Two tourists have been killed, and 19 others had to be rescued after a massive avalanche hit the Afarwat peak at a ski resort in the upper reaches of Jammu and Kashmir’s Gulmarg area.
Several tourists are still missing, while the bodies of two Polish tourists have been recovered.
Three teams of 21 foreign nationals and two local guides were on the ski slopes when the avalanche struck around 12.30 pm, local police are reporting.
Local police reported that operations were underway to rescue the missing tourists.
Rescue ops at Gulmarg avalanche, Baramulla police teams along with others on job.Sofar 19 foreign nationals have been rescued successfully
Deadbodies of 2 foreign nationals recovered being shifted to hospital for medicolegal procedures.@JmuKmrPolice @KashmirPolice pic.twitter.com/GetUIrbPPG
— Baramulla Police (بارہمولہ پولیس) (@BaramullaPolice) February 1, 2023
The area is infamous for its huge avalanches, and in 2017 the Indian government appointed American avalanche forecaster Brian Newman as the Snow Safety Officer at Gulmarg resort.
According to sources, groups of skiers visit Gulmarg for skiing hire and are accompanied by tour guides. These tour guides, who are responsible for ensuring 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.
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. 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.”
– Director of Tourism, Mehmood Shah in 2018
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.