Living close to the world famous ski-resort Gulmarg, definitely has its perks. Not only it soothes your soul by providing a breath of fresh air but it provides plenty of opportunity to locals to observe nature, try skiing and sledging. These may seem to be fun activities but for Sabiya Nabi, skiing turned out to be an incredible journey. Hailing from Tangmarg, Sabiya at a young age was so mesmerised by her surroundings that she wanted to explore interiors of Gulmarg and what better way to explore- skiing. In 2009, she enrolled for a basic skiing course and subsequently she went further ahead and enrolled for advanced courses. To her credit, she has participated in six national level events and has won several medals. To know more about her journey, Misabah Bhat had a one-on-one chat with the skier.
Tell us briefly about your skiing journey?
I was in class 5th, when I started this beautiful journey in Gulmarg. I did my basic skiing course in the year 2009; then continued with intermediate and advanced courses in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Then I started participating in many regional events like House Cup, Hoteliers Cup wherein I won many medals.
In the year 2012, I participated in the first National event held at Gulmarg in which I won double gold medals in Slalom and Giant Slalom events. Subsequently, I participated in senior nationals in 2014 held in Auli, Uttarakhand where I got a Bronze medal.
Till now, I have participated in six Nationals. I have been a consistent Gold medallist from J&K in State and district championships. Also in 2018, I went to Iran for the 27th Asian Alpine Ski Championship held at Darbandsar Ski Resort. That was my first international event. I was also awarded with the Sher-e-Kashmir Award in 2020.
In March-2020, I participated in the first ever Khelo India Event, where I got double Gold medals.
What prompted you to choose skiing?
As I lived close to the ski resort Gulmarg, I started learning skiing from childhood. I was just 12 years old and I had no idea what this sport was. It was my dad who took me to Gulmarg because he was posted at Gulmarg in the JK Forest Department.
He enrolled me for the basic course in which I won a consolation prize and that really boosted me up and I never looked back.
What were the challenges you faced while learning skiing?
There were many challenges. The biggest of them is that this sport is male dominated, especially in Gulmarg. This was my biggest challenge. I was the only girl who continued in this sport. When I talked to my seniors, they said this sport is male dominated and that’s why they did not continue. But I did not let that deter me because of my passion for the sport and my determination.
How difficult is it for a female athlete to learn and train in a cold environment of Gulmarg?
When you are passionate about something, you don’t see things like cold weather. But it is indeed difficult. At a time when almost everyone in Kashmir is sitting in their warm homes, I am on a mountain in freezing temperatures and snowfall. But it is my passion that makes me go forward every time I am on the slopes of Apharwat Mountain.
How good are the facilities for skiers in Kashmir?
If we talk about facilities in Kashmir the simple answer is, we lag on many fronts. This sport is expensive, the equipment is costly. If someone arranges, still he or she has to pay Rs 1,200 per day for the chairlift facility.
What are the institutes that train skiers?
There are many private institutes right now but when I started there was only one institute that is JK Youth Services and Sport. Presently there is Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering (IISM), Jawahar Institute, Youth Services, etc.
Tell us about the experience of participating in an international event?
It was in the year 2018 when I went to my first ever international event. It was a very beautiful experience, the infrastructure there is amazing. When I went to Iran and skied on FIS approved slopes it was a dream come true experience.
Why are athletes from Kashmir not able to make a mark in international events?
India has three ski destinations, Auli in Uttarakhand, Manali in Himachal Pradesh and Gulmarg. Gulmarg has great slopes but they are not FIS approved, especially their gradients (slope), which means that no international event can happen until FIS approval is sought. Also the infrastructure like chairlifts is not of optimal number for the number of athletes.
Any tips for people who are interested in skiing?
There is no age to learn. Same goes for skiing, you can start at any age. I have seen people who started to learn skiing after their retirement. This sport feels scary, like if you fall then you will perhaps break your bones, but it’s nothing like that. Once you learn it, you feel an adrenaline rush. The sports council has also started to help athletes, now we have started to receive food and accommodation when going for nationals. So if someone wants to learn, they can come to Gulmarg and enrol in a ski institute.
What are your future plans?
We have a training deficit. We are not able to compete with international participants. I have competed only in one international event, now I want to focus on upcoming international events for that I need a coach and a specific training programme.