Manali: Winter sports are no longer confined to the breathtaking locales of Jammu and Kashmir. Solang Valley in Himachal Pradesh is fast turning into a popular destination for skiers and comes alive when much of northern India retreats into the warmth of well-heated homes.
Foreigners and locals throng the snow-capped slopes of the picturesque valley snuggled between the Beas Kund and Solang village for skiing, snowboarding and sliding. It is located 13 km northwest of the hill resort of Manali at an altitude of 8,000 ft.
The valley played host to a first-of-its-kind skiing event, the Alpine Premier League, this month. Over 350 participants showcased their skills in a bid to be anointed the king of mountains.
The Febuary 5-9 competition also saw state teams from Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir, besides Indian army skiers who dominated both the men’s and women’s fields. Twenty-four competitors from overseas came to slide down the slopes of Solang.
The daunting Himalayas and the fresh powdery snow provide the perfect setting for an adventure sport enthusiast to freak out.
Still regarded as an elitist sport because of the expensive equipment, the locals are getting adequate help from the Directorate of Mountaineering and Allied Sports in Manali and private companies like Ski Himalayas to provide skiing equipment free for training.
Shiva Kesavan, who created history by winning India’s first gold in an international winter sports event at the Asia Cup in Nagano, Japan, in December, sees Solang as a huge step forward for the sport.
Kesavan, born in Vashist near Manali, is a four-time winter sport Olympian. Highly respected and admired among the winter sport community, Kesavan feels Himachal has a lot to offer to adventure sports.
“Conditions here are perfect for winter sports; Himachal is fast becoming the hub for adventure sport in the country. However, the work is still in progress. There needs to be dedicated space for different events. The slopes are still a little bumpy but the standards will improve gradually,” he said.
Youngsters in Solang seem to be taking to skiing like duck to water. Enthusiastic boys keenly wait for their turn to enter the Gondola, a sort of cable car, to take them to the highest point of the slope so that they can blaze a trail down.
Kesavan feels these are encouraging signs and the government should take notice and provide support.
“Youngsters here are taking to the sport in a big way – this is great news. The Indian government needs to start a comprehensive training programme so that these guys can make it to the international stage,” he said.
Peter Tobler, a snowboard instructor in Switzerland, first came to Manali 16 years ago. Since then the Durham-born Englishman has been a regular here and feels it is one of the best places in the world to snowboard.
“Snow conditions here are fantastic; the slope is a great challenge. Solang is a paradise for winter sport. The valley has great potential and is as good a place as any in the world,” Peter said.