Heliskiing guides going to the top

Gulmarg Heliski operations manager Tim O'Leary directs a heliskiing trip on Mt Larkin, near...
Gulmarg Heliski operations manager Tim O'Leary directs a heliskiing trip on Mt Larkin, near Glenorchy, in late August. Photo by Naeem Alvi.
A Queenstown heliskiing company will soon be guiding skiers in the world's highest mountains, the Himalayas.

Alpine Heliski announced yesterday everything was ready for its first northern winter season in Kashmir, India.

The construction of the world's highest gondola in 2004 opened up ski access to a 4000m ridge on Mt Apharwat, above Gulmarg ski village, in the Himalayas and the heliskiing operation will complement the Gulmarg skifield.

Over the past three years, Queenstown resident and Alpine Heliski operations manager Tim O'Leary has been heavily involved in the planning and orientation of Gulmarg Heliski.

Mr O'Leary, who has 16 years' heliskiing experience, will be operations manager and lead guide for Gulmarg Heliski's opening winter season in Kashmir.

Runs as long as 615 vertical metres will be on offer for skiers who fly with Gulmarg Heliski which is a partnership between local Kashmir mountain guide Billa Bakshi and Gulmarg Heliski director Martin Jones.

Mr Jones was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Mr O'Leary said the company's first winter in the Himalayas was set to begin about January 10 and finish at the end of February, depending on the amount of bookings.

Total pre-bookings for the season could not be confirmed, but Mr O'Leary said there had been "massive" public interest in the new venture and he had been approached by some big names in the ski industry.

Adventure film producer Warren Miller is expected to spend at least a week filming a new ski film in Kashmir.

Mr O'Leary could not comment on the cost of setting up Gulmarg Heliski but said the intention was to try to cover total marketing costs within the first year.

Since 1947, Kashmir has been part of a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan.

Mr O'Leary said from his experiences in visiting Gulmarg, the existing tension is most prevalent in more highly populated areas.

"Most of the tension seems to be in Srinagar [the capital of Kashmir]. I've seen the troops walking around. Gulmarg itself seems quite safe," he said.

Mr O'Leary said links with some Gulmarg accommodation providers had been forged so the company could offer a package experience.

Queenstown's other Alpine Heliski guides, Mark Woodward, Peter Rasmussen and Mick Holzman, will be working with Mr O'Leary as heliguides in Gulmarg.

Mr O'Leary's team will also provide a "powder hunter" service for days when the snow is too heavy for safe helicopter flight.

"We've got our own guys on hand and all the Kashmiri guides we've been training up. Just the gondola itself provides [access to] some of the best terrain in the world," he said.

On the web: www.gulmargheliski.com

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