The turfed slopes of the picturesque Solang Valley in the western Himalayas beckon you to put on your skis, but ones with wheels, and slide down on lush grassy slopes.
Well, that's what you call the sport of grass skiing, which is becoming quite popular in the region that is famous among skiers for its great snow and steep pistes.
For the first time, the state-run Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports in Manali, set up in 1961 to promote adventure sports, has developed a 120-metre-long grassy slope by planting a thick variety of grass. It has also started a seven-day basic course in grass skiing.
"One can come and ski in the country's only natural slopes throughout the year," says Randhir Singh Salhuria, director of the institute.
Grass skiing remains an ever-popular activity among the Europeans. Of late, it has picked up in China, Japan and Iran too.
According to Salhuria, the basic summer course would continue till the onset of winter. It has been designed for beginners, and any participant above the age of 10 can enroll. "The grass skiing programme can also be designed as per the requirement of the participants," adds Salhuria.
"In winter, the slopes are used for snow skiing. As the snow thaws in March, the grass surfaces naturally and can host grass skiing (from June to October)," says Mahavir Thakur, the deputy director of the institute. "The skiers would forget the powdery snow and would love the lush green grass," he adds.
According to Thakur, skiing on grass is very similar to snow skiing. "The only difference is that it's on grass and you're on wheels rather than flat skis," he says, adding that the ski-run is quite steep and deep. "The first monsoon showers in the next few days will make the slopes even more perfect for sliding," he says.
The advocates of this unique sports activity also praise it for its physical benefits. Roshan Lal Thakur, secretary general of the Winter Games Federation of India (WGFI), says that grass skiing can help the (snow) skiers to keep their bodies toned round the year. "That's why the institute should promote the event in a bigger way by organising contests and races, besides a course," he says.
The institute has procured equipment, including grass skis, worth Rs 25 lakh, for the participants. The skis, each costing around Rs 30,000, have been procured from Europe. For the grass skiing course, the institute charges Rs 3,150 from Indian skiers and Rs. 12,600 from foreigners. This includes skiing equipment, training and board and lodging expenses.
The mountaineering institute is also conducting activities in mountaineering, backpacking, skiing, trekking, rafting, kayaking and paragliding for students, families and corporates. Salhuria said that till date, the institute has trained 126,000 youths from India and abroad in various courses.
The idyllic, pastoral setting of the Himalayan range in Himachal Pradesh has been drawing an increasing number of backpackers. In fact, the state attracted 15 million tourists in 2011.