(Excerpts from a report by Izhar Wani (AFP), and ANI and others)
After securing government clearance, a Switzerland-based company started a heli-skiing service on Sunday, reviving a practice thwarted for years by violence and red tape that sees skiers taken by helicopter and dropped on remote peaks.
Heli-skiing is off-trail, downhill skiing that is accessed by a helicopter and not with the help of a skiing lift.
Priced at 9,000 euros (12,300 dollars) per person per week, trips will be available up to early April, forming part of a trend that has seen the violence-weary area revive its adventure sport industry as fighting declines.
The package includes flights from the client’s country (usually Europe and UK) and also hotel and local transportation.
This is an amazing opportunity for anyone who wants to experience something different to your average skiing holiday.
For anyone who has ever visited a skiing resort, or gone on a surfing holiday heli-skiing is the ultimate in finding spots that most skiiers would find difficult to reach by more conventional means.
Undisturbed snow, lovely scenic countryside, and breathtaking mountain vistas await the skier who is prepared to go the extra distance for a good route down the side of the earth.
French skier Andre Bianchini, a 48-year-old mountain guide from the French Alps, was one of the first to head out this week and he plans to come back.
“I’ve fallen in love with the mountains here. Unlike Europe, they’re mostly untouched and there are no crowds,” he told AFP. “The view of the valley from a helicopter is out of this world.”
Himalaya Heliski had been waiting for civil aviation ministry approval in the highly militarised zone since the start of the winter season.
Sylvian Sudan from Himalaya Heliski, which heads to isolated peaks in a different area from Gulmarg, said he had 30 clients booked for this year and expects “many more” next year.
The company started heli-skiing in Kashmir in 1988, a year before the eruption of an anti-India insurgency that has claimed 47,000 lives according to the official count.
It suspended its activities in 1990 and since then it has struggled to establish a permanent service. In 2007 its chopper plunged into deep snow — fortunately without causing injuries.
Next year a New Zealand-based company in collaboration with Gulmarg Heli-Skiing, a local company, will also step in to offer a competing service.
It had bookings from 200 foreigners for trips this winter, but was unable to get the clearances in time, said Abdul Hameed, the owner of Gulmarg Heli-Skiing.