It’s one of the world’s highest ski resorts. So where’s all the snow?
Jan 13, 2024, 6:00 AM
(CNN) — At this time of year, the slopes of Gulmarg are normally packed with snowboarders and skiers, all taking advantage of the fresh January powder that annually blankets the Himalayas.
But as with many popular winter ski destinations right now, this resort town in Indian-administered Kashmir is facing a snow shortage due to unseasonably dry weather, disappointing both travelers and tourism operators.
The Gulmarg Ski Resort – one of the highest in the world – sits in the Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas just over 50 kilometers from the city of Srinagar and about 20 kilometers from the Line of Control” (LoC), the de facto border that divides this disputed region between India and Pakistan.
The resort offers over 1,330 vertical meters (4,363 feet) of skiable terrain and is most famous for the Gulmarg Gondola, which ascends to an elevation of 3,980 meters (13,057 feet).
Despite the lack of snow, a staff member of the Gulmarg Ski Resort reached by phone who did not wish to be named told CNN Travel their hotels have been experiencing very high occupancy rates in recent days.
While acknowledging the dry spell, she said there are still things for tourists to do in Gulmarg, including ride the gondola, which offers great views of snowy peaks.
But with dry slopes, those who make a living catering to the annual influx of ski and snowboard enthusiasts, like 23-year-old Asif Ahmad Bhat, are out of work.
The Gulmarg local, who teaches snowboarding to kids and adults, says the area typically welcomes two types of people.
“The first kind are the ones who are here only for tourism purposes with family and friends,” he says.
“Then there is a second kind who come here for the sport adventure activities like skiing and snowboarding. The latter are our clients and we have told them not to come to Gulmarg.”
‘We are really disappointed’
Bhat says he had to cancel four bookings in December and another 23 bookings over the period leading up to January 21.
“We do not want them to come and be disappointed,” he says, adding that temperatures have risen so much that most of the existing snow has also melted away.
“Let’s see if there is snow towards the second half of January. We will reach out to our clients then.”
Gulmarg local Sahil Ahmed Lone, 25, has been a snowboarding instructor for five years. He says there was a lot of optimism that January would bring heavy snowfall.
“We are really disappointed,” he tells CNN Travel. “We did many bookings from our clients, but we are saying no to them. This is definitely affecting the tourism sector.”
Lone says he’s already canceled five bookings and has five to seven more lined up that may need to be axed as well.
The instructor adds that he had to take one client who had already traveled to Gulmarg to snowboard 10-12 kilometers away, near the border, where there is snow.
“But they were not happy with it as there was not much snow and there were rocks,” Lone says, noting that they’ve been advising clients not to come at all.
“What would they do here without the snow?”
‘The demand is still there’
In the summer months, Gulmarg – whose name means “Meadow of Flowers” – draws trekkers and nature lovers.
The town welcomed a record-high 1.65 million tourists in 2023, according to various media reports citing government officials. This has led to optimism that 2024 will be an even stronger year.
Raja Yaqoob, tourism director of Indian-administered Kashmir, feels the ski season is still salvageable. Though it’s been delayed by 10-15 days due to the dry spell, he says they “are expecting a good bump of snow in the coming days. So the loss of snow (will also be) compensated.”
Yaqoob notes that the snowfall season in Gulmarg is traditionally from November to February-March.
“This time there was snowfall one/two times in December, but the snowfall expected in January has not happened yet,” he says, adding that El Nino is behind the delay.
“This is not unique to Kashmir but is also happening in Leh, Ladakh, Uttarakhand and other places in the Himalayas. With regard to occupancy in hotels, there continues to be 95-100% occupancy everywhere so the demand is still there and tourists are not backing out yet. With the snow coming in soon the situation will improve.”
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