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Path of Roses – Free Skiing in the “Flower Meadow”
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Path of Roses – Free Skiing in the “Flower Meadow”

High up in the Himalayas, near the Line of Control between India and Pakistan, lies a paradise for off-piste skiers. The base camp is a small village called Gulmarg. According to the locals, Gulmarg means ‘flower meadow‘. At 2,700 metres up however, there are no flowers to be seen in this high mountain valley in February. Instead, the iced peaks of the Pir Panjal offer free ski mountaineering at 4,000m above sea level. Eva Walkner, from the international SALEWA alpineXtrem team, couldn’t resist.

The Baramula district is located in the Himalayas, and if you look around, you will quickly see why climbers come to Kashmir. At 8,125 m, Nanga Parbat – the ‘naked mountain‘, towers over the peaks surrounding it, even making the 6,000 m peaks of the Pir Panjal range seem small by comparison. This chain completes the south-west side of the Kashmir valley and is home to the small skiing village of Gulmarg, known only to insiders. At 2700 m up, this hidden gem only has limited accommodation, and at first glance, its gondola lift, dating from the 1970s, seems to be only for the adventurous. However, it is the highest ski lift on earth, and allows free skiers from all over the world to climb to 4,000 m, thus opening the door to a paradise for lovers of powder snow. Up here, you can find untouched slopes, perfect gullies and whole square kilometres of unspoilt Kashmiri powder, even on days where there has been no fresh snow.

In February 2011 Eva Walkner, from the international alpineXtrem team, travelled to Gulmarg with her colleague and fellow member of SALEWA People, Katharina Schuler. The photographer Yves Garneau and film-maker Marcel Karp completed the team. These two wanted to capture the expedition in the fantastic peaks of the Himalayas in active and moving pictures.

Along with their mini film unit, Eva and Katharina also took one big idea with them to Kashmir: Female free ski mountaineers meet the Himalayas! They made the ascent under their own steam, aided in part by sophisticated techniques and high-alpine expertise, and their descent led them through an unspoilt natural paradise, where the only things that mattered were the sheer perfection of the landscape and the beauty of the line trailing behind them. Due to the altitude and the unsettled weather conditions, Eva opted for some assistance in making the climb. The gondola may resemble a giant Easter egg, but it is still (at least when this section went into operation in 2005) the highest cable car in the world. It transports free skiers from 2700m to 3980m.

At the summit station, Eva and her guide Justin continue to climb a further 2 hours to the peak of Mt Apharwad (4,230 m) and then on to the drop-in - a gully at a 45° angle.. Although Eva missed the snow leopard, who ran by the photographer Yves Garneau on the descent, she was able to make a steep line through a perfect gulley at more than 4 km up in the Himalayas. And she only stopped smiling many hours later when she was back in Gulmarg, and tiredness finally took hold.