In an area infamous for its huge avalanches, the Indian government appointed American avalanche forecaster Brian Newman as the Snow Safety Officer at Gulmarg resort for the 2017-18 season. But despite this, the famous ski resort has witnessed two avalanche deaths during the last month. So what is going on?
Swedish skier, identified as Daniel Akesson, lost his life in January this year when he along with his four countrymen were hit by an avalanche. They were in an area prone to heavy avalanche, where blasting not been performed.
In a similar incident, a Russian skier died while he along with his four friends came under huge snow avalanche in the ski resort last Friday.
Both the mishaps occurred at a time when the disaster management authority had issued snow avalanche warnings, and areas were closed to the public. However, despite these warnings and closures in place, how skiers ventured into the vulnerable areas is a matter of concern for the department.
The minister for disaster management, Javed Mustafa Mir said, soon after the death of Swedish skier that, ‘the government will inquire into the lapses and circumstances under which the authorities allowed the skiers into the avalanche-prone area, despite advance warning’.
However, just a few days after that announcement, another death occurred in an almost identical fashion, and under the same circumstances.
According to sources, groups of skiers who visit Gulmarg for skiing hire and are accompanied by tour guides. These tour guides, who have a responsibility to ensure better logistic support and other facilities to the group members, are often not well versed in the area.
“In most of the mishaps it has been seen that tour guides who accompany different groups of skiers act as backcountry guide, despite having no experience of the trade. With the result these skiers often land in danger. The department doesn’t discourage this practice as they believe tour guides play important role in the revenue collection,” said a ski guide.
So, does revenue collection overrule vetting the qualifications and credentials of official tour guides for the area?
Another issue could be the vastness of the terrain and area. A member of the patrol team points to a lack of resources and manpower:
“There are only 16 members in the patrolling team, with that number it is not possible to make the entire area safe for skiing. We are able to carry blasting only in ten percent of the skiing area while rest remains unsafe.”
Director of Tourism, Mehmood Shah, while talking to Greater Kashmir said, “Though we have less number of skiing guides, we still ensure the safety of each skier. These mishaps often occur when skiers venture into the forbidden area despite being informed about the risk. Tour guides are well versed in the area. They even act as skier guide in Europe. We train them also.”
And it looks like they recognize and are addressing an issue with guides, as he added, “We have constituted a committee to register locals as skiing guides. The four-member committee will conduct a test of locals and those found fit for the job will be considered.”
Gulmarg ski-resort is one of the world’s most famous ski-resorts, situated in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in Indian occupied Kashmir. Tourists, especially skiers come from around the world for winter sports and skiing.