Heli skiing is the ultimate freeriding and freeskiing experience. The ride up the mountain in a helicopter is a surreal experience in itself, and once you’ve finished taking photos of the spectacular views, the ski or snowboard down the mountain is even better!
By ABID KHAN (Greater Kashmir) Jan 20, 2012
Within one year after its revival, Heli-Skiing has made Kashmir as preferred destination for skiers across the world.
Launched last year at Gulmarg by the JK Government, Heli-Skiing run by local extreme skier and guide Billa Majeed Bakshi has become hit all over the world and has attracted some of the well known extreme skiers and personalities.
Around 700 skiers have registered with organisers of Heli-Skiing in Gulmarg this season and the number is growing.
Apart from making the virgin turfs of different sections of Gulmarg accessible, the skiers are also able to get access to those peaks and slopes which were out of bounds for the adventure sports lovers.
The Heli-Skiing in Gulmarg is being run by Billa through his company Himalaya Sports and he is quite a hit among the skiers across the world.
“This year we have already registered 700 clients more than double compared to a last year’s 323 which was inaugural year. All the clients are from West and none among them is local,” Billa, who is Company Director, said.
“I have six international guides and all of them are well known in adventure sports arena. One of the guides Woody has climbed Mount Everest eight times while other guide Mark has climbed the Everest five times. Others have also climbed the Everest two to three times and all of them have been guiding people to climb the world’s highest peak,” he added.
About the duration and area chosen for Heli-Skiing, he said, “Last year we did only two months of skiing. But this season we expect to do it for three months. Last year we had only one helicopter while this year we have managed to rope in two.”
“Most of the area that we covered last year was Pirpanjaal range and some little area on Poonch side. This year we want to explore 5000 metre peaks and that is an added attraction for the skiers,” Billa added.
Billa says that without the support of the Government it would not have been possible to start the ambitious project.
“It would not have been possible for me to start venture without full support from central and state Governments. Ministry of Defence, DGCA, Civil Aviation, Tourism and Gulmarg Development Authority (GDA) all cooperated and helped me in a big way,” he said.
Billa claimed that Heli-Ski was attracting lot of foreigners to Kashmir.
“Last year world’s best ski film crew Warren Miller from USA, Salomon ski France were our clients. This year lots of big riders are joining us and former International cricketer Jonty Rhodes is also joining us soon,” he claimed.
Pertinently it was Sylvain Sudan in late 70’s to start Heli-Skiing in the Valley and he is known as pioneer of extreme skiing. Known as a ‘skier of the impossible’, for his dare-devil skiing feats in Alps and other peaks in Europe and Asia, the 74-year old Swiss born French Heli-skier Saudan was considered to be instrumental in launching Heli-skiing in the Valley in late ‘70s.
He continued his date with Kashmir even during the years of conflict by bringing skiers.
However, Sudan stopped to come to Kashmir after his helicopter crashed in a mountain range on way to Sonamarg in 2007. The skiers in Heli-skiing dive from a helicopter on top of mountains. It is considered to be an extreme form of skiing offering the ultimate powder skiing experience.
Buoyed with success of Heli-Skiing and response it has got from all over world Tourism Department Kashmir is all set to widen its range to Pahalgam and Sonamarg.
“We started it last year in Gulmarg and it has become instant hit. We are soon going to launch Heli-Skiing in Pahalgam and Sonamarg. In Sonamarg it will be launched by Heli-Skiing pioneer Sylvain Sudan,” Director Tourism Farooq Shah, told Greater Kashmir.
“Kashmir is number one winter sports destination in India and we are doing everything to make it more attractive to skiers and Heli-Skiing is one among the many steps taken. Apart from number one destination in Country it is also most affordable one,” he added.