I attended a skiing course in Auli, Uttaranchal some time in late February 2005. I posted a brief note and images of it but procrastinated on writing a trip report. As the ski season has returned this year, I received many requests asking for details on skiing in Auli, and hence I finally got around to writing this. Also see: Auli Photo Album
Getting to Auli was like half the adventure. We took a flight from Bangalore to Delhi. Delhi airport is always troubled by delays in the winter, and our flight was predictably delayed. We had to hurry to catch our train to Dehradun, which was another 8 hours journey. We could catch the bus to Joshimath, the town head to Auli only on the next day. So we stayed for a day in Dehradun and visited Rishikesh. The journey to Joshimath, which we started early next morning was long and boring and took us 12 hours. The road runs parallel to Ganga and Alaknanda and is beautiful, but the slow moving, crowded and noisy bus makes you feel enough of everything and make you just anticipate the end of the journey. Finally we reached Joshimath at 6pm in the evening, when the cable car to Auli had stopped running. So we had to stay at Joshimath and ended up reporting for the course a day later. Luckily we did not miss any lessons.
On the way to Auli
Landslides were common on the way, some of them very fresh and was still being cleared
THE FIRST DAY
Going up to Auli from Joshimath in the cable car was an experience in itself. As we moved up the slope, we started seeing snow all around the earth surface. There were piles of snow on the trees indicating fresh snowfall. It was beautiful to watch the cable car leave the muddy earth and enter an ocean of white snow from which pine trees seemed to emerge. Auli is a very scenic place, with snow covering every inch of earth, and a pine forest just above the ski lodge. It is surrounded by the majestic Himalayan Mountains all around it, and you can see Mount Nanda Devi, one of the tallest peaks in India from here. Below it is a steep Gorge, which I think is called Vishnu Gorge where river Alakananda flows.
Cable car to Auli from Joshimath
Morning of the first day was spent doing the registration, getting the equipment and such formalities. We had some free time when we walked around the slope and experiencing the thick blanket of snow(Also see: in search of snow). I had never seen so much snow, nor had got to touch snow in my life, so I was pretty excited. I walked around, jumped around and had the feel of real snow which made me feel happy like a kid. The bright snow would hurt without the goggles, and cold would bite into the skin and yet it was nice and beautiful.
Snow and the Slopes
Our first lesson started in the afternoon. It took some time to figure out how to wear all the ski gear properly. The instructors asked us to make slow front and back movements with the skis on, and the walk around slowly on plane surface. We fell more than we walked, and struggled to get back on our feet with the skis on. And as we tried to get up and walk, we would keep falling again. The first day was more spent falling than anything else.
Skiing down the slopes of Auli
It was in the evening that we started realizing how cold it gets. It probably gets someway below zero, but we don’t know the actual temperatire. It was painful to walk outside in the evening and we kept crowding the heaters as much as we can. And after dinner, getting into the cold bed was a big challenge too. I hardly had a good night’s sleep in the entire seven-day course.
Also see more about Auli in paintedstork.com
Visit to Auli in 2005
* Images from Auli(plenty of snow)
Visit to Auli in 2006
* Images from Auli(little snow)
* A back-breaking journey: from Rishikesh to Auli
* First Day at Auli
* The days of Skiing
* Spending time in Auli
* Trekking and walking around
* About Auli
THE SECOND DAY
The second day is when we just managed to stand up properly and get a taste of short slopes. We got to climb up a few meters and slide down and get a feel of what skiing is all about. Moving up was a demanding job and took all our energy. And as usual, we kept falling or going off the track when skiing down. We slowly stabilized during the course of the day, and learned to go down the slope, control the speed, turn a bit and apply breaks. I was one of the worst of the lot in the beginning of the day, but fortunately managed to make much progress as the sun moved up. This is the day when we slowly start shedding fear of the skis and start feeling an attachment. I wanted to practice after lunch too but was too tired for it. Our usual skiing day started at nine in the morning and ended around 1pm. We had the afternoon for ourselves and could practice if we wished to, but we spent most of the time indoors, after the tiring morning sessions.
Around the Ski Lodge
Fortunately, with demanding conditions and weather, the skiing course does not require you to follow any strict routines, except for the time of assembling. You can skip a day if you are too tired and decide to walk off half way too. But you would rather use every bit of the precious time than stay back.
THE THIRD DAY
We really managed to get comfortable on the third day. We climbed higher up and skied down faster, started making turns and managed to halt as and when we wished. We fell less and managed to stay upright most of the time. Yet, we had not gone to the higher slopes or did not get to use the ski lift. We practiced in a small area. But this is the day when most of us managed to feel confident about being able to ski. As for myself, I had fared pretty bad the previous day, but had a really good day at the slopes today.
It also started snowing today after we spent a few hours in the slopes. This was my first experience of snowfall and it left me very happy. I shouted with joy and played with the falling powder. Seeing snowfall was one of my long-standing dreams.
THE REMAINING FOUR DAYS
The chair cars take us to the higher slopes
Fourth day is when we went to higher slopes to ski longer distances. You need to take a chair car to reach the upper slopes, which is fun by itself. Learning to us
the ski lift was as much a challenge as learning to use the skis on the first day. I fell twice when getting on the lift. Some of us in the group never managed to learn to use the lift properly. It is easy to fall even when you are releasing the lift. For some, it was like repetition of the first day.
Waiting for the Ski Lift. Taking the lift can be tricky in the beginning
But the higher slopes are a real treat to ski. As we no longer had to worry about climbing up, we skied long distances, improved our speed, turns, and had real great fun. But all this came with renewed increase in the frequency of falls. And as we increased speed, the fall would get bad, but we carried on anyway since we were getting used to it now. It was turning out to be real fun. But injuries are common during skiing. Though it is usually not serious, you may not be able to continue skiing until it heals.
This continued for the next few days and I was really getting addicted. One of the days, I carried the camera and decided to spend some time taking photographs. That’s the day when I shot a good number of pictures, but I wish I had spent that day skiing too.
By the last day, we were fairly conversant to manage moderate slopes. But there was still a lot of learning to do and we were not up to skiing on our own without an instructor. We had not mastered the art of parallel turns, side slipping and climbing up. That’s when I decided to return the next year again. We wound up early on the last day since we decided to head back on the same day to Joshimath and then to Rishikesh, which was an 8 hour journey by jeep. We reached Rishikesh at around 10pm on the last day.
A distant peak glowing in the evening light
There aren’t any places where you can go around the ski lodge. Since it is filled with snow, walking around is out of question. We were left with the problem of having to find a way to spend our evenings. Fortunately, we had good company within each other. We spent time reading books or chatting in the restaurant sometime, but a lot of time was spent playing poker over hot lemon tea or hot chocolate in the restaurant. It was fun. And on some days we gathered together for a session of music by the fire. We did have a good time every evening though we were confined to our quarters. And I hear most people who come for the ski course will spend their time playing cards. We had a real good time, whether in the slopes or at the lodge back in the afternoon and the trip ws memorable.
Every year, Gharwal Mandal Vikas Nigam(GMVN) conducts skiing courses in Auli. They organize a seven-day casual course and a fourteen-day certificated course. At the end of the fourteen-day course, you will have a test in which you will be given a grade and a certificate. If you are taking one of these courses in Auli, you are probably enjoying the least expensive skiing facility in the world. See more details on GMVN website. Of course you can use the ski slopes even if you are not taking a course, but it is a little more expensive.
It is difficult to reach Auli, which takes almost 24 hours journey from Delhi by road. There are no airports or railhead close to Auli. The journey from Delhi is best done by breaking it into two days, staying at Rishikesh for a night. You can take a bus or train to Dehradun/Rishikesh/Hardwar from Delhi which takes 6 to 10 hours depending on how you are travelling. From Rishikesh, you need to take a minibus to Joshimath, which is the last town head before reaching Auli. The journey to Joshimath goes through narrow and dangerous roads and can be done only by day. If you start as early as 6am, you can reach Joshimath anywhere between 4pm to 6pm. There is a cable car that connects Joshimath and Auli, but keep in mind that the cars will be working only between 9am and 5pm. So if you reach Joshimath late in the evening, you may have to stay there for a day and continue to Auli on the next day.
When you pay for the skiing courses, it includes all your expenses including accommodation, food and ski equipment rentals. The accommodation is in dorms which take 20 persons each, but you can also book a room for yourself by paying for it.
Here are a few things you might want to pack when you are headed to Auli:
1. Thermal wear: A big fat jacket that can take sub-zero temperatures. Another light winter jacket which can be used in other places, and when skiing. Thermal Inners. A good woolen cap. A good sweater. One pair of woolen gloves and another pair of waterproof gloves to wear above that(Waterproof gloves, you can buy at Auli), One or two pairs of woolen socks. A shawl and a scarf will be useful
2. Synthetic track pants for skiing. Basically you need some kind of pants that don’t take water. You can ski even with jeans but synthetic track pants are preferred.
3. Plenty of socks. Minimum of 6 pairs is definitely needed, as they get wet quickly. Carry as many as you can.
4. Goggles. A good, dark pair is absolutely necessary. Make sure it is dark enough – something you can use for night driving may be too light to protect from snow.
5. Sunscreen. Carry enough of it and always apply liberally. It is easy to get burnt. Also needed it something to protect your lips.
6. See if you can make a first aid kit. It will help if you can get one. Things that would be useful are – one or two crepe bandages, pain killer spray and tablets for common problems.
There are plenty of places of interest around Auli, but none of them accessible during winter when you would go there to ski. Access to Kedarnath and Badrinath, which are part of the famous char dham yatra is via Joshimath. There are some Himalayan treks in Nanda Devi National Park, and access to valley of flowers is also via Joshimath. But all these can be done only in summer, and hence you are mostly confined to skiing. Most of the treks or yatras are organized by GMVN so you can get more details when you are making your bookings for Auli. One of the other adventure activities that most people who come to Auli do is to go rafting in the Ganges near Rishikesh. You can book this with GMVN too.