Scant snow at Gulmarg’s famous ski slopes herald an ominous sign of changing weather

Patches of melting snow are seen where once four to six feet of snow accumulated, ski training sessions have not commenced in the main bowl so far this year

January 06, 2024 11:59 pm | Updated 11:59 pm IST - SRINAGAR

Tourists enjoy ice skating in the snow-covered path after the area receives snowfall, at Gulmarg in Srinagar.

Tourists enjoy ice skating in the snow-covered path after the area receives snowfall, at Gulmarg in Srinagar. | Photo Credit: ANI

Gulmarg, known as Kashmir’s winter wonderland as snow falls heavily, is unable to open its famous ski slopes this year, disappointing enthusiasts from India and abroad. A tourism favourite at an altitude of 8,694 feet, Gulmarg’s bare hillsides are now a barometer of changing global weather patterns and their impact on Kashmir.

The meadow, usually teeming with skiers enjoying training sessions in January, is empty and silent. Chairlift and snow-beaters are not functioning. Patches of melting snow are seen where once four to six feet of accumulated snow delighted visitors.

Tauseef Rathore, training in-charge at the Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering (IISM), Gulmarg, is upset. “There are no ski training sessions in the main bowl this year so far. We are using slopes of Bota Pathri (about seven kilometres from the main bowl) for training as snow has not completely melted there in the shade of the tree line,” Mr. Rathore told The Hindu.

“We only manage ski training and fun skiing at Apharwat. The long run from Apharwat to the main bowl has not happened this year,” he added. A minimum of two feet of snow is required for safe skiing, and the chairlift only functions when over two-and-a-half feet of snow accumulates.

Skiers, especially Europeans, are known to enjoy Gulmarg’s long runs on safe slopes, with rare powder snow of about six feet. Gulmarg is the only destination in Kashmir to offer powder snow and skiers train here for international events. “There is a dwindling footfall of skiers from many countries this year,” Aziz Ahmad, a local ski shop owner, said.

Data from the India Meteorological Department shows precipitation of 17.6 mm was recorded in Gulmarg in December 2023 compared with 255.2 mm in 2020, a significant drop.

Jammu and Kashmir’s winter capital Srinagar is yet to see snowfall this year. South Kashmir’s Qazigund, home to several mountain ranges that feed rivers running down to central and north Kashmir, recorded precipitation of 21.2 mm in December against 217.8 in 2019, also a major dip.

There has been relatively less snowfall in the upper reaches of the Shamasbari mountain, Pir Panjal mountains, and the Greater Himalayan ranges as well, which receive about 10 metres, 7.5 metres and 5.5 metres of snowfall, respectively, between November-April.

“Although there is no one-to-one relationship between deficit precipitation and El Nino, the changes in global atmospheric circulation and the persistence of the El Nino has resulted in less snow. But it is seen that, on many occasions during the El Nino years, there is deficit precipitation,” Mukhtar Ahmad, Director, IMD, Srinagar, told The Hindu.

Global atmospheric circulation is the large-scale movement of air that distributes thermal energy across the surface of Earth. “This heat energy balance gets disturbed throughout the globe whenever phenomena like El Nino and La Nina occur. Some parts of the globe get very high precipitation while other parts face prolonged dry spells and vice versa,” Dr. Ahmad added.

Srinagar has been witnessing a downward trend in snowfall and wet weather patterns over the past few years. There were three wet spells in December 2021, four spells in 2020, three spells in 2019, one spell in 2018, and eight spells of snow in 2017, according to official data. December 2023 witnessed only one wet spell with no snowfall, when compared with four spells of snow in 2020, three in 2019, one in 2018, and eight spells of snow in 2017.

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