Friday, 21 February 2014

A Successful Visit

The group learns essential route-finding skills from
the lofty heights of Gulmarg Gondola
After our expedition to the top of the gondola, and a photo shoot at 4200m, weather in Gulmarg started to get somewhat interesting.

We were expecting some snow in that last week of instruction. We wouldn't even have been surprised if we'd had a whole meter of snowfall.  What we got though, was four solid days of heavy snow fall, fat flakes drifting from above until we began to believe they would never stop.  Gulmarg townsite accumulated 210cm of snow in four days.  The gondola remained unable to open as big avalanches thundered down the upper mountain.
Enjoying the beauty of heavy snowfall in Gulmarg

Luckily Gulmarg is well-equipped with close-to-town ski routes, so the boys became experts at navigating the steep, ungroomed slopes and dense trees on Monkey Hill, stopping off at our hut on each lap to warm up with chai and biscuits.

Studying snow layers with Colin
We spent one whole day on the golf course, getting ever-more inventive with a collection of snow-tubes: the six-man-three-tube-train formation was a particularly speedy favourite.

We also were lucky to have Colin Mitchell, Head of Snow Safety in Gulmarg, give us a private avalanche awareness class one afternoon.
The beauty and magic of heavy snow wove its spell over all of us, and the days of storm passed in a whirl of laughter.

All too soon, it was time for the Zanskar group to leave Gulmarg and begin their long trek home.  After difficult conditions on the Chadur (ice river) on the outward journey, Urgain was keen to book the boys seats on the military helicopter that sometimes assists locals with their journey to and from the regional capital, Leh.  With this assistance the entire party made it safely and without complications back home, where they are regaling others with tales of their adventure, and preparing to share their new knowledge with other students of the Zanskar Ski School.

It was a great honour to be involved in this project, and I'd like to extend thanks to everyone involved for helping to make it happen.  

Friday, 31 January 2014

Up, up, up to the top!

We've had an eventful few days here in Gulmarg! But the big news is that today, for the first time, the whole group took to the gondola and made it to the top of the mountain (and back down again, a 1600m descent!).

Urgain, on top of the world.

and then, there's the coming down...

A massive thanks to our sponsors CIOTEK.

And another to Thompson Language Centre- true to their motto in changing the way the world learns English.

In other news, an adult only backcountry expedition on Wednesday gave us some spectacular views over the Himalayas.....

.... but ended in an uncomfortable ride down the mountain for Alli, with a snapped ligament. The rescue was long and drawn out, and we were lucky enough to be found by a French guide and his group, who fashioned a sledge out of skiis, avalanche shovels and rope to get us down from the highest part of the mountain before ski patrol arrived. 

But watching the sun go down made it all worthwhile! (Alli disagrees with this). 

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Mr Respected Minister Sir, would you like a hat?

Zanskar Ski School has hit the national press! A proud moment for all involved as the Minister of Tourism for Jammu and Kashmir dons a Zanskar Ski School hat.

Sharing the slopes with trainees from the High Altitude Warfare school.

Shall we race back down the mountain? "Erm... yeah!"

Buying food for all involved in the project is no simple task. Heather contemplates the best route to take down to the nearest town- luckily, a jeep was available to transport the three of us (plus skis and poles), 120 eggs, 10 litres of milk, and enormous quantities of potatoes, tomatoes and onions back up to Gulmarg!

Sunday, 26 January 2014

It may only be day 6, but it feels like forever since the boys arrived, looking nervous and quiet. Less than a week later, and they are catching rides on jeeps, taking the chairlift up to ride ungroomed slopes,and generally charming the population of Gulmarg. 

Of course it isnt only about skiing. The boys' confidence in English is growing daily, and they are all showing an interest in avalanche safety. After a practice run with transceivers and probes today, I think we are ready for avalanche training tomorrow- who can find the transceiver and probe the chocolate bar first!

Friday, 24 January 2014

Day Four

After a long day skiing, the boys are settling down to learn about avalanches from Heather and Cara.
A large avalanche on the mountain today (outside of the controlled zone we ski in with the students) served a sad reminder to us all of the dangers we must be aware of. 

Of course the boys are very familiar with the risks of living in the mountains. Their journey here involved 
a 100km walk down the frozen Chadar river from their home, a trip fraught with danger. At several points where the ice had been washed away, the boys had to climb around the precipitous canyon walls, or be carried across the river one by one on Urgain's back. These boys are not only couragous, but have a practical approach to living at altitude- in their four days here we have not heard a single complaint (even when we rocked the boat a little by cooking mashed potato for lunch- not for Ladakhi taste buds!). 

No hut is complete without its ice cave!

The boys' skiing is improving rapidly, and they are already making short work of the run down from the first stage of the gondola.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The Snow Dance Delivers

What a day! A metre of snow, the group's first gondola ride, and new skis all round.
An enormous thank you to our friends and sponsors Kashmir Heliski, who are not only feeding all 11 members of the project every night, but also have generously given us some quality skis which allowed the boys to really make the most of the awesome ski conditions today. Check out the potential for epic heli-skiing in the mighty Himalayas with them here.
Thanks guys, you made some really happy faces today!

The boys were delighted with their first gondola ride! We are still working on getting them ski passes, but luckily have enough 
funding remaining for them to use the gondola for the coming week.

We have retreated to Global hotel, where the students have exhausted their remaining energy dancing to Justin Bieber and are now enjoying a fun English lesson with our volunteer teacher Alex. More adventures tomorrow!

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The Fun Begins!

It''s snowing! But why?

Because of the Snow Dance!
Jo runs the boys through their paces- preparing for fresh snow tomorrow!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The wheels are rolling, the snow is falling and the students are journeying down the Chadur (ice sheet) on the Zanskar River.  There is much still hanging in the balance, and the most exciting part of this incredible journey is still to come.

Over the past year Cara and I have experienced the stark beauty of the Himalaya, as well as the astounding warmth of hospitality offered by the people who make their home there.  We've planned, fund-raised, sent countless emails, worried, pondered, and committed to this ski project.  But no matter how much planning and communicating we do, we cannot make good conditions on the ice sheet, nor can we assure good weather for the flights over the greatest mountain range on Earth.  

Extensive planning hasn't even made us infallible with regards to the particularly interesting way with which some Indian travel companies operate.  We have recently been informed that a couple of the flights we booked have been 'changed' by the airline, and a phone-call is required to confirm details.  During three hour-long phone-calls I was drawn deep into the web of bureaucracy, bumping from pillar to post via wonderfully crackly Bollywood style hold music.  I eventually got to the bottom of the issue: we had been sold tickets, by a reputable website, for flights that don't actually exist.  At that point we had to remember that a smile can fix many problems, and have now started the uphill struggle of transferring the booking onto a flight which, hopefully, is at least scheduled to depart!

An international crew of enthusiasts is assembling in the Indian ski resort of Gulmarg.  Cara is flying in from the Turkish mountains, official photographer (and my sister) Emily will be joining us from her work here in Kerala, and instructor Joanna is flying in from New Zealand.  Alex, approaching from Canada, will be offering conversational and communicative English classes while the students are in Gulmarg, and co-fund raiser Ali is joining us from Sweden.  Ben, founder of the Zanskar Ski School, will be joining us in Gulmarg to document the trip, and Amin, co-founder of the Zanskar Ski School, is offering support from Srinagar.  The Jammu and Kashmir government have pledged assistance, Global Hotel and Kashmiri Heliski have kindly offered to feed the students every evening during their stay here in Gulmarg, and of course we've also received donations from people all over the world during our crowd-funding campaign.  This truly is an international undertaking, and it is wonderful to see so many people interested, involved, and helping in any way they can.  Thank you!

The newest additions to our team are our corporate sponsors., AGHCO, and the Thompson Language Center all signed up for our micro-sponsorship promotional campaign, and we look forward to sending them photographic material.

Tomorrow we'll be negotiating final details in Gulmarg, Kashmir, enjoying crisp, cool weather and peering hopefully up towards the mountains, hoping for a fresh fall of Himalayan powder.