If you’re an avid skier looking for an experience to rival that of British Colombia and Canada, a famed heli-skiing destination, Manali and Gulmarg in India’s pristine North have come up as great destinations for downhill skiing facilitated by helicopter access.
Both Manali in Himachal Pradesh and Gulmarg in Jammu and Kashmir offer some of the best natural heli-skiing conditions in the world which have resulted in several skiing operations cropping up along the Himalayan pistes.
“The highest Canadian valley floors finish at approximately 9,500 feet, while heights here (in Manali) begin at 8,900 to 10,500 feet and go all the way up to 16,500 feet,” said Manjeev Singh Bhalla, managing director of Himalayan Heli Adventures, which is one of the oldest heli-skiing operations based in Manali since 1990.
The option of being flown by helicopter to the ski downhill - the only qualifying difference between backcountry or free-riding skiing - allows skiing enthusiasts to access spectacular heights and pristine slopes that are not otherwise accessible.
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It is also why this version of the sport has become increasingly popular, attracting professional and amateur skiing enthusiasts. Helicopter rides provide easy access to the grandiose panoramas of the Pir Panjal and the Hampa Theli. Most of the outfits also offer a plethora of other activities that allow guests to explore local monasteries and nearby villages.
The Indian skiing terrain has become famous for its 'curry powder' - a phrase coined by skiers to describe the excellent granular or fluffy snow powder that allows for smooth ski trails. Set at a latitude of 34°N, the altitude in Manali and Gulmarg gives longer days and allows for skiing either with or against the sun. The moisture content in the air is low, making the topography excellent for corn snow-skiing in the spring. Skiers refer to granular snow that forms as a result of melting and refreezing cycles during day and night as corn snow.
Heli-skiing season opens in January and lasts till April in India.
Here are five of the best heli-skiing operations in India.