Come, ski down Himachal's grassy slopes
You don't have to wait for the snow to ski in Himachal Pradesh. The turfed slopes of the picturesque Solang Valley in the western Himalayas beckon you to put on your skis - these ones with wheels - and slide down into pleasure
"The grass slopes are ready. One can come and ski in the country's only natural slopes throughout the year," Randhir Singh Salhuria, director ofthe state-run Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports in Manali, told IANS.
Solang, popular among skiers for its great snow and steep pistes, is just 13 km uphill from Manali.
For the first time, the mountaineering institute, set up in 1961 to promote adventure sports, developed a 120-metre-long grassy slope by planting a thick variety of grass. It has started a seven-day basic course in grass skiing.
Grass skiing remains an ever-popular activity among the Europeans. Of late, it has picked up in China, Japan and Iran too.
Salhuria said the basic summer course would continue till the onset of winter. It has been designed for beginners and any participant above the age of 10 can enrol.
The mountaineering institute is also conducting special activities in mountaineering, backpacking, skiing, trekking, rafting, kayaking and paragliding for students, families and corporates.
"The grass skiing programme can also be designed as per the requirement of the participants," the director added.
Both the grass and snow skiing slopes are the same but skiing on grass is quite popular with children.
"In winter, the slopes are used for snow skiing. As the snow thaws in March, the grass surfaces naturally and can host grass skiing (from June to October)," institute deputy director Mahavir Thakur said, adding: "The skiers would forget the powdery snow and would love the lush green grass."
The ski-run, he said, is steep and deep. "The first monsoon showers in the next few days will make the slopes even more perfect for sliding."
The institute has procured equipment, including grass skis, worth Rs.25 lakh for the participants. The skis, each costing around Rs.30,000, have been procured from Europe.
Thakur said it's very similar to snow skiing. "The only difference is that it's on grass and you're on wheels rather than flat skis."
Roshan Lal Thakur, secretary general of the Winter Games Federation of India (WGFI), said the grass skiing would help the (snow) skiers to keep their bodies toned round the year.
"The institute should promote the event in a bigger way by organising contests and races, besides a course," he said.
For the grass skiing course, the institute charges Rs.3,150 from Indian skiers and Rs.12,600 from foreigners. This includes skiing equipment, training and board and lodging expenses.
Salhuria said that till date, the institute has trained 126,000 youths from India and abroad in various courses.
The idyllic, pastoral setting of the Himalayan range in Himachal Pradesh has been drawing an increasing number of backpackers. With a population of just over six million, the state attracted 15 million tourists in 2011.
Hill stations like Shimla, Manali, Dharamsala, Dalhousie and Kasauli are preferred destinations among both Indian and foreign tourists.