Updated: Jun 30
Gulmarg is one of the best-kept secrets in India with regards to natural beauty, adventure, and skiing. It is a small ski town nestled in the western Himalayas in the Pir Panjal range, falling in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, India.
Every winter, Gulmarg turns into a white wonderland for skiers and snowboarders. And every year it is frequented by skiers and boarders from all over the world including France, Canada, Japan, and Australia.
Among Indians, it is still not well known. But those who know it, have to make a trip there every single year.
What is it about Gulmarg that makes it a must on every Indian skier’s annual calendar? What is it about Gulmarg that draws skiers from even countries like France, who have access to ski resorts in the Alps!
Here is our assessment of why Gulmarg is a clear winner in India for skiing. Also, see how Gulmarg compares with some of the best ski resorts in the world.
Here are 9 reasons why Gulmarg is the best ski resort in India, and perhaps among the best in the world-
1. Length of Ski Slopes
2. Ski Lifts
3. Natural snow
4. Safety and responsibility
5. Ease of access from major cities
6. Availability of lessons and ski rentals
7. Accommodation options 8. Apres Skiing 9. Value for money
1. Length of Ski Slopes & Difficulty Gradient
The single most important reason why Gulmarg trumps over all other Indian ski destinations is the length of ski slopes.
Why is this important?
Simply put, longer slopes mean more play area for skiers. Comparison with other ski destinations in India-
Gulmarg, J&K- 30 km
Munsiyari, Uttarakhand- 5 km
Auli, Uttarakhand- 3 km
Mundali, Uttarakhand- 3 km
Solang Valley, Himachal- 2.1 km
Kufri, Himachal- 1 km
Narkanda, Himachal- 0.8 km
Pahalgam, J&K- 0.4 km
A good ski resort will not only have longer slopes, but it will also have variety in the slopes suited for varying levels of difficulty.
Gulmarg has slopes suited for all difficulty levels:
Beginner slopes- 7.5 km Intermediate slopes- 16.5 km
Advanced slopes- 6.5 km
The next ski resort is far below Gulmarg, thus making Gulmarg a clear winner in this criteria.
Gulmarg’s slopes are also well maintained by snow-beaters that constantly groom the slope. Additionally, Gulmarg offers over 10 routes for backcountry skiing (off the groomed path). This makes it very attractive to international skiers looking for untouched powder snow and thrill.
2. Ski Lifts
The second parameter on which Gulmarg easily beats all other Indian ski destinations is the ski lift facility. Why is this important? Without a ski lift, a skier has to manually climb up the mountain. This can be a very physically draining and time-consuming activity, and even more so because of the weight of the skis, one has to carry up.
Comparison with other ski destinations in India- Gulmarg is a clear winner here with 8 ski lifts of international standard.
Gulmarg, J&K- 8 lifts
Auli, Uttarakhand- 3 lifts
Solang Valley, Himachal- 1 lift
Kufri, Himachal- 1 lift
Narkanda, Himachal- 1 lift
As of 2020, no other ski destination in India, apart from the above 5, has a ski lift. Gulmarg also wins because it has a variety of lifts suited for different purposes. For example, a drag lift is used for short distances, versus a ropeway used for longer distances. Gulmarg: 8 ski lifts (2 ropeways, 1 chair lift, 5 drag lifts) Auli: 3 ski lifts (1 ropeway, 1 chair lift, 1 drag lift) Solang Valley: 1 ski lift (1 ropeway only) Kufri: 1 ski lift (1 Drag lift only) Narkanda: 1 ski lift (1 Drag lift only)
Star Fact: Gulmarg’s famous gondola (ropeway) is also the highest ski lift in the world. This makes Gulmarg the highest ski resort in the world. An alternative to ski lifts is heli-skiing, where a helicopter drops off skiers to the mountain peak. Manali and Gulmarg both offer great heli-skiing options. They are also among the cheapest in the world, starting from INR 55,000 per person per day.
3. Natural snow
One of the most important criteria for an enjoyable ski or snowboarding experience is snowfall. Continuous fresh snowfall means more powder snow for skiers to ski on.
Why is this important? The more soft and powdery the snow is, the smoother the glide, hence the more fun it is. Also, soft powder snow reduces chances of injury, versus falling on hardened snow. Comparison with other ski destinations in India- Gulmarg receives very good snowfall through the winter. It receives the highest snowfall among ski destinations with ski lift/ heli-skiing facilities.
Snowfall/ week (in cm)
Snowfall trends are calculated using weather data from the last 11 years.
4. Ease of access from major cities
Why is this important? If you can't get there, how will you ski? In an age where every additional day
of leave is a struggle, few want to spend precious vacation time commuting.
Comparison One of the biggest pulls of Gulmarg is its ease of accessibility. You can wake up in your bed in Bombay/ Bangalore/ Delhi, and after only 6 hours, be skiing down some of the highest mountains in the world! Here’s how Gulmarg compares with some of its peers in terms of accessibility. (Only comparing ski destinations with ski lift facilities)
Gulmarg- Srinagar Airport + 1.5 hours
Solang Valley- Kullu Airport + 1.5 hours
Auli- Dehradun Airport + 14 hours
Kufri- Chandigarh Airport + 2 hours
Narkanda- Chandigarh Airport + 3 hours
Srinagar is now well connected with most major Indian airports with flights starting as low as INR 4,000 if booked at the right time. A local shared taxi can take you from Srinagar airport to Gulmarg for around INR 300.
5. Safety and responsibility
Why is this important? As much as skiing is fun, there is a reason it is an adventure sport. Skiing and snowboarding come with their own set of risks. A good ski resort will minimise the risk by increasing safety. Review of Gulmarg The J&K govt has done lots to develop of a culture of safety in Gulmarg for skiers.
Gulmarg has a safety team that constantly patrols the slopes during ski hours. There are emergency contacts displayed in public areas for skiers to use. There is also an ambulance on standby at all times at the base of the main ski lift/ Gulmarg gondola. In the interest of a safety-oriented culture, it is also mandatory for advanced skiers to carry special safety equipment while attempting certain slopes.
The town of Gulmarg has a single Primary Health Centre equipped for x-ray and minor health issues. For more serious injuries, skiers are taken to multi-specialty hospitals in Srinagar, approx. 1.5 hours away.
Regarding responsible tourism, most Gulmarg ski shops are run by locals. Thus the sport powers the local communities of this beautiful land.
6. Availability of ski guides and ski rentals
Why is this important? Ski Guides - First timer will need someone to help them grasp basic ski skills. Intermediate skiers may want trainers to help them get better. And advanced skiers may hire mountain ski guides when venturing into challenging terrains purely for safety.
Ski Rentals - It is expensive to own ski equipment. A good pair of skis can cost INR 40,000 and up. Also, it is tedious to transport skis while flying. Thus many skiers prefer to rent skis at the location itself.
Review of Gulmarg Gulmarg has many ski shops to choose from. They are usually run by local experts in the sport. A typical ski shop in Gulmarg will have trainers for all levels and a range of equipment available for rent. Most shops will also rent out ski clothing like gloves, ski pants, and ski jackets.
Ski lessons start from INR 2000/ day and rentals from INR 500/ day. Gulmarg also is home to the renowned Indian Institute of Ski and Mountaineering who offer 14-day courses. Apply well in advance to get a spot.
7. Accommodation & food options
Why is this important? Skiing gets more enjoyable over multiple days. The first day simply goes in getting the hang of the sport, if new, or regaining muscle memory. A ski holiday where you spend 4-5 days skiing would mean you need accommodation and food options near the ski facility.
Review of Gulmarg
Stay - Gulmarg has over 15 accommodation options within 1.5km of the ski slopes.
These include budget B&Bs to mid-range hotels, to even a 5-star resort! The price range of Gulmarg accommodation is INR 1500-15,000 per night. Most hotels in Gulmarg have a dine-in facility, many have games rooms and bars, and some even with indoor heated swimming pools. Food - Food options are also plenty both in the town, as well as on the ski slopes. Nothing like a Kashmiri biryani and a hot cup of kahwa while watching the snowfall.
8. Apres Skiing
Apres skiing refers to post skiing community activity available for skiers. Why is this important? Skiing shuts in the evenings. But the vacation is still on! Review of Gulmarg Apart from skiing, Gulmarg offers lots of other attractions to its skiers. A favourite is going up the slopes on snowmobiles in the evening and enjoying a bonfire and drinks under a starry sky. Or simply sipping some tea in a cozy café. There are other activities for non-skiers as well including ice skating, trekking up to LOC point, visit to a church and temple, Bobby room, and more. If lucky, one could catch community ski events organised by the local ski bodies. These include night skiing, music, and community bonfires.
9. Value for money
Why is this important? A higher value for money for skiers means they can spend more time and return more frequently.
Review of Gulmarg Even though skiing is an expensive sport, the prices in Gulmarg make it quite affordable. A skier on a shoestring budget can manage with spending $40/ day including ski passes, ski rentals, accommodation, and food. In the ski resorts of Europe and North America, a single day can cost as much as $140. Comparing with that, Gulmarg offers great ski facilities at a great price.
Other aspects- Terrorism and safety
Gulmarg loses out majorly on one aspect, the perceived safety due to nearby terrorist activities. This is definitely a valid concern for skiers. However, there has never been an attack in recent history in the tourist town of Gulmarg. It is a no resident town, meaning that no locals live in Gulmarg. It is only meant for tourism, skiing, boarding, and other snow sports. Gulmarg’s easy accessibility to the airport (a 1.5 drive) reduces one’s apprehension in that there is easy evacuation available in case of a crisis.
And what Gulmarg loses in the perceived safety, it makes up by its warm culture. The local Kashmiris of Gulmarg are a warm and peace-loving bunch of people, who are content with the small joys of life like a good day of snow, a hot cup of kahwa, and some skiing/ boarding down the slopes!
Comparison with top international ski resorts
If we look at the absolute best ski resorts of the world including Whistler Blackcomb in Canada, Courchevel in France, Zermatt in Switzerland, Vail Colorado in the USA, Niseko in Japan, Kitzbuhel in Austria, they are definitely a class apart from Gulmarg, purely in terms of ski infrastructure. Most of these resorts have over 100km of the ski area and over 30 ski lifts. Courchevel in France is the largest ski resort with around 600km of ski slopes and over 150 ski lifts!
However, Gulmarg as a ski resort is close to unbeatable in 2 areas. a. Value for money
If you are looking to access 30km+ of ski slopes with international ski lift facilities for the lowest price in the world, Gulmarg is your place. Only Georgia comes close to offering the same value for money as Gulmarg. Gulmarg is also highly coveted for its powder snow. Its snowfall is comparable to some European ski resorts like St. Anton in Austria (rated in the top 10 resorts of the world). b. Highest ski resort in the world If you want to ski on top of the world, Gulmarg offers the world’s highest ski gondola at 13,800ft above sea level. In the skiing world, you cannot go higher than this unless you opt for heli-skiing or ski-mountaineering.
Gulmarg is clearly the best ski resort in India simply due to its superior ski infrastructure and natural slopes. One needs to experience this beauty once, and it will hold a place on your annual calendar forever after!
Want to plan your next ski vacation to Gulmarg? Head to Adventure Play to find details on travel, ski schools, hotels and more. Winter is coming!
Nitisha Sethia is an outdoor sport practitioner and editor at Adventure Play. Ex-McKinsey & Co. and IIM Ahmedabad, Nitisha left her corporate job to follow her passion in the outdoors.
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