By Vishal Gulati
The global financial meltdown and uncertainty has severely hit the heliskiing industry in this picturesque tourist resort in Himachal Pradesh, known for powder skiing. This winter, a majority of skiers from Europe and Russia cancelled their bookings.
The gloomy economic outlook in Europe and the falling rouble have discouraged people from travelling overseas, Himalayan Heli Adventures Pvt Ltd director Manjeev Bhalla said.
The company has been conducting heliskiing in the western Himalayas, overlooking this town, since 1990.
It takes the skiers by helicopters to mountaintops like Hamta, Brighu, Deo Tibba and Rohtang, which are otherwise almost impossible to reach, and offer a variety of exposures – both with or against the sun – amidst beautiful deodar and cedar forests.
The pistes (marked ski runs) are a 10-to-15 minute flight from Manali.
The season, which begins in February and lasts till March, saw bookings down between 50 and 60 percent compared to the last season, which was already lean.
Bhalla said the skiing business has shrunk to six weeks from eight to nine weeks.
“We got just around 50 skiers against 112 last year,” he said.
He said the major threat to the Indian skiing business was from Russia.
“The falling rouble escalates the package costs here and has discouraged people from travelling overseas,” he said.
Secondly, he said, the impact of the financial crisis in Greece over the whole of Europe has created a crisis and uncertainty. People don’t want to spend and prefer staying home to save money.
According to Bhalla, high-end skiers from the US prefer to opt Canada owing to top-class infrastructure and facilities. “Moreover, there is no government backup in case of the downturn and lengthy clearance procedures,” he said.
The company, with an experience of 25 years in heliskiing, did good business between 1996 and 2006, before the onset of the global economic turmoil.
Currently, the company charges 7,575 euro (Rs. 534,513) per head for a seven-day package, which is too expensive for an Indian skier.
Gulmarg in Jammu and Kashmir and Auli in Uttarakhand are the other options for heliskiing aficionados.
This winter, Manali’s slopes have bountiful snow compared to Gulmarg and Auli, say skiing organisers.
More snow is expected in the next few days. “A blanket of snow will remain here till March-end,” said a local skier.
“Manali slopes are one of the best slopes with steep pistes and deep too. Here, snow tends to be of low moisture content and marvellous,” Japanese skier Naoko Takahashi said.
Members of the hospitality industry say Manali and nearby destinations, which otherwise get a large chunk of foreigners, are likely to see a decline in business the forthcoming season.
The foreigners, a tour operator said, mainly the Russians, were also missing from Goa this winter.
The tour operator said if there was noticeable decline in the footfall of the overseas tourists in Goa its effect might be seen in Manali too.
Backpackers, especially from the US, Britain, Italy, France and Germany, descend on Manali from August to September every year. Most of them prefer to drive down the Manali-Leh highway. Mountaineering also remains an ever-popular activity.