Standing on the top of a 2,000 foot long ridge, I held my breath in anxious anticipation. I was watching as Mats Anderman, the first rider in our group of four, dropped in and waiting for him to radio back that he was safe and give us feedback on the line.
This was not a super steep line and yet all the feelings I had riding in Alaska, all the adrenaline and anxiety, came rushing back to me. The difference here was that standing on top of the 13,780-foot high Mt. Apharwat, surrounded by the Himalayas, with massive avalanches everywhere, we all knew the consequences of something going wrong here. Those consequences were much different than heliboarding in Alaska. Here, there were no guarantees of help from either helicopters or guides and, even if we saved ourselves, we were at least four to six hours from any hospital. It was late January and we were in Gulmarg, in the Jammu and Kashmir state of Northern India, right on the Line of Control between India and Pakistan. This was just the tip of the adventure.
While previous snowboarding vacations revolved solely around good weather and good snow, snowboarding in Gulmarg could mean being torn between the overwhelming need to stay as close to a toilet as possible, and the equally strong desire to ride five feet of fresh powder from an overnight storm in spite of the obviously messy possible consequences.
Riding deep snow in the trees could also mean hiking a two-mile single track around town with 100 other determined skiers and snowboarders to ride through a flat, old-growth forrest, past a pack of wild growling dogs, in snow so deep we had to crawl on our snowboards at times to get to another mountain town. Or it could mean flying through the trees down steep, deep untracked powder with only the threat of running into a snow leopard or a pack of wolves.
Snowboarding in Gulmarg proved to be much more than just navigating massive mountains, incredible snowfall and the constant avalanche risks associated with riding the terrain both on and off-piste. This trip was also about navigating our way through the culture, the food, the traffic and wildlife, as well as the constant military presence in the area where we were within nine miles of the Line of Control, the disputed area between India and Pakistan.
Interspersed through it all was some of the best riding of my life.
Photo editor Dominique Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.