India’s Ski Resorts Glide Tourism Through Slippery Slope

India's ski resorts glide through tourism slippery slope

Foreign holiday plans remain frozen in Covid time. Home is where the ski slopes are for those wanting to perfect their slalom this winter.

The Khyber-Himalayan Resort & Spa in J&K’s Gulmarg is fully booked till January-end on the strength of domestic demand. The guests are mostly skiing enthusiasts who would usually head out to Courchevel in France, Zermatt in Switzerland, or Kitzbuhel in Austria for some snow action around Christmas-New Year, said Umar Shahid Tramboo, chairman and MD of the resort.

Mr. Tramboo expects the entire season to be “sold out” at the 85-room luxury property. This is surprising given the fact that 90-95% of The Khyber’s winter traffic normally comprises foreigners. Over the past few years, a growing number of affluent Indians have been flying out to winter resorts abroad to spend Christmas and New Year skiing or just trekking through snow. Other than Dubai and the Maldives, foreign holiday destinations are shut for tourists in this season. Skiing in the Himalayas seems to have caught up on among the uninitiated, too.

Besides Gulmarg, domestic ski resorts in Auli, Munsiyari, and Solang Nala are running to capacity. Such is the rush that some properties expect full occupancy till mid-February. Rajeev Kale, president & country head, leisure travel and MICE at Thomas Cook (India) isn’t surprised by the surge in domestic demand as people try to break through the shackles of the pandemic.

“Winter and snow experiences like skiing, sleighing, snowboarding, trekking, ice skating, and tobogganing were gaining popularity for a few years. What is more heartening to see is Kashmir tourism re-emerge strongly for the upcoming year-end winter break,” he said. Early snowfall has converted Gulmarg into a winter wonderland. Thomas Cook’s 72-hour holiday flash sale saw a surge in bookings for Kashmir packages and a 20% jump in average daily sales. The majority of bookings and inquiries came from adventure seekers looking for a ski experience within the country.

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Daniel D’souza, president & country head of leisure at SOTC Travel, believes skiing in India as adventure tourism is poised for a big leap. “Manali, Shimla, Nainital, Mussoorie, Gulmarg, and the Himalayan range are top choices for ski holidays among Indians,” he said. Mr. Anirudh Sharma runs the popular online trekking community Trekkers of India. The last few years were spent educating people about winter treks in India and highlighting how Auli and Chopta are no less than any Swiss destination. “It looked like a complete whitewash till a couple of months ago. The snow-covered destinations are now attracting tourists from around the country,” he said. Almost 500 people have joined him in each of his snow treks this year.

Ms. Seerat Seero Khanka quit her job in Delhi to start a trekking service called Avintahimalayas, in her native village of Sankri in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand. She said pandemic-induced global tourism meltdown is ironically the best thing to have happened to snow adventure activities in India. “From Kedarkantha and Brahmatal to Nag Tibba and Chopta-Chandrashila, winter treks through snowy landscapes have become the holiday activity of choice for many.”.

Auli and Munsiyari have always been popular winter destinations. Uttarakhand tourism minister Satpal Maharaj sees skiing and snowboarding holidays as creating an entirely new sector. “Even during this pandemic, we are witnessing a huge influx of tourists. This is why we have opened all adventure activities by ensuring safety and other guidelines are adhered to,” he said.

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