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Dreaming to make Kashmir a great ski destination: Billa Majeed Bakshi
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Dreaming to make Kashmir a great ski destination: Billa Majeed Bakshi

Post by on Sunday, October 24, 2021

First slide

Billa Majeed Bakshi started guiding in 1996 when there was no Gondola or ski lift in Gulmarg, Kashmir. He is the first qualified ski guide in India and was the first guide to introduce freeriding in Gulmarg. He is also the founder and lead guide of Kashmir Heli ski.

He started a charity program with New Zeal and K2 ski distributor Martin Jones in 2006 in Gulmarg, trained hundreds of locals and provided them free ski gear, who are now working as guides and ski instructors with many ski tour operators in Gulmarg.

As of now the whole community of Gulmarg is involved in the ski industry. It is Billa’s dream to make Kashmir a great ski destination.

From the last eight years, Billa has rescued nearly thirty backcountry skiers and snowboarders in Gulmarg who were caught in avalanches or got lost.

He has ferried skiers and snowboarders nearly 15,000 feet up into the Himalayas via helicopter in Kashmir since 2011.

The helicopter used for backcountry skiing is also pressed into service for rescue operations while Billa and his colleagues are part of the rescue operations which needs highly skilled skiers.

In conversation with Rising Kashmir’s Misabah Bhat, Billa Majeed Bakshi talks about his work and the potential of Heli skiing in Kashmir.


How and when did you start heli-skiing?

I was born and brought up in Gulmarg and I have been skiing since I was four years old. It was my passion for skiing that kept me going.

In 2010 I went to New Zealand to study snow science at Otago polytechnic college after completing my first Avalanche course at Temple Basin. I was very keen to become a Heli ski guide and I joined Alpine Heli ski in Queenstown New Zealand. After completing my Heli ski guiding course I came to Kashmir and in 2011 I started Heli ski in Gulmarg.

Are you collaborating with foreigners in Heli ski?

I do not have any foreign business partner, but I am employing many foreign pilots and ski guides who are very experienced, some of them have climbed Mount Everest ten times like Dean Stables, Woody, Adrian, etc.

How long have you been a Heli ski guide

From 2010 I started doing Heli ski guiding. I did my first season in New Zealand.

Apart from Gulmarg, where else do you organise Heli skiing?

I only do Heli skiing in Gulmarg, the rest of the nine months I live in Canada where I am running a hotel with my family. 

How many groups do you organise during a season in Gulmarg? 

We bring almost 200 to 300 foreign skiers every season.

How good is infrastructure for such extreme backcountry skiing?

We have one of the best mountains for skiing. The High Altitude keeps the snow powdery due to cold temperature and the mountains are pretty steep which makes them great for skiing.

Do you have a ski school?

I only run Kashmir Heli ski, but my younger brother Rayees runs a Kashmir ski school.

What are the current rates for enjoying Heli ski at Gulmarg and how affordable is it compared to other places both within and outside India?

 Heli skiing has always been pretty expensive. We charge Rs 95,000 per day for 9 runs, so each run is Rs 10,000. It is cheaper than Europe.

Apart from Gulmarg, where else do you think Heli skiing can be done in Kashmir valley?

Kashmir has huge potential for Heli skiing, you can do Heli skiing in Sonamarg, Pahalgam, Shopian and I think almost in every corner of the valley.

Why don’t locals indulge in Heli skiing?

For Heli skiing, you need to be an advanced skier and have good skiing ability. From the last 4-5 years some local skiers are doing Heli ski which will hopefully increase in the future. 

What level of training is required to become a Heli ski guide?

First of all, you need to be a strong and advanced skier and at least you should be 12th pass with good marks in Physics and Mathematics.

You need to do a 3-year course, avalanche level 1,2,3 plus some backcountry guiding experience.

What is the most challenging situation you have encountered as a Heli ski guide?

In February 2019, we were doing Heli skiing near the Poonch area called Sunshine Mountain. The snow was great, and it was blue in the sky. Suddenly we heard a big boom, and we thought it was normal and the army Jets were doing practice. Our Helicopter went back to Gulmarg for refueling.

Waiting for a long time, I contacted my foreign pilot; he was confused, and he said the Air traffic control is not letting me fly. It was nothing more than a disaster when we heard about the Balakot strike. It took us 8 hours on skis to reach back to Gulmarg through avalanche areas. It was one of the worst situations that we have faced.

How many people have you rescued till now who were caught in avalanches or got lost? 

Every year we rescue a lot of foreign skiers who lost their way or were caught in avalanches, we have rescued nearly thirty people in the last ten years and most of them survived.

Most people would describe being a Heli skiing guide as a dream job, do you consider it to be?

To be a Heli skiing guide is a dream job of many, you always ski and make money while skiing. It is a fun job, each day you discover different mountains, and you meet different people around the globe. You also learn a lot from their ski experience. 

I will advise all the young Kashmiri Skiers that you can also become a Heli ski guide. It has a huge potential around the world, not only in Kashmir. All you need to do is focus and keep going. 

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