Until just last month, I thought skiing in Nepal was only accessible to high-end tourists at very expensive rates, flying off in helicopters to far away locations. A few years ago I interviewed someone who’d done just that, and the future of skiing in Nepal seemed to me like something remote and unlikely to ever go mainstream. It turns out I was wrong: skiing in this country may be in its infancy, but it’s very much alive and growing.
Established in 2016, Ski Guides Nepal Treks & Expeditions has spent the last three years pioneering this exciting new field. So, I went to their tiny office in Thamel to find out just how they got their start, and what they’re doing now.
Utsav Pathak, who is the president of Ski & Snowboarding Foundation Nepal, and Suraj Kafle are childhood friends from Dolkha. With the help of a visiting German who helped them get started, they’ve taken off, proving that there is great potential for skiing and snowboarding here. I looked around at the office full of skiing equipment and photos of people of all ages skiing just seven or eight hours from Kathmandu, and could barely believe my eyes.
It’s taken some work, though. Back in 2016, they had to undertake expeditions to find feasible skiing locations. Kalinchowk, Dolakha, where they also held a skiing festival, is where, in the winter months, you can go for a one-night two-day package to get you started: this year, they’ve already taken over 1000 people skiing, incredible for such a new operation. You don’t have to have any prior experience, they’ll teach people at all levels. In the Annapurna Base Camp area, the skiing season is much longer, but so is the distance and length of the trip, usually about ten days in total, and so it’s more of a second-level trip for people who already have experience or have learned the basics in Kalinchowk. “We focus very much on safety, if there’s too much snow, we don’t do it,” Suraj Kafle explained. “We coordinate with locals, the weather forecast, and update the team in the mountains at all times.” Their clients are not just, or even mostly, foreign tourists, but they also target the local growing group of Nepalis who want to travel, with affordable and practical packages.
Ski Guides Nepal, the business side of the venture, donates 30% of its profits to the foundation, which then focuses on teaching people to ski. That’s actually one of the things that impressed me the most: how dedicated they are to provide ski training to locals in the areas where they bring the ski groups, and also their commitment to training those who work in tourism: they’ve given community ski education for climbing guides, tourism students, members of the Nepal Army, and basically anyone who wants to learn.
Of course, they also do cater to more experienced skiers, and organized the first Mera Peak Ski Expedition, an expedition to Dhaulagiri, and more. These, of course, are full-fledged expeditions with experienced skiers, and are organized on request. So, not for me just yet!
There’s a freshness and innovation to the way they work; even building a baby chairlift from a used Honda car engine! Back in 2016, when they began with foreign instructors, they set themselves a goal: they wanted to have Nepali instructors and ski teachers. It’s only been a few years, and that’s already a reality.
As I left Thamel, I tried to figure out just how I could juggle my schedule to accommodate an overnight trip that week. Unfortunately, I couldn’t, and it was the last of the year’s snow, but I’ve been telling everyone I meet that skiing in Nepal is now a practical reality, and I’m planning my own trip next winter. Soon, I’ll be able to say I’ve gone skiing in the Himalayas.
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