International (Europe/Japan/NZ/Au) Gulmarg 2019 Trip Report - Himalayas

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Mattadvproject, Feb 21, 2019.

  1. Mattadvproject

    Mattadvproject Love that powder! Pugski Sponsor

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    Wow, no rest for me! I'm still jet-lagged from Japan but now it's time to head off to India for a month riding in Gulmarg. I'm excited for this season, so far there has been a ton of snow and the snowpack is very deep. It's currently snowing heavily in Gulmarg right now, when the snow settles, the snowpack should be pretty stable.

    This Summer and Fall, Kashmir has seen a rise in tension and we came close to cancelling the trip, however after speaking to locals on the ground, they repeated to me that it was still peaceful and calm in Gulmarg so we are still going ahead. I leave the US today and will be in the mountains on the 23rd. I will be there for a month.

    I don't know if I will have the energy to write a lot (saving that for Georgia) as I have been writing a lot about Gulmarg already for the past few years and readers on here should already be pretty familiar, so I will focus more on photos and video to tell the story. We'll see how it goes.

    Here's to a fun and safe time!

    - Matt
     
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    Mattadvproject

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    Greetings from Kashmir and the Indian Himalayas! After a lot of traveling, I made it safely to Gulmarg. It's 3:30am here local time, I'm jet-lagged so time to catch up on the adventures so far. Traveling here was long but no major dramas. The flight from Denver to Newark was fine and then I had a really nice flight from Newark to Delhi. It's long at 13 hours and was pretty turbulent at times, but I kicked back and watched a lot of movies and enjoyed not having to think too much about work.

    Delhi was it's usual [email protected] show, pardon my French. I stayed at the Red Fox hotel in Aero City, about 10 minutes drive from the airport. My driver was there to meet me and I managed a solid 7 hours of sleep. Check-in for the domestic flight to Srinagar was absolutely chaotic and Air India charged me $165 USD (500 INR per kg) for excess baggage. Ouch! I flew in on a 2 bag international allowance and Air India only has a 1 bag domestic allowance of 15kg plus 10kg hand luggage so I really got stung. I booked my tickets separately so I could fly Air India and I got stung! Might have to actually go through a travel agent next time..... my bad.

    Mushtaq, my long-time friend and driver was there to meet me at the airport. I met John, a new guest and skier from my old town of Perth, Western Australia, at the baggage claim. Gavin, a regular guest from the UK, was outside waiting for us as he had arrived around 930am on the earlier flight and Mushtaq had looked after him. Thankfully all our bags arrived and we headed off to Dal Lake for a quick curry lunch at the home of the best Butter Chicken in the area, Stream Restaurant. Yum!

    The traffic was really bad in Srinagar so it took us a lot longer than normal to get out of the city, but finally we were on the road to Gulmarg. We got caught in a few more jams in some of the small towns on the way up, but we had a few people smiling and waving at us as we drove, one man even came over to shake our hands and welcome us when we stopped in jam. That was a really nice gesture.

    The snowline started really early and by the time we got to Tangmarg (where the snow line normally starts), then the snowbanks were piled really high, higher than I had ever seen them. Wow, I was sure getting excited. The snow road up to Gulmarg was bumpy and heavily rutted, several vehicles got stuck in front of us and a few times we had to get up and help push them out of the way (2 small cars were literally lifted up and moved out the way, it was quite the scene). We had one last jam getting into town and then finally were were there, in beautiful Gulmarg!

    The golf course had a lot of snow on it. The poma lifts were buried half way up the lift towers. I'd never seen so much snow. The drive up to the new hotel, the Rosewood was pretty tough, but Mushtaq made it like a champ. We only had to put chains on right on the last bit of road. What a star! We checked in and the porters brought up our bags. Claire and Mike (they came with to Gulmarg last season with Gav), had arrived the day before and had already been out skiing. We met at 7pm for a wee drink and then dinner. I was good and totally unpacked my room and then got a solid 4 hours in before the jet-lag kicked in. That gave me some time to do some work.

    This morning we start our avi safety training with the indoor theory session that I will lead and then onsnow for a little bit of skiing but mostly beacon work in preparation for 10 days of skiing. Can't wait! There's lot's more to come.....


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    In my happy place! Checking out the view of the Himalayas on the flight to Srinagar. My headphones were on and I played the song "In a Big Country" by the band Big Country on repeat as we flew over the mountains. Love it!


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    Getting into the serious stuff! The visibility was so good that I could see the Himalayas start as soon as we were out of Delhi. I had not seen that before. It was amazing.


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    Flying into Kashmir now. The views got better and better. There were two ladies, Haj pilgrims who didn't speak any English and were obviously traveling on a plane for the first time, they were tripping out over the view. It all added to the experience and part of the reason why I love coming here. This ain't Vail!


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    Almost there. This is Nun (7,135m - 23,409ft) and Kun (7,077m - 23,218ft), two sister peaks that are the highest mountains in the Indian controlled part of Kashmir. Nanga Parbat is the 9th highest mountain in the area and we can see that from Gulmarg also. It is in Pakistan and is 8,126m or 26,660ft high. I will never grow old of the views and feel extremely blessed that I get to see this view every year.....


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    I saw my friend Abdul (who manages our houseboat, the Bul-Bul that we stay on every year) randomly in Srinagar. It was awesome to see him and he gave me a big Kashmiri welcome. These people are so friendly.

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    Finally we made it into Gulmarg. The snowbanks are piled high with snow. This should be a great trip! Inshallah (God willing, as the Kashmiri's say).

    - Matt
     
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    Mattadvproject

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    24th Feb - Avi safety training day with the group in Gulmarg

    We started with the indoor theory training session for about 1.5 hours and then took it out onto the snow to practice. I ran them through single and multiple burials, just on the flats, for several hours and ran through a few different scenarios. I saw some great improvements. Everyone was hitting all the points on the AIARE checklist and the communication skills, pinpoint searching and strategic shoveling was high-quality.

    We'll need to do this again on actual steeper terrain with skis on, but it's great to see how much improvement there has been from the guys that started with me last season (Mike and Claire) and how competant Gavin has become after training during several trips. John who is brand new to this, really learned a lot and just needs more miles. He came a long way in 1 day though. Keep it up team!

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    I do genuinely enjoy the educational component part of the trip. It's a lot of work on both sides, but I get a great sense of pride and satisfaction from seeing people improve their skills during the training. I hope they never have to use these skills in a real-life scenario, but they will be ready if it happens. Inshallah it doesn't....

    - Matt
     
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    Mattadvproject

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    25th Feb - Amazing first day skiing from the Gulmarg gondola today.

    We were the second group (at about 9:15am) and we enjoyed a great ski down from the top of phase 2 through the ski area. There had been a massive avalanche that had taken the snowpack down to the ground so we had to be careful of hidden rocks. We still found some great snow.

    Then for lap 2 we did a short 5 minute hike and then headed up to the north of the gondola, traversing across Army Ridge into the South Apharwat bowl backcountry. Here we found some nice untouched, long lines. This was an amazing way to properly kick off the trip and everyone was in high spirits.

    Then we headed to the dabbahs (tea stalls) for a drink and a snack. The weather started to change and the snow rolled in. We lost visibility up top so we decided to finish our avi safety training with a run through the beacon park and then a multiple burial/rescuer scenario which the teams did great at. I was very happy with their progress.

    It was snowing very hard by now, so it was time to head back to the hotel. Then Ahanger GM showed us a great new way back to the hotel that involved very little effort. We capped the day off with a trip to our favorite bar at the Highland Park Hotel for a few well-earned beers and some snacks. An awesome day!

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    Getting on the gondola, no one else around and it's after 9am...


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    A little bit of wind at the top, but otherwise a beautiful start to the day


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    Big mountain skiing, accessible from a gondola, a run all to ourselves. Special!


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    Claire skiing confidently


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    Big avalanche crown above, we had to ski conservatively as we didn't know if the mounds were rocks or not


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    We are pretty stoked to be skiing in the Himalayas. This is what it's all about!


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    Big terrain


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    Mike and Gav stoked


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    Mike on our second run, nice and open turns


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    John enjoying the fresh

    - Matt
     
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    Mattadvproject

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    First proper turns of the trip! We took it easy as we didn't know how much snow there was or if there were submerged rocks around, so our first lap was a somewhat mellow exploratory run. It was still pretty sweet!



    - Matt
     


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    Mattadvproject

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    The second run was a little better than the first! It hadn't recently slid to the ground so we could let the skis run a little more. This run involved a quick little hike of about 7 minutes and then a traverse across two ridges out to the Apharwat South bowl. Here we found some nice snow.



    - Matt
     
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  7. Mike King

    Mike King AKA Habacomike Instructor

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    Matt, hope all is well in Gulmarg. Looks even more tense with India and Pakistan -- any issues there?

    Mike
     
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    Mattadvproject

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    Cheers Mike,
    Thanks for reaching out. Yes, all is well here in Gulmarg. It's a little bubble of calm in a sea of madness. Definitely stressful times but hopefully things are starting to de-escalate between India and Pakistan. It's been the hardest trip of my life so far, with so many challenges. What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger right? The consolation is the snow in Gulmarg is the best I have ever seen it, so we get by, by skiing untouched Himalayan lines. The therapy is working..... just.

    - Matt
     
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    Mattadvproject

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    27th Feb - Untouched Lines in Khilanmarg

    I didn't get any video's or take any photos on the 26th Feb. The weather came in and we couldn't see much. We skied from the chairlift and the highlight was me falling off a cornice I didn't even see. Then all the BS between India and Pakistan really hit the fan. Uuugh. Stress city! As per usual, the Indian press were sensationalizing the hell out of every snippet of news and later the international press would shoot most of it down (no pun intended). It's hard to know what was real and what wasn't. It wasn't fun being in the middle of all of that.

    Let's move on to the 27th Feb because that was one of the best ski runs of my life.... We were out by 930am and headed up phase 2 of the gondola. There had been about 30cm's of new over the past 2 days and the main bowl was starting to fill in again. There were several tracks ahead already and we again skied cautiously. There were still hidden rocks lurking underneath. There was also new wind slab on the N, NE and E aspects in the alpine zone that we needed to be cautious about. We found them and they made for challenging skiing, but nothing was moving.

    We skied that run and then headed up the gondola for one more. This time we decided to go for a skin up and around the summit in the Khilanmarg area. It's about a 40 minute skin to get around the summit and then there is a traverse around the rocks. We got to the top of the Khilanmarg area and bowl 2 was untouched. We were the only ones out there. It is an amazing feeling to have a massive bowl in front of you, completely untouched. You pay a lot of money to do this via a helicopter but not in Gulmarg. You just have to hike a little.

    We dropped in one at a time and skied several pitches of untouched bliss. What a way to forget about politics and all the BS. It was an amazing run, one of the best of my life, close to 4,000ft vertical of Himalayan powder. The group was absolutely stoked. I'll let the photos and video do the talking.....

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    Mattadvproject

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    Here's that run in video form. One of the best runs of my life, there's no better feeling than standing on top of your own untouched, 4,000ft vertical powder run..... we could have gone back to the US but we chose to stay in Gulmarg. This was the reward!



    - Matt
     
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  11. Jenny

    Jenny Out on the slopes Skier

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    Beautiful pictures. Thanks for posting them, because I'll never see anything like that in real life.
     
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    Mattadvproject

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    28th Feb - heading down to Drung

    It was another beautiful sunny day in Gulmarg so we decide to head down to Drung. This is a 7.5 mile off-piste run, one of the longest in the world. We were in a little bit of a hurry so we decided not to go into the village. At the top of the run we found some great snow in amongst the paperbark trees. The lighting was perfect and the snow soft and consistent.

    We had a nice long run up high before heading down into the old growth forest. Here it gets quite steep but the trees were very open. Being a northern aspect, the snow was still soft. We skied a nice steep line before entering the main drainage. It was full of huge amounts of avi debris. We had to be very careful as we traversed out. I've never seen such a huge amount of debris. It went a long way.

    After a while we made it out to the road that takes you out to the hydro electric power plant. It was about a 25 minute skate and push, then we had a short walk down to the main road where Mushtaq was waiting for us. He then drove us to Tangmarg for a late lunch. We saw a troop of snow monkey's on the way. I always love to watch the monkey's but the locals couldn't give two hoots about them.

    Then we headed back to Gulmarg and we tried to go visit Mr. Khan's tailor shop but he was away. He had broken his leg back in December and he was at home. I was so sad to hear this. We headed back to the hotel and were done by about 4pm.


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    Nanga Parbat, 9th highest mountain in the world at 26,660ft, as seen from the Gulmarg ski area.


    20190228_092509.jpg Heading out towards the Drung bowls. A short little climbing section (no skinning required).


    20190228_092252.jpg Amazing view of the heli-skiing terrain.


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    20190228_100930.jpg Our view down into the Drang valley and where we would be skiing. A 7.5 mile off-piste run.


    20190228_102224.jpg Fantastic skiing up high in the open paper tree bowls.


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    20190228_102706.jpg Long vertical down into the lower trees. This was 3 pitches right here.


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    Steep, north-facing old growth pine and fir trees down lower on the way to Drung.


    20190228_104547.jpg Open powder fields in-between the trees.


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    Massive old avalanche debris that ran for miles down through the drainage. You need to go down here at the right times.... here is the toe of the slide from a slide that came down all the way from the top of the mountain.

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    Heading into Tangmarg for lunch at the end of the ski, some snow monkey's crossing the road.

    - Matt
     
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  13. Mike King

    Mike King AKA Habacomike Instructor

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    No bears? Or kids?

    I miss Gulmarg...
     
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    Mattadvproject

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    Thanks Mike! Gulmarg misses you too. I hope we can keep going back in the future, but who knows how the political situation will become. I genuinely worry for the people of Kashmir, the innocent civilians caught up in all of this. I hope if Modi loses the general elections in India, then someone who has a bit more compassion for Kashmir will come in...... inshallah! This was just a quick run down to Drung as the guests wanted to get back somewhat early to Gulmarg, so we didn't have time to go into the village and meet the kids. We didn't have any chocolates either, so maybe we can go another time as I feel it's a massive part of the Drung experience. We didn't see any Eurasian Black Bears. I remember we saw that one crossing the top of one of the treed bowls when you were there last time? That was a pretty cool thing to see but I'm glad we only saw it from a distance..... thanks for posting Mike.
    Kind regards,
    Matt
     
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    Mattadvproject

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    28th Feb - a small portion of our run down to Drung. This is just the turns just below the alpine zone. We had skied all the way out along the ridge line, down past the army base and up to a small hill. The plan was to ski down to ridge 2, but it had tracks on it. We followed the ridge down until we came to a nice untouched face with beautiful paperbark trees on it. We skied a couple of really nice pitches before hitting the pine/fir tree zone. Unfortunately my camera pooped itself and none of the footage I took down low came out, so I just have this....



    - Matt
     
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    Mattadvproject

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    Feb 28th - March 3rd
    Well, it's been a few days since I updated the blog, so time for some updates. There has been a lot going on. For those following the media, then you will have no doubt seen plenty of news on Kashmir. Yes, it's been blowing up between India and Pakistan with increased tension and military action. It all came to a head when India sent bombers in to take out an alleged terrorist training camp in Pakistan (India still hasn't provided any hard evidence of them actually making such an attack, all I've seen in the media was photos of some damaged trees and a wheat field and an undamaged Masjiid). Then Pakistan shot down an Indian jet fighter and captured a pilot (who has since been released). Bad news.... That was really the climax though and since the pilot was returned, then things seem to be getting back to relative normality (as normal as it can get in Kashmir).

    It's been stressful this whole time, but I'm happy to say we are well and safe here in Gulmarg. There's been no problems here at all, other than listening to the news and trying to decipher what has been happening (you think the US media has an agenda, then they have nothing on the Indian media, my goodness, they are shocking). So, don't worry, we're all well and good. We've been getting by on skiing and the skiing has been amazing. We've had some epic runs. So let's focus on that, that's way more fun than politics....

    We'd had a great time down in Drung on the 28th Feb, then on March 1st, the weather started to come in and it was a bit overcast. We decided to take some "quicker" laps off the gondola and ski the southern end of the mountain. There was still plenty of untouched snow on Trajan Bowl and then Sheenmai. We did 1 lap on Trajan and then 2 laps on Sheenmai and the highlight was definitely the skiing in the paperbark trees a little bit down lower. There is an awesome ridge with a fun cornice and ridges to play on. The avi danger was low so we had a great time jumping off stuff and making slash turns in various lips. It was a fun time.

    On the 2nd we had a rest day and then on the 3rd we went up Monkey Hill. It had been storming for two days so we figured it would be good to skin up Monkey Hill, especially as my return guests had not skied it last season and they were keen to tick it off this time. It's about a 40 minute skin for the first lap and we went straight to the top. The trees were dropping a lot of snow (tree bombs and you definitely do not want to be caught under them when they are dropping) so we had to be careful. We tried to make a skin track that stayed away from the loaded trees and went closer to the dead trees that weren't loaded.

    The first run was a bit of a bust. The tree bombs had compacted a lot of the snow in the tightly treed areas, so we needed to find more open ground. Easily done! We just needed to move further skier's left where there is some more open terrain. We skied a relatively open face that had a lot of snow in it. Then for the 3rd and 4th laps, we moved further left again where there are some awesome pillows. A couple of the guests are really getting confident and are actively seeking jumps and more exciting terrain, so they loved the pillows and were starting to get a little air. Fun times, but by 4 laps we were all pretty spent. We had a beer at the new restaurant/bar under the Hilltop Hotel (awesome job on the refurbishment!) and then got a taxi back to the hotel.....

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    The avi danger was rated at low in the alpine zone, so it was time to push into some steeper lines. Mike dropping in.


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    The lower half of the run was an absolute playground, with lot's of fun features to play on. We had a great time here.


    20190301_124412.jpg Going in for another steep run, this time over at Sheenmai bowl.


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    20190301_144456.jpg These cute little pups stole our hearts (and our food) at the tea stalls as we ate lunch.


    20190301_144506.jpg So darn fluffy and cute!


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    Monkey puzzle tree outside my window....


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    20190302_203103.jpg Having a delicious meal at the Khyber hotel.


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    Mutton kebab and assorted curries. It tasted a lot better than it looked.


    20190303_094746.jpg Lap 1 up Monkey Hill. Going the long way around....


    20190303_152345.jpg The pillow zone we skied a couple of laps on. This was a fun time.


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    - Matt
     
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    Mattadvproject

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    Skiing the pillows on Monkey Hill.....



    - Matt
     
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  18. Mike King

    Mike King AKA Habacomike Instructor

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    The skin up Monkey Hill the day after the big storm was one of the most beautiful times I've been in the mountains anywhere. Looks like you are having a good trip!
     
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  19. Eleeski

    Eleeski Out on the slopes Skier

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    Wow! That looks incredible. Both from a skiing side and just the experience. Keep enjoying the trip!

    Eric
     
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    Mattadvproject

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    Cheers Mike,
    It's better now the Indians and Pakistani's aren't shooting down each other's planes...... it's been pretty draining and a lot has been happening, so have not had much time to post. All is well here in Gulmarg with a new crew. We have maybe 30 people on the mountain right now to compete for freshies and it's still snowing here. Gulmarg delivered in a big way this season. The most snow I have ever seen...... there's a lot more to come. Thanks for following.
    Kind regards,
    Matt
     

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