The Boy who came in from the cold
It's now possible to have an international-style skiing holiday right here in the Himachal. Welcome to Solang!brunch Updated: Sep 04, 2012 13:58 IST
So you’re planning to go skiing on your next vacation? Don’t head to the Alps, or any European ski resort. With the Himalayas much closer, everyone from the novice skier to the advanced enthusiast can become one with the mountains.
Where to go
There are three main skiing destinations in India, all of international quality, and countless other lesser known skiing hideouts. Auli, Gulmarg and Solang come alive each season, carving out their own trails in the snow.
I visited the Solang valley not so long ago, when the winter sports economy there had only just started revving up. Improved infrastructure (they have a new ski lift), increased public-private cooperation and local supposert has been beneficial for skiing tourism here, making the vast and beautiful valley perfect for winter sports.
The high hills surrounding the valley rise invitingly as you make your way towards it. In season, the valley teems with people all engaged in some kind of winter-sporting activity: skiing, snowboarding, riding snow scooters, hiking or even zorbing. Only 14kms away from Manali, it is Himachal Predesh’s chief skiing destination although mass skiing has only recently begun here. Many members of the Olympics’ Indian Winter sports contingent come from the nearby villages and have many medals to their name.
How it began
In 1990, Australian skier and mountain climber Roddy McKenzie introduced heli-skiing to the region around Manali. Using helicopters, he would drop skiers on mountain tops in the Solang Himalayas, letting them zip through the snow and the many trees that would dot the slope. Solang had been a renowned world-class centre for decades. paragliding. But since the ski-lift or the gondola, which reduces hiking time and allows skiers to make as many as 10 rounds a day, skiers have finally found a cheaper, less crowded alternative to the Alps.
Skiing equipment is available at any of the wooden huts that open during season in the area around the valley, starting from Manali. And I don’t mean wooden skis or anything. I am referring to skis and snowboards imported from the biggest ski nations of the world. These can be rented anywhere along your jeep ride. A couple of layers of woollen clothing does well for the warmth, including socks, gloves and the many ways to cover ones forehead, which are all most important.
However, I must caution you, do not go for the gum boots everyone seems to sell, they can only protect from the rain and water, but the sweat will freeze your toes inside. Go instead for proper boots. The same goes for goggles, helmets and water proof equipment. Rent them or purchase them, but do spend!
Even if your teeth aren't chattering, you’ll want some hot soup and momos being sold on the side. They’ll keep you warm inside, and taste better than the insipid versions available in big cities. You won’t miss your daily cuppa.
At the top as you exit the ski lift and make way through the snow, right in front is a cosy little cafe made completely out of wood. Apart from coffee and tea, they have freshly baked pizzas, omelettes, sandwiches, pasta and the like. They’re also nice enough to rustle up a bowl of Maggi that you can gobble down as you take in the slope falling right down to the valley, the ant-sized skiers sliding their way down. Maggi, an inexpensive holiday and no crowds – who needs Switzerland?
Location: 16 kms from Joshimath, Garhwal Hills, Uttarakhand,
Altitude: upto 3000 meters above sea level
Best time to visit: January to March
Location: 57kms from Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir
Altitude: about 2700 meters above sea level.
Best time to visit: Mid-december to March
Location: 14kms from Manali, Himachal Pradesh
Altitude: over 2500 meters above sea level
Best time to visit: January to Febuary