A few years back, the word “Adventure Sports” perplexed a lot of people in India, a country where the masses grow up playing and watching cricket, and consider this sport as their religion and it’s player as “gods”. The scene is said to be changing now, with many people trying their hands on adventure sports with some front-runners in this arena making name for themselves in national as well as international stage.
We sat down for an Instagram live session with one of the rising talents of India, Gautham D. Kamath who hails from Bangalore, to understand more about his decision to pursue snowboarding, what led to his decision, and what the future holds for the people of India who want to pursue snowboarding or any other adventure sports.
Excerpts from the live session:
When did you start snowboarding or get into it?
I got to know about snowboarding three years back, I was already a skateboarder and liked all kinds of board sports. Living in Goa, I saw a sticker in one of the rooms where I was staying for snowboarding. I had no clue earlier that snowboarding existed in India as it seemed like a pretty foreign concept to me. I googled and got to know that Gulmarg has the best snowboarding location, and it took me almost three years to go there as I had no idea about the equipment and no solid plans, and had to gather funds as well to go there
It’s an expensive sport, I live down south and it was up north, but it all paid off as it was one hell of an experience and I’m very happy that I took that chance and went snowboarding in Gulmarg.
So Gautham, in India not many people know about this particular sport, and there are limited places where you can get to snowboard. So can you tell us the places where you can do snowboarding in india?
There are two main places where you can go snowboarding or learn the trade: one is in Gulmarg and the other one is in Auli. Gulmarg has quite an active scene and facilities in Gulmarg are better than Auli. I know quite a few snowboarders from Auli. When it comes to Gulmarg you get world-class facilities, one of the highest ski gondolas which goes up to 14k ft. There are lots of favorable places nearby in Gulmarg where you can do snowboarding which makes Gulmarg better than Auli for snowboarding. Gulmarg also has one of the finest rescue operations like ski rescue and heli rescue. Most accidents happen during an avalanche, and when I went to Gulmarg, in the first ten days of my being there, there were five people died because of the avalanche.
Most of them were pro snowboarders and not beginners. So once you go to peak it’s up to your ability and knowledge where you want to come down from. Most of the places would not have been recced by the rescue operations as large parts of Gulmarg’s peaks lie in the backcountry
The pros would know more than anyone about the conditions but things change and take a turn, so it’s better to have somebody with you always and not to venture out alone in places like that. It is fun but dangerous as well if u don’t know what you are doing.
So according to you Gulmarg is the place to be?
Yes definitely, to start snowboarding there are lots of places there to try and then there are multiple stages of slopes like Phase 1 is for beginners, which is mellow and nice where everybody can start. It is down in main Gulmarg where the main market is located then there is a more steeper downhill.
Then there is chairlift which is 11,500fts, almost half the height of the peak, and then comes Phase 2 which is 14,00 fts.
Are these slopes categorized separately for beginners and advanced snowboarders?
Yes there is a difference between every slope and every section wherever you go. So for beginners it is low and not so high, pretty easy to learn. Once you get good at beginners’ slopes you get to Phase 1 and then Phase 2. Going to Phase 2 takes a lot of time as you need to have knowledge as well as skills. First year I could not do it as I was short of time, just had 9 days and second year I could do it, the experience was totally different and amazing because there is nothing better than snowboarding from a high altitude peak. We snowboarders call that snowy surface “Powder” so that is available only in the higher peaks and not in the bottom.
So these beginner slopes are available both in Auli and Gulmarg?
Yes, they are. I don’t have much idea about Auli and its particular slope section. There are many mountains where you can go snowboarding and they would have set a certain place where beginners can do it. So you can literally snowboard anywhere when it is filled with snow, so that should not be a problem.
Where can we learn snowboarding and skateboarding? We have come to know that you also run an institute?
Yes I do teach skateboarding in Bangalore as I am based there. I have been teaching skateboarding for almost eight years now. I also conduct workshops across the country, I travel a lot on my bike and visit different skateparks.
Being a skateboarder that’s what excites and drives me: going to a new spot and skating there with the local skaters, so I do that often. You don’t have to make a career out of it, you can be passionate about these things and have fun out of it. Snowboarding is not my career whereas skateboarding is. I planned for snowboarding each passing year, prepared for it, and it takes a lot of preparation as it is done in extreme conditions. I live in Bangalore so the weather is really nice and pampers everyone including me, but when out there in Gulmarg it is all extreme. First time I went there it was -11 degrees centigrade. That was my first time experiencing negative temperatures, and first time ever I saw snow.
If you are well prepared for it, there should be no problems at all.
Was it challenging for you to adapt from skateboarding to snowboarding?
It was pretty easy for me to transition from skateboarding to snowboarding and if you ask me it is way more fun than skateboarding because in skateboarding you fall on concrete and in snowboarding you fall on snow and whenever I fell I used to get up quick. Being a skateboarder, the fear of falling is automatically waived off .It will be much easier for skateboarders and surfers to transition into snowboarding, they already have that board balance, physics behind it is pretty much the same, the difference lies in maneuvering and moves.
Any institute where we can learn both skateboarding and snowboarding?
For snowboarding you have to go to Gulmarg or Auli, there is no other place where you can find good instructors. Snowboarding in Gulmarg is pretty much commercial and there are well maintained facilities. When I go to the peak, I need to have a person with me, because they are well aware of the terrain over there, they are very well trained and know the local place. I would suggest everyone to go to Gulmarg more than anything, the availability and quality of the equipment is also good like snowboards, helmets and snow boots, because equipment matters a lot.
Sometimes people are apprehensive about going to Kashmir and they question me a lot, but I must say that Kashmir is really beautiful and the people over there are really lovely, it is nothing like what the media portrays. Once I left Srinagar, and had a chat with my taxi driver, I felt really comfortable. Everytime i leave Kashmir, I almost cry because I am back in the concrete jungle. Snowboarding is a bit harder than skiing but also way more fun.
How to start snowboarding in Gulmarg: through an institute or some other private agencies?
There are many places you can learn from, also you should know the person whom you are gonna learn from. Luckily I found a good coach, who took care of me very well because I was new to the place and all alone. My coach was a very good snowboarder, because to teach someone well, they should be a top notch pro themselves. His name is Aneesh, he is like a brother.
He works with pro snowboarders from abroad and takes them around Gulmarg to snowboard. His role lies in telling you where to go and not to go. There are a lot of institutes, you can research about them on Google and even when you are in Gulmarg you can get to know through locals, finding a coach is not a big deal. Rentals start from INR 1 to 1.5k and classes begin from INR 2-3k per day. If you are in a group, pre-book prior to your travel.
What fascinates you about snowboarding?
Snow. It is something like gliding on butter. In skateboarding I needed to push or make efforts to generate speed for tricks or moves, but in snowboarding from a steep hill you can get to speeds of more than 60km/hrs in a blink. It is all about control, the feeling is so amazing. You should experience it, instead of me telling you and it surely would change your life, trust me.
What challenges have u faced while snowboarding?
There are times when you get stuck, or not know where you are, so that is the time when you are most probable to get stuck in an avalanche. You can create an avalanche, I was stuck this year once, but luckily my instincts kicked in and I was able to escape it. You keep falling a lot in snowboarding than skiing when you’re a beginner. You need to control and nothing is straight, the learning curve is high and you get injured a lot. That’s why you need gears and protections and I carry painkillers in order to recover fast. Hotels will also provide you all the facilities.
Other than snowboarding, which adventure activities that you prefer the most?
Other than snowboarding, I enjoy surfing and I have been doing it for six years. I travel to both east and west coast for surfing. I also want to try slacklining which many of my friends do. I also want to try skydiving, I’m scared of heights but I still wanna do it. I don’t know how to swim but I can surf. I have done a lot of off-roading and biking since I was 16. I travel on my bike whenever I need to go to Mumbai.
In India, many people can’t live their passions or dreams due to studies or work. So what if someone wants to take up snowboarding as a career?
It’s not just about snowboarding if you like something just go for it. You don’t need to quit your job or studies. Start it part time and begin devoting some time to it as a hobby and then once you’re into it and know the community and how things work, then you can make a decision on it. For a guy like me, I just jump into it but not everybody can do it, they have their commitments. I would suggest starting slowly, researching it, trying it and experiencing it. When you say snowboarding as a career, you don’t just need to be a snowboarder, you can be a snowboarding photographer or a filmmaker or you can invest into snowboarding business. If you are ready to face everything, just jump into it. Society questions everything and to this day my dad cannot believe I make a career off skateboarding. They don’t understand me, but they support me in whatever I do, no questions asked. Even though I am earning what I used to make in my job before quitting it, my dad once asked me why I didn’t go back to my old job. I had a good reputation there but I said it’s not gonna happen. Society will never understand you, and sometimes your family. It doesn’t matter if you are a boy or a girl, you will have to face the same consequences when we talk of extreme adventure sports. So you can take it slow, plan it out and then phase into pursuing your passion.
Are there any competitions which are in India related to snowboarding and skateboarding?
For snowboarding, there is “Khelo India” and there are national level skiing and snowboarding competitions every year during January in Gulmarg and Auli. Slalom skiing also takes place in India. International events have more varieties, but in India everything is new. Multiple brands are coming up for skateboarding and it is growing rapidly.
Skateboarding competition which I organise is called “Jugaad” and it takes place in December each year in Bangalore. Kids and teens from across the countries come, and also international participants from countries like Nepal and Maldives. It’s one of the biggest events for skateboarding in India. We chill and skate and have fun throughout the event.
According to you, what is the scope of board adventure sports in india?
It is huge, India has the highest number of people who are young in the whole world, and the market is unlimited and it is gonna grow for 20 years with rapid pace, in terms of business and exposure.
Which is the best time to do snowboarding?
If you’re a good snowboarder, January is the time to go. I would also suggest going in November or beginning of December. When it snows, it is quite hard to snowboard and visibility is low and you hallucinate. Beginners should opt for November and February-March.
So tell us about the equipment one needs for snowboarding?
You can rent out the equipment for snowboarding. You can buy good jackets, thermals, shoes and gloves from websites that export to India for INR 40-50k. Gears would cost you somewhat around under 20k and I’d suggest beginners to buy from the Decathlon store. Go to the store and try it out, jackets with inner liner helps a lot and keeps snow out. Snow Glasses are really important, one cannot risk snow blindness.
Warmup before snowboarding, have a good meal before your snowboarding session. Stretch and activate your muscles for at least twenty minutes and if you fall, you won’t get hurt easily.
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