Exploring the Himalayas on skis - 2022
I was always fascinated when my climbing mentors spoke about ski mountaineering in the Himalayas. Unlike the developed nations, only a handful are privileged to ski in India, leave alone mixing mountaineering with skiing, aka ski mountaineering.
My journey to learning skiing started in the north western Himalayas in Gulmarg, the most popular ski destination in India. Fast forward a decade, and it was totally apt to return to the Himalayas and do some exploration on skis.
The objective was not a ski expedition but mostly exploration! What's there today and what's possible tomorrow. Make new ski/snowboard buddies, get my bearings and chalk future plans. With that in mind, Himachal Pradesh stood out, although I had considered Kashmir and Ladakh as other options. This was primarily, due to easier access and more areas available to explore.
This has been an unusually warm spring and hence I was given heads-up that snowline was receding very fast. After a lot of deliberation and back and forth, a plan was chalked out. First 2-3 days of getting acclimated, doing some day ski touring and getting the body adjusted to higher elevation and upcoming rigors. The plan was to wrap up the trip with a ski descent of Mt. Yunam (20,100 ft), near Baralacha Pass in Spiti Valley.
At the beginning, things went pretty well as planned. Snow was indeed receding very fast and was late spring conditions. Early in the morning it was firm, but as the day progressed it became increasingly isothermal and high tendency to sluff or wet slides. Massive sastrugis (sun cups) the size of dunes were a pain to ski or navigate. A lot of times it was survival skiing and borderline type 2 fun. However, just being out in the wilderness and clocking 3-4k verts at ~14,000ft everyday was very satisfying.
Unfortunately, once again a freak weather system arrived from nowhere and disrupted our plans to ski Mt. Yunam. Light to medium snowfall along with rain was predicted and driving to higher elevation especially above 12,000ft was not advisable. The Border Road Organization (BRO) issued a 'yellow alert' and closed the last checkpoint to Baralacha Pass. This meant our dreams of skiing down Mt. Yunam was to be fulfilled at a later date.
The incoming weather system coupled with deteriorating snow conditions forced me to call off the ski trip and just spend rest of the time exploring the village of Solang. It was pretty rewarding just lazing around, soaking in the magnificent views, and watching the storm clouds go by and planning the next trip with my guide, Yogi. Was disheartening to learn about their challenges in running a ski/snowboard business. But at the same time I was fascinated as to how much they improvised and adapted to make the most of their plight.
I cannot call it a successful trip, but overall it was a great experience. It was the journey that really mattered most and the companionship I cherished with my guide and others. Until next time, and it won't be a very long wait, that's a promise to myself!
PS - Some of the images of myself in the frame, the photo credit goes to Yogi Thakur.