By Sam Lozier, Boston.com Correspondent
Ski blogger Sam Lozier is spending a chunk of this winter in Kashmir, India at Gulmarg.
Today was one of those days that, despite all the things that went wrong, turned out to be a pretty great day anyway. This morning’s plan called for an early start, followed by a skin to the top of Aphawat (the mountain on which Gulmarg is located), and a descent of one of the many steep chutes off of Shark’s Fin peak (behind Aphawat). Allen and I, due to the lift actually opening on time for once, were running about 15 minutes behind the rest of the group. The plan for the day called for Allen and I to set up cameras on an opposing ridge, and shoot video and photos of our friends skiing lines down Shark’s Fin. Before we even got on scene though, our friends had decided to bail on the Shark’s Fin lines due to flat light.
Allen and I, a little disgusted by the lack of commitment in our group, decided to go for Sharks Fin ourselves. We were going to go take a line that our friend, Wes, had been talking about for a month, and were looking forward to the first steep-committing skiing we’d have done at Gulmarg. From across the valley, the line looked quite casual, but, as I would soon discover, it was hiding a few surprises.
The hike from Aphawat to Shark’s Fin was, indeed, quite easy, but that was about the extent of cake-walking for the day. From the top of Shark’s Fin, there was a rock-choked, knife-edge ridge that dropped down towards the start of our chute. About halfway down the ridge, very much to my surprise, we were forced to take our skis off, put them on our packs, and do a bit of fourth-class rock climbing over several hundred feet of exposure to reach the top of the chute. Had I known what I’d find at the top of the chute, I may have thought twice about committing to hard-to-reverse moves on rock, but sometimes ignorance is bliss. So I savored the feeling of moving over rock, until I got a look at the chute.
Had I looked closely at the chute from the opposite ridge, I would have noticed the small rocks poking through what appeared to be a snowy entrance to the chute. Had I paid even closer attention, I would have realized that the little spit of snow I had planed to ski into the chute on was far narrower than it looked from across the valley. When I finished the rock climbing, and joined Allen at the top of the line, I finally realized the level of commitment that this line required.
What we discovered was a rocky, diving board shaped take off for the mandatory ten foot cliff huck onto the hanging snowfield that started that led to the chute; cause enough for hesitation. A careful assessment from above, and we decided it was safe enough. Allen, the first on the scene, claimed the right to first tracks. He approached the lip, positioned himself, took a deep breath, rolled forward into the drop and caught a ski on a rock, causing him to tumble into the slope. Not a great start, but no harm, no foul. After clicking back into his ski he made a few nice turns on the snow field, then paused to let his slough pass by before entering the chute. A few tentative turns, and he reached the crux of the route, a three-foot wide, rock-filled choke in the middle of the chute. After a few seconds considering his options, Allen pointed his skis and tried to straight-line out of the chute. It almost worked. At the bottom he turned left to dump speed, hit an unseen bump (remember the flat light?), and tumbled. After collecting his skis, and wits, he made it to the safe zone at the bottom and radioed up that it was “fine”.
I’ve been nursing a minor meniscus tear all season, and have, for the most part, been avoiding jumping off things. Today though, I was feeling pretty good, and decided it was time to stop skiing scared.
With Allen’s camera set up, I got into position and pushed off. I got a little back seat in the air, and landed, unharmed with a plop. My confidence boosted by not completely eating it off the cliff, I was able to enjoy the great snow on the upper snowfield before dropping into the main chute. When I reached the choke, it was a little smaller than I’d imagined, but still manageable, I really didn’t want to end up in a heap at the end like Allen did though, so as I skied through it, I started to dump speed right away. As I did, one of my tips went under a patch of heavy, wind-blown snow, and sent me tumbling.
Thoroughly humbled by what should have been a manageable line, Allen and I decided that Gulmarg’s many, wide-open, powder-filled slopes had made us soft. So, red-faced, we skinned back out of the Shark's Fin area, back to the friendlier slopes on the front side of Gulmarg, and vowed to not be so cavalier about potentially dangerous skiing in the future.
We also decided we also had to do much more difficult skiing like today’s, lest we lose whatever edge we may have had.
Read and see more of Sam's work at www.famousinternetskiers.com
Eric Wilbur is a lifelong recreational skier who spends most of his winter and spring in the mountains of New England. He does not ski in jeans. You can read more of Eric's work here.
Heather Burke is an award winning ski journalist with over a decade of ski news coverage. As a former ski instructor and a ski parent, she knows the ski biz from the inside out. She and her family visit New England ski resorts, as well as the West and Canada, to report on the latest trends and their best family finds. Her husband Greg takes all the accompanying photos, and their work can be seen at www.familyskitrips.com and www.luxuryskitrips.com.