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Last Updated: Friday, 15 February 2008, 16:12 GMT
Ed Leigh's snowboard journey

Gulmarg in Kashmir

As part of the new revamped Ski Sunday show presenter Ed Leigh is taking on a series of fascinating snowboard adventures around the world.

In his fourth escapade he takes a look at snowboarding in Kashmir.

This follows his voyages to Siberia, Japan and Australia

Watch the film of Ed's trip during the show on Sunday 17 February from 1900-2000 on BBC Two and the BBC Sport website (UK users only).

By Ed Leigh
Ski Sunday presenter

When we applied to the BBC's high-risk team to go to Kashmir they weren't that encouraging. In fact a week before we were due to go they told us there was no way we were going.

But having watched the snow reports and forecasts over the previous two months I knew there was no way we weren't going!

This may sound like slightly irresponsible attitude to take when approaching what the bureau had described as "an unstable political climate that creates not only militia fighting for Kashmiri independence but insurgents for the global war on terror".

But having spoken to a lot of friends that have visited the area in the last two years it was clear that this was an overblown western view of an area desperate to prove its tourism credentials.

This, and the fact that they'd had more than five metres of snow in the last two months with another metre-and-a-half forecast for our arrival.

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The Himalaya or Him-ah-li-a as I was told is the correct pronunciation is the last frontier of alpine exploration.

Its sheer size alone prohibits mainstream exploitation, but for the intrepid there are corners that are now starting to cash in on the more backcountry-orientated skiers and snowboarders whose desire for powder outweighs their need for either security guarantees or creature comforts.

Gulmarg, probably the most developed of all the resorts, sits at 2600m with the top lift tipping 4000m.

What this means in practical terms is that despite having a relatively short season (mid January to the end of March) because of it's latitude, the quality of the snow when it falls is epic.

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Last year had, according to the resort, been very poor for snow, but like seemingly everywhere this season they were enjoying epic conditions.

The drive up to the resort proved this as we passed between banks of snow that teetered above the car and were cut only by the odd track that had come spewing out of the trees on what were undoubtedly very good road runs.

With only two days to make the most of Gulmarg we set off early and when made it to the mid-station we got our first glimpse of the terrain on offer. It didn't disappoint.

Ed Leigh
Five metres of snow had fallen in Gulmarg in the two months before Ed's arrival

A huge ridge line with two valleys in-bounds and access to unlimited backcountry.

Today there were four hours of slope control for the in-bounds area planned so once we'd watched the army hand over the explosives to our guide, Dave Watson, we decided we'd get the most out of the day by sampling the trees from the mid-station down.

The first part of the descent was under the lower stage of the gondola, and while it provided one lovely but short section of trees the rest was very, very pedestrian.

In fact, the gradient was so shallow and the snow so deep that we were forced to stick to the track most of the way down.

Dave wasn't too concerned, though, and once we got to the bottom he commandeered one of the many cars knocking about and we set off to tackle the road runs.

Just over a kilometre out of the resort, which is set on a huge plateau, the terrain starts to roll away again and the run we took from there was nothing short of epic.

While Dave considered the snow to be heavy it was still almost knee deep and the pitch was a consistent thirty to forty degrees with widely spaced trees and some great features.

The next day dawned clear again and there was a buzz around the resort that the gondola would open.

By 11am most people in the resort had arrived at the mid-station and there was a palpable air of agitated expectation.

I have had my fair share of big powder days and have seen people frothing at the thought of fresh tracks but nothing on this scale.

I talked to quite a few people and started to realise the full truth about the resort's inconsistencies.

Some people had been here for two weeks and hadn't ridden the top section once, so to arrive and have only two days and score the top section would be a real coup.

Eventually, the lift opened and while I understood the desperation some people felt, the ensuing carnage to get on the lift ruined the Gulmarg experience for me.

People were screaming and shouting like six-year-olds and fighting to get into lifts.

A map of Gulmarg
Gulmarg is close to the border of Pakistan

To be fair, I imagine things would settle down after a few runs and would be very manageable after a day or two, but as a first bite of the cherry this tasted a little sour.

Once onto the mountain the faces were tracked quickly but the depth and consistency of the snow was epic, a couple of times I found myself accelerating out of turns at phenomenal speed.

It was over before it began though. By the time we had filmed the run and made it to the lift again it was closed.

I was sad but thought about all the people who must have come here and not experienced what I had just ridden.

There is no doubt in my mind that Gulmarg is an epic trip to make, but there are a few questions that you have to ask yourself before you book your tickets.

1. Do you have at least three weeks to spare for the trip?
2. Are you a calm and patient person?
3. Are you prepared to hike or tour for your turns?

If you can answer yes to all of the above questions then Gulmarg is for you.

If the answer is no, then you might be better off saving your money for a heli trip where you are guaranteed your turns.

On next week's show Ed will be looking at snowboarding in Morocco


Ski Sunday runs for eight weeks from 20 January to 9 March on BBC TWO and the BBC Sport website.




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