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Unprecedented Drought Challenges World's Highest Ski Resort

Unprecedented drought challenges world's highest ski resort. During this time of the year, the slopes of Gulmarg would typically be teeming with snowboarders and skiers, eagerly making the most of the fresh January powder that blankets the Himalayas like clockwork.

Author:Tyreece Bauer
Reviewer:Elisa Mueller
Jan 15, 2024
38.7K Shares
516.4K Views
Unprecedented drought challenges world's highest ski resort. During this time of the year, the slopes of Gulmarg would typically be teeming with snowboarders and skiers, eagerly making the most of the fresh January powder that blankets the Himalayas like clockwork.
However, much to the dismay of both travelers and tourism operators, this resort town in Indian-administered Kashmir is currently grappling with a shortage of snow. The unseasonably dry weather has cast a shadow over one of the highest ski resorts globally, the Gulmarg Ski Resort, nestled in the Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas, just over 50 kilometers from Srinagar and approximately 20 kilometers from the Line of Control (LoC) - the de facto border that separates this disputed region between India and Pakistan.
Renowned for its expansive skiable terrain of over 1,330 vertical meters (4,363 feet), the Gulmarg Ski Resort, with its iconic Gulmarg Gondola reaching an elevation of 3,980 meters (13,057 feet), usually draws winter sports enthusiasts from far and wide. However, the current snow shortage is putting a damper on the usual lively winter scene, underscoring the impact of the unusual weather conditions on this popular destination.
Despite the snow scarcity, an anonymous staff member from the Gulmarg Ski Resort said that their hotels have been experiencing remarkably high occupancy rates in recent days. While acknowledging the dry spell, she emphasized that there are still activities for tourists to enjoy in Gulmarg, including riding the gondola, which provides breathtaking views of snowy peaks.
However, the absence of snow on the slopes has left individuals like 23-year-old Asif Ahmad Bhat, who makes a living catering to the annual influx of ski and snowboard enthusiasts, unemployed. As a local of Gulmarg, Asif typically teaches snowboarding to both kids and adults, highlighting that the region typically attracts two distinct types of visitors.
The first kind are the ones who are here only for tourism purposes with family and friends. 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.- Asif Ahmad Bhat

We Are Really Disappointed

Bhat reveals that he had to cancel four bookings in December and an additional 23 bookings scheduled leading up to January 21.
"We don't want them to come and be disappointed," he expresses, noting that the rise in temperatures has been so significant that a substantial portion of the existing snow has melted away.
"Let's see if there is snow towards the second half of January. We will reach out to our clients then."
Sahil Ahmed Lone, a 25-year-old local from Gulmarg, has worked as a snowboarding instructor for five years. He shares that there was considerable optimism among the community that January would bring substantial snowfall.
"We are really disappointed," he tells reporters. "We did many bookings from our clients, but we are saying no to them. This is definitely affecting the tourism sector."
Lone mentions that he has already had to cancel five bookings, and there are five to seven more lined up that may also need to be canceled. The instructor further explains that, due to the lack of snow in Gulmarg, he had to take one client who had already traveled to the area to snowboard 10-12 kilometers away, near the border, where snow is available.
"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?"
A view of Gulmarg ski resort with lots of snow
A view of Gulmarg ski resort with lots of snow

The Demand Is Still There

During the summer months, Gulmarg, whose name translates to "Meadow of Flowers," attracts trekkers and nature enthusiasts. In 2023, the town saw a record-high of 1.65 million tourists, as reported by various media outlets citing government officials. This has generated optimism that 2024 will witness an even stronger influx of visitors.
Raja Yaqoob, the tourism director of Indian-administered Kashmir, remains hopeful about salvaging the ski season. Despite a delay of 10-15 days due to the dry spell, he mentions, "We are expecting a good bump of snow in the coming days. So the loss of snow will also be compensated."
Yaqoob emphasizes that the traditional snowfall season in Gulmarg typically extends from November to February or 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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Tyreece Bauer

Tyreece Bauer

Author
A trendsetter in the world of digital nomad living, Tyreece Bauer excels in Travel and Cybersecurity. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and is a certified Cybersecurity professional. As a Digital Nomad, he combines his passion for exploring new destinations with his expertise in ensuring digital security on the go. Tyreece's background includes extensive experience in travel technology, data privacy, and risk management in the travel industry. He is known for his innovative approach to securing digital systems and protecting sensitive information for travelers and travel companies alike. Tyreece's expertise in cybersecurity for mobile apps, IoT devices, and remote work environments makes him a trusted advisor in the digital nomad community. Tyreece enjoys documenting his adventures, sharing insights on staying secure while traveling and contributing to the digital nomad lifestyle community.
Elisa Mueller

Elisa Mueller

Reviewer
Elisa Mueller, a Kansas City native, grew up surrounded by the wonders of books and movies, inspired by her parents' passion for education and film. She earned bachelor's degrees in English and Journalism from the University of Kansas before moving to New York City, where she spent a decade at Entertainment Weekly, visiting film sets worldwide. With over 8 years in the entertainment industry, Elisa is a seasoned journalist and media analyst, holding a degree in Journalism from NYU. Her insightful critiques have been featured in prestigious publications, cementing her reputation for accuracy and depth. Outside of work, she enjoys attending film festivals, painting, writing fiction, and studying numerology.
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