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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 March 2007, 12:31 GMT
Kashmir pistes woo extreme skiers
By Shelley Thakral
BBC News, Gulmarg

Skier in Kashmir. File photo
Gulmarg is quickly turning into a paradise for extreme skiers
At a height of 14,000ft (4,267m), overlooking a maze of Himalayan snow capped mountains, you are on top of the world.

This is Phase 2 and it is not for the faint-hearted.

The only ones skiing or snow-boarding from the summit are foreigners - most of the Indian tourists prefer to take their pictures at the top and then the comfort of the Gondola down.

What attracts most people to the giddy heights of Gulmarg is not just its natural beauty but - if you are an extreme skier - probably the best and most dangerous conditions you will ever encounter in the world.

'Different experience'

Now the quest is for people to hunt out the least traversed patch of back country.

Gulmarg is famed for its stunning views

And if for some reason the Gondola cannot get you to the top one day, you simply do what 26-year-old Chad does and climb the mountain.

Chad is from Idaho in the US, and is on a four-month ski adventure to Leh, Manali and Kashmir.

Like his hobby, his profession is seasonal - he sells Christmas trees and pumpkins at Halloween.

The snow is deep and fresh and there is plenty of it, unlike what most resorts in Europe and the US are experiencing right now and where you have to hustle to get your patch of snow.

Here there are no lift queues and the under-developed pistes mean you can ski for 4-6km (2.5-4 miles) and not see a soul.

Jocken Ebert grew up on skis in the Black Forest, close to Munich, Germany.

He says it's a different experience in Gulmarg to European Alpine resorts.

"Your ascent in the Gondola is an opportunity of a 4km descent on an unprepared piste.''

There is solidarity on the mountain - the guides all know each other and the terrain.

But because Kashmir is a disputed territory, do not be surprised if you come across an armed Indian Army soldier keeping watch at his outpost.

Increased tourism

Gulmarg is enjoying its highest number of tourists to date.

Indian soldiers at the resort of Gulmarg
Army outposts are dotted around the area

Yasin Khan, tanned from the mountain sun, runs the only private ski hire shop.

"The extreme skiers like it [here] because it is undeveloped," the 53-year-old says.

Locals are keen to keep Gulmarg that way, even though there is massive potential for development.

Most are concerned that the larger hotels will be an eyesore, inflate the prices and drive away the tourists who just want to enjoy the natural beauty of the place.

Mr Khan is keen that the Indian tourists are not put off.

''It's still a small market of Indians who come. They are maybe not as adventurous as the foreigners," he says.

Louise, a Briton living in Bangalore, is another of those who likes it as it is.

''I like it because you can see Kashmir culture and most of all it's very quiet," she said.

Gulmarg is already preparing for next year's season.

The guides are being trained by a group of Germans in First Aid and the risk of avalanches.

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