India’s winter sports season kicks off this month (mid-December to early March), with fresh snow blanketing the Himalayas. You don’t have to travel out of the country to experience snow or take part in snow sports. Tourism authorities in north India are making winter sports more accessible, and it’s easier than ever to plan a vacation that involves playing in snow.
Skiing is the most popular among India’s winter sports. There’s a choice between Alpine skiing which is skiing down a slope, or cross-country skiing over several kilometres.
Snowboarding, on the other hand, is relatively new to the country. A cross between surfing and skiing, it’s a bit more adventurous than skiing, and requires a greater degree of skill and practice to master.
Both require a reasonable level of training, but instructors are easily available at ski spots in Himachal Pradesh (Kullu, Manali, Narkanda), Uttarakhand (Auli, Mundali, Dayra Bugyal) and Jammu & Kashmir (Gulmarg). The powder snow in Gulmarg is by far the best, but the gentle slopes of Auli and Narkanda are better suited for beginners. Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) organises winter skiing camps at Hotel Hatu in Narkanda, which has gorgeous views of snowy valleys and orchards (01782-242430; ₹14,630 for a week-long skiing course; includes accommodation, meals, equipment and lessons for two people). The Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) has a similar programme at Auli, as well as a two-week long certificate course at the Clifftop Club Resort (0135-2748479; gmvnl.com; ₹17,000 for a week-long course; ₹34,400 for two-week course; includes accommodation, equipment and lessons). There are ski lifts at Gulmarg, Auli and Solang near Manali.
For advanced skiers who seek higher, untouched slopes, private operators like Himalayan Heli Adventures (www.himachal.com/; 01902-251593) and Kashmir Heliski (www.kashmirheliski.in/; 09596251399) also organise heli-skiing in Manali and Gulmarg.
For beginner and intermediate skiers or travellers who simply want a few one-off lessons, equipment including skis, poles, snowboards, ski goggles and snow boots can easily be rented at ski shops for a few hundred rupees apiece.
Catch a glimpse of India’s burgeoning snow sport community in Manali and Gulmarg in this video.
Travellers can trace the ice at the skating rink near Shimla’s circular road, which is one of the oldest natural rinks in the country. There is also an ice skating rink run by the J&K Ministry of Tourism in Gulmarg. Ice skates can be rented from the venues. There’s no formal training available at the rinks, but first-timers can take a few tips from more experienced skaters around them; it’s an activity that is not very difficult to pick up if you have ever roller skated.
Proficient skaters can try playing ice hockey at rinks in Leh and Dehradun. The Ice Hockey Association of India organises learn-to-play programmes from December to February every year (www.icehockeyindia.com/; 09811155756; call for programme dates).
Those who’d rather not be standing up can slide down the slopes on a sledge (or sled or sleigh). It’s a fitting way to bring in festive cheer and have some fun, especially since there’s not much training required. Sledging is more casual than skiing or snowboarding, and sledges can be rented from ski equipment shops in Manali, Auli and Gulmarg.
Appeared in the December 2012 issue as “Snowy Escapades”. This story has been updated in November 2017.