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Go to heaven and ski like hell!
If you think about it, Heaven, aka Kashmir, is only an hour's plane ride away from Delhi. We could get there faster than it would take to get from Gurgaon to Connaught Place during the morning rush hour. But that wasn't motivation enough for my three friends and me to take on the journey. We wanted to learn how to ski.
My knowledge of skiing started and ended with movies, pictures and theory. I counted out the practical hazards and realised I'd need more than 10 fingers to fit the list;and only a lot of guts and luck could accomplish what my friends and I had in mind - in just four days we wanted to ski down a real hill, as opposed to the practice slope.
Is that even possible?
The instructors we hired once we reached Gulmarg nodded with great enthusiasm. We didn't know then if they were only agreeing to our request to make sure that they got hired at a premium price. But let's just say we were gullible, and wanted to believe that we could do it too.
Where do we start?
Quite simply, start with falling!In our favour, the snow in our part of the world is powder soft. A seasoned German skier we met in Gulmarg also confirmed: "There's more air in the snow, making it softer here than any part of Europe I have gone skiing in. " That was a comfort because, you know, falling would be quite painful otherwise. Considering our feet were uncomfortably stuffed into a pair of stiff, angled-at-the-ankle, tightlybraced 'Iron-man-style' boots, falling right becomes imperative. Any uncontrollable descent could be stopped if you just roll over and fall. The only catch here, falling with a pair of parallel skis isn't as easy as it may seem. "Fall to your side, not front or back, " was the mantra my coach kept repeating for the better part of the first day.
So, what's next?
You learn to stop before you start!
That's right. Stopping is more important than starting when a pair of skis is strapped to your feet. There's a technique to it, though we probably practiced more of the falling before managing to keep our heels apart and dug in, knees together and skis angled into a 'V' but not quite overlapping in front. It seemed like we were skidding down the beginner slope in slow motion. The eventual stop would be a celebration. We did end Day One celebrating the stopping fairly confidently.
Are we set to start now?
Not before you learn how to turn!
On Day Two, we still hadn't really got going. We had to learn to turn, and with the instructions we got, we thought turning would be a breeze. The instructors made it sound really simple, "if you want to turn right, put all your weight on your left leg. If you want to turn left, shift all your weight to your right leg. " It was easier said than done, we soon found out. We proved to be a determined lot though, ignoring the bruises and the minor collisions with people we ought to have navigated around but didn't;we made it through the day. Shaken, but not stirred!
Beginner or advanced slope?
It came as no surprise on Day Three that we took on the advanced slope. The beginner slope only had an angle of about 30-40 degrees at the most, while parts of the advanced slope would decline at an angle of almost 75 degrees. If we could do this, we would be ready for the final hill descent. The first problem here was getting to the top. The running lift that we need to grab, and hold on to till we get to the top turned out a little tricky. I probably fell more here than on the entire trip up to this point. Once again determination got us through and each of us practised coming down in short and long curves, gaining the confidence of being able to turn and stop when intended.
Is my mind trying to kill me?
I can do this. I only have to avoid the trees, not fall over the edge, make some quick sharp turns, jump over the rocks... is my mind trying to kill me? The Calvin quote was topmost on our mind the night before Day Four. Doubts crept in and almost looked as if they would prevail. What if we end up at the bottom of a gorge? Will the slope be wide enough in case we aren't able to take a shorter turn? Will the knees take the pressure? The doubts only escalated as we went up the Gondola cable car to reach its first stop on the hill. The experts - mostly foreigners and their professional local guides - carried on higher up to Level 2. After a point we just had to stop thinking, pull together every ounce of faith, wear our skis and really make a start. It wasn't easy and thankfully we had experienced instructors to support us through the really steep and on-the-edge parts of the hill, but we made it. In those 20 focused minutes that we navigated the hill, we made it over dangerous dips, cut sharp turns, and side-stepped steep edges, and even lost count of the times we just lost balance and fell. At the end, all of us came through in one piece, relieved and very proud.
SKI EQUIPMENT HIRE
(SKIS, BOOTS & STICKS) Rs 250/day;from the government shop
LOCAL SKI INSTRUCTOR
Rs 150-500 /day;depending on your ability to bargain
Negotiable;in case you need someone to carry around your skis and mind the coats and shoes while you ski
Local vendors will sell you fruit juice tetra packs at MRP and a few snacks at the foot of the practice slopes
Surprisingly there are lots of restaurants advertising Punjabi cuisine and Jain vegetarian food, and a handful offering Kashmiri food
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