Winter Without Snow Is Devastating Indian Kashmir’s Ski Tourism


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Every morning, Ishfaaq Ahmad Malik, a ski instructor in Indian-controlled Kashmir, opens his bedroom window and, like many others in the region, wonders: Where is the snow?

“This has never happened before in January. Not in my lifetime,” said Mr. Malik, 65. “Definitely not in Gulmarg.”

Each winter, Gulmarg, one of Asia’s largest and highest ski resort towns, attracts thousands of skiers, many from as far away as Europe and the Americas, drawn by perfect powder, cheap hotels and breathtaking views of the Himalayas.

At 8,500 feet, this scrappy ski town’s miles of slopes are usually blanketed by snow from December to March and packed with snowboarders and skiers.

But this year, there is no snow.

Across Kashmir and other parts of the Himalayas in northern India, a prolonged dry spell is spreading fear among farmers, and threatening tourism and skiing industries that generate millions of dollars each year.

Like much of South Asia, Kashmir is experiencing extreme weather patterns, including record summer heat waves that lead to rapid melting of glaciers that are a major water source for the region’s eight million people.

Today, even at the 13,800-foot summit of Gulmarg, there are vast tracts of land that should be frosty white but are instead brown and green. Parking lots are empty, and hotels are reporting cancellations.

Javed Rehman, a tourism official in Kashmir, said that no snow essentially means no tourism this time of year. It is a stark contrast to 2023, when the resort extended the ski season by 15 days, to April 15, because of an influx of people, he said.

“During winters, Gulmarg, for most tourists, is the most important destination in their itinerary, with other places as supplementary additions,” he said.

There was a brief snowfall in the higher reaches of the area late last month, but it was not nearly enough. Kashmir reported a 79 percent precipitation deficit through December.

Indian meteorologists said the unusual weather was linked to global warming and to El Niño, the sporadic climate phenomenon that can create warm, dry conditions in the Indian subcontinent and other parts of Asia.

Thousands of people depend on a snowy Gulmarg for their livelihoods. Last year, over a million tourists rode a cable car from the bowl-shaped valley to Gulmarg’s peak.

Those visitors are typically served by sled pullers, tea sellers who stand in clumps and pour out steaming cups for skiers, and other roadside vendors. But now, private ski rental shops are closed, and ski instructors are out of work.

“For the whole year, our only expectation is a good two months of work,” said Imtiaz Khan, a ski instructor from the nearby town of Tangmarg in northern Kashmir.

Traditionally, winter in Kashmir is divided into three parts. The harshest 40-day period, from December to late January — locally called “chilla-i-kalan” — brings cold that freezes pipes and bodies of water. Cricket lovers play the game on the surface of frozen Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir’s biggest city.

The region has recorded warmer-than-usual temperatures for about a month, sometimes 10 degrees Fahrenheit above the norm. Daytime temperatures usually hover around 41 degrees Fahrenheit during the harsh winter period, with freezing temperatures at night.

Mohammad Asadullah Hajam, a hotel manager in Gulmarg, said every hotelier was facing a similar challenge, with more tourists canceling their bookings with every passing day.

“About 50 percent of cancellations are being done by foreign tourists,” he said. “That is where most of our revenue comes from.”

Winter Without Snow Is Devastating Indian Kashmir’s Ski Tourism

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