixed at 1400 roupies (30$) and off we were!
We didn't had eyes big enough to see and to capture everything that was going on!
Sitting in the taxi, we were just stunned by the daily life of the Kashmiri. 
The road really started to climb after a while and the snowbanks moved from nothing to…. almost nothing! The hard crust laying on top of about 25-40cm of snow on the ground doesn't impress me that much!
After an hour or so of driving, we finally arrived in Gulmarg. We booked a night for two days at our arrival at The Pine Palace. We will walked around town to see the hotels and the price as a lot of rooms are empty due to the really bad snow year.
The snowbanks aren't any impressive and the forecast isn't too promising either… I guess it's your turn to send me out some tits deep powder shots and tease me about how I should be at your skiing spot!!
Looking forward to strap my skis in the coming days!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The snow factory finally stopped!

The snow rolled in as expected. Even if the visibility was crap, we decided to go explore Mt Chisenupuri. I was told it was a good backcountry spot and by using a single ride up the lift of Mt Chisenupuri resort for 3$, it certainly also has an easy access! You just have to skin up straight from the lift.

It all sounds pretty easy, but when you add up a typical Niseko storm to the story, everything gets a bit more complicated…

On our way up, we meet some of the army guys practicing their winter skills. Looking them skiing with leather boots fitted with some kind of primitive harness on skinny cross-country skis down the hill on some windpack snow was…. entertaining!

We kept going until we couldn't see much! We triggered a small slab going up. With no visibility and unstable snow made us ski down. We didn't take the usual way down and ended up on the wrong side of the creek. You can usually get some pretty good sidecountry runs just off the main chair of the resort and ended up just where we were…. but on the other side. Good things for us we founded a shallow spot to cross.

Then something really weird happened, the snow stopped, the wind slowed down, the sky cleared out and the sun even showed up at some point! Since the top gates (access to the backbowls) haven't open up this season, we hitted the resort hoping for them to open up. Unfortunately, they didn't. We turned to plan B: Ski the resort and its fresh pow!

We skied around the resorts and enjoyed the last 25+ overnight storm. I don't have to tell you how excited I was to ski fresh pow on a clear day!

The avalanche report forecasted the opening of the top gates. We went back to the resort all fired up to get the goods. The high winds turned down our expectations since it kept the upper lifts closed. We went back to Mizuno no Sawa (avalanche restricted area) for some nice sweet runs! The first opening of the area last year led to a great success and it is still running in full swing this winter.

We went back and had a great deep run! This is really a great spot to hang out when most of the resort is tracked and the access to the backcountry is closed!

We ended up our day with a great dinner that JS (a Black Diamond Guide) and his girlfriend prepared!

For our final day of skiing, we were blessed by probably one of the best day of the season: 20cm overnight, no wind, a blue sky and the first opening of the top gates of the whole season! The snow back there was soooooo good!

Amélie really loved the snow!

It was deep, light and even.

The only thing we had to say about the day was: too short! Since we had to catch a bus at 16h00 to go back at the airport , we had to cut the day short. It was really frustrating to pack our stuff in the resort parking lot while looking at the great weather! Anyway, it was a great way to end the Japan part of my world tour!!

I am actually writing down this episode from the plane going back to Canada! I am to spend the weekend in Montreal from where I will take the plane to go to India. The plan is to visit a bit Delhi before catching a connecting flight to go to Srinagar from where we'll take a taxi to Gulmarg.

The snow hasn't hitten much Gulmarg this year so far and the avy conditions looked pretty sketchy at the moment.
I just hope the snow will follow me to India!