Descending down snow-covered slopes at 32 kilometres an hour, with a board tied to your feet is not everyone’s idea of fun. But if it is, you can do it closer to home.
“I didn’t know there was any snowboarding in India,” says pro skateboarder Gautham Kamath, who was spending a surfing break in Goa when he came across posters advertising the winter sport. Eager to try out another board sport, Kamath looked into it.
“I always wanted to snowboard, but thought I would have to go to Europe or Canada to do it,” says the 32-year-old. “I was thrilled to see you can do it in India as well.”
Developed in the United States in the 1960s, snowboarding has been catching on in India. The country’s northern frontier, which receives most of the snowfall, is the hub of winter sports.
These are some of the best spots to snowboard in India.
Gulmarg, Jammu and Kashmir
A popular tourist spot in Jammu and Kashmir, this town in the Pir Panjal range is one of the best snowboarding destinations in Asia. It has an average annual snowfall of about 45 feet, letting you float on the powdery snow. Gulmarg also boasts the second highest gondola in the world at almost 14,000 feet above sea level. The gondola drops you off at the shoulder of the Apharwat Peak, from which you can ski or snowboard down.
Two-time snowboarding national champion Zubair Kazi, who lives close to Gulmarg, says that it is the best snowboarding destination in India currently, with a variety of slopes for all level of expertise.
“It has three separate slopes for beginners, intermediate and advanced. You can get any and every kind of slope and track here,” says the 23-year-old. “The season in Gulmarg is also a lot longer, starting around December 5th and lasting till the end of March.”
With more than three acres of ski and snowboarding terrain available, Gulmarg has something for everyone. The beginner’s slopes start at about 7000 feet, while more serious runs of Phase 1 are at 10,000 feet. A chairlift can take ski and snowboard enthusiasts up to 11,500 feet, while Phase 2 is the highest run at 14,000 feet.
It wasn’t a surprise that pro skater Gautham chose the town in Kashmir’s Baramulla district to give this new board sport a try. And since then, he has spent two consecutive winters zipping down the slopes in Gulmarg.
“Facilities are world class,” says the Bangalore-based athlete. “They have all kind of rescue systems, like ski rescue, heli rescue, as well as snowmobile. Everything is taken care of. They also go scouting for avalanche spots and take out the dangerous ones using flash dynamite.
“There are very good pros, who are locals, as well as foreigners. When you go to the peak, you should never snowboard alone. There are high chances of getting hurt. Maybe a simple mistake, or you might get stuck upside down in the ice. Even if it’s not a bad fall, and you are stuck upside down in the ice, you can’t do anything because the snowboard is strapped to your leg.”
Gulmarg has developed such a reputation within the community that even enthusiasts from European and North American countries come here to snowboard.
With the Uttarakhand government spending a lot of resources on tourism, Auli, located in the Chamoli district, has emerged as a ski and snowboarding hub. In 2017, Auli – which is at an altitude of over 9,000 feet above sea level – hosted the national snowboarding championships.
According to Kazi, the ski and snowboarding slope in Auli has been ‘manufactured’ for its purpose and is a lot more sheltered.
The Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board describes it as, “Bounded by the snowy peaks of the mighty Himalayas, this hilly terrain offers the sceneries of oak fringed slopes, coniferous forests, apple orchards and fine deodar trees and spectacular views of the lofty mountain ranges like Nanda Devi, Mana Paravat and Kamat Kamet.”
The snowboarding season here lasts for almost a month.
Solang Valley, Himachal Pradesh
Located near Manali, one of India’s most famous tourist destinations, the Solang Valley has become famous for its adventure sports, including snowboarding.
Beginners can start at the ‘soft slope’ in the centre of the valley, which can be easily accessed by an elevator from the base station. Gulaba, near Manali, and on the road to the Rohtang Pass also offers slopes for basic training.
For more experienced or adventurous skiers and snowboarders, there is a 1.3-km ropeway, which carries them to an elevation of just over 10,000 feet.
According to Ski Himalayas, “From the top station, there is a vertical drop of 500 meters to the base station. Pure ski excitement guaranteed, gliding down the mountain slope, skiing or boarding, through the white still landscape.”
Though the valley buzzes with tourists in the winter, advanced snowboarders can have their own slice of heaven, surfing the white slopes from the Patalsu Peak, which stands at almost 13,800 feet above sea level.
Sethan, Himachal Pradesh
A final frontier of sorts, Sethan is a small village in the Hamta Valley. It sits amidst the towering Dhauladhar ranges with the crystal clear waters of the river Beas flowing below it.
It is only 15 kilometres away from Manali, but a world apart. Situated at an altitude of nearly 9,200 feet, and with a population of only 1030 (according to the 2011 census), Sethan has emerged as a cult favourite of not only off-the-beaten-track travellers but budding backcountry snowboarders.
The slopes in Sethan, which receive heavy snowfall between December and March, can be accessed only on foot, hence cutting down the traffic.
However, a lot of adventure tourism companies now offer basic snowboarding courses near Sethan.
Pahalgam, Jammu and Kashmir
With the Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering and Winter Sports based in Pahalgam, the town in Jammu and Kashmir’s Anantnag district is one of the fast-emerging snowboarding destinations.
“There are a lot of places in Jammu and Kashmir which are suitable for snowboarding,” says Kazi, who has been in the sport for about 15 years. “Pahalgam has the slopes for it. The J&K Tourism board is putting in a lot of effort to make it a premier skiing and snowboarding destination.”
Located at the banks of the Lidder River, Pahalgam stands at an altitude of 8,990 feet. It is already a popular tourist destination and has an annual winter festival every January-February.