Not many people may know that skiing in Gulmarg was started almost at the same time when it had become a popular sport in Europe. In fact, the Ski Club of India was established by Major Metcarp and Major Headow, two British Army Officers, in 1927 at Gulmarg. Mr.B.N.Pestonji was its first Secretary. Ski races had been introduced as a sport in Gulmarg area almost at the same time as these were introduced in the Alps. Those days all ski competitions were held at Khilanmarg and the pony track was kept open throughout the winter. There were two major events, the Christmas and Easter Competitions. The famous British Sports Equipment Firm, the “Lilywhites” had introduced some trophies for various ski competitions. In fact one of the ski slopes above Khilanmarg is still called the “Lilywhite Slope”. The attendance in the open competition held at Christmas in 1938 was over 500. Gulmarg had two 100 room hotels and hundreds of chalets.
There was a Cinema and a Golf Club House with two eighteen hole courses. One could get everything aristocratic and fashionable in the “Bazaar” of Gulmarg directly imported from all parts of Europe. Families of some of the British Army Officers would come to Gulmarg simply to buy these goodies. Marion Doughty in her travelogue, “Afoot through Kashmir Valley” makes a special mention of the “Gulmarg Tea Dance” and the preparations she had to undergo at the British Residency in Srinagar for participating in the event. Gulmarg was discovered by Yusuf Shah Chak, the last Kashmiri ruler who used to camp here for days with his poetess Queen Habba Khatoon. The Mughal Emperor Jehangir and his Queen Noor Jehan too were very fond of Gulmarg.
The departure of British in 1947 threw the resort into total oblivion. Skiing completely vanished from Gulmarg. The establishment of the High Altitude Warfare School of Indian Army revived the activities of winter sports again. However, it was only after 1965 that the Government of India, Ministry of Tourism, made out a plan for converting Gulmarg into a Ski Resort of International Standards. A National Ski School was set up and “Gulmarg Winter Sports Project” was launched. Even UNDP had got interested and had donated ski lifts, equipment and assigned an Austrian Expert, Otto Santner, to render advice in the setting up of the resort. Dr.Jens Krause, an Austrian ski teacher was appointed the first Principal of the Ski School who trained the first batch of National Instructors in Gulmarg. The first batch of National Ski Instructors graduated from the School in early seventies. Some of these were absorbed in the Central winter Sports Project and School while the trainees from the State became part of the Adventure Tourism Wing of the State Department which was set up in 1973. Thus restarted the Skiing in Gulmarg and a large number of foreigners were attracted in addition to domestic ski lovers.
The main foreign clientele was of the British expatriates working in South East Asia. Both at Christmas and Easter, Gulmarg used to be full of British families enjoying ski holidays. Sometimes, the locals, especially in hotels and on the slopes would appear to be the “foreigners”! The State Tourism Department also invited the top French Ski Professors from their National Ski School at Chamonix for imparting training to local instructors. The level of skiing rose and the first National Ski Championship was held here in March, 1986. Same year some top skiers from Gulmarg participated in the Asian Ski Championship at Sapporo, Japan and won some top positions in Slalom. One of the instructors also participated in Winter Olympics in Canada.
Apart from foreign skiers, Gulmarg became an ideal outdoor location for Bollywood producers. Almost entire winter used to see team after team of Bollywood film producers coming to Gulmarg for shooting on snow. However, all these activities got a severe set back by the upheaval of 1990. In spite of turbulent conditions, skiing continued at Gulmarg. The famous French Skier Sylvain Saudan also known as the “Impossible Skier” for his most difficult descents, continued heli-skiing at Gulmarg. If skiing could continue in such turbulent times there should be no problem in continuing it during the current situation. However, it needs marketing in most well-known ski areas of Europe and Australia. These people had been coming to Gulmarg regularly. In fact, some Russian skiers too have been visiting Gulmarg in recent times. Last year the Chinese Ski Team had shown desire for training in Gulmarg. It could be an ideal place for many national teams to train their skiers for various championships. The State Tourism Department needs to market Gulmarg and also provide facilities on these lines. The Government should back all these efforts to keep Kashmir in circulation in the International Tourism Market.