SKI BUSINESS: PROSPECT OF WINTER SPORTS IN NEPAL
Everyone knows that Nepal is a mountainous country. But have we ever thought about the potential we have regarding winter sports? Ski, one of the competitive winter sports, is also the most famous activity amongst the mountain-loving holiday-makers True, there are a couple of organisations dedicated to ski in Nepal who are trying their best to promote it in Nepal, but negligence from the government and lack of infrastructure has impaired the efforts made by them.
Ski for mountain guides
Nepal National Mountain Guide Association (NNMGA) is a leading organisation in producing ski professionals in Nepal. “Officially affiliated to International Federation of Mountain Guide Association (IFMGA), NNMGA is one of two organisations that produce internationally certified mountain guides in Asia, another being the one in Japan,” informs Ang Norbu Sherpa, President of NNMGA. “We have been giving ski training to mountain guides since 2015,” he adds.
So is ski training available in Nepal only for mountain guides? “Yes, since skiing is a mandatory skill that international mountain guides require, we are currently providing them with adequate training. However, considering tough topographical reality, it has been waived for international mountain guides from Nepal (along with South Asian and South American), but sooner or later it might be mandatory for all. So, taking this into consideration we have been providing ski training to our guides.” shares Ang Norbu.
Ang Norbu is the senior-most trainer out of two ski trainers in Nepal, the other being Tshiring Jangbu Sherpa. Both of them do not have formal training but learned it on their own. Ang Norbu learned how to ski on his own when he spent more than a decade in France whereas Tshiring learned it while organising training programs..
“Nepal has no ski pitch and we have to depend on natural slopes. Even in the case of natural slopes, we don’t have the most essential equipment like T-Bars or chairlift or cable cars. This makes it quite difficult as the skiers have to climb about one hour to ski down for about two minutes,” says Tshiring.
As per them, the number of people who are interested in skiing is increasing by the day. “Last year we had about 50 applicants, but with the equipment that we have, we can only train eight people each season,” shares Tshiring. “We have only 19 skis and nine pairs of ski boots. That too were gifts from our friends abroad,” he laments.
Nepal lacks equipment and infrastructure even for basic training and thus NNMGA can provide only Level 1 ski training. “Once a trainee completes Level 1 of training here, we send them to our partner organisations in Switzerland and France for Level 2,” says Ang Norbu.
Potential sites for skiing
NNMGA started offering ski training for mountain guides since 2015, however for their first two seasons, the training were conducted in Manali of India. “We only started giving training on natural slopes in Nepal since 2017. We do that either in Shailung or Kalinchowk,” says Ang Norbu. There are however other potential sites for skiing, which according to Ang Norbu, are Muktinath Area of Mustang and Manang. “A feasibility study has been done in Muktinath area and we are planning to set up T-bars there. Some of our Swiss friends have committed to help us with T-bars but we have a problem with importing pieces of equipment that weigh about 2400 tonnes. For this we are in need of cooperation from the government,” he further informs.
Nepali skiers in the Olympics
Jayaram Khadka and Dachhiri Sherpa are the only Winter Olympic athletes from Nepal — cross-country skier Khadka represented Nepal in 2002 Winter Olympic Games whereas Dachhiri represented in 2006, 2010 and 2014.
No one participated in the Winter Olympic Games in 2018 and so could be the case in 2022 as well for there is hardly any development in this area in Nepal. When asked why we haven’t been able to produce skiers or any winter games athletes, Ang Norbu replies, “We don’t have proper infrastructure for the sport and we also lack human resources in this sector.”
As stated above, NNMGA is not producing ski personnel for sports, they are just enhancing the skills of mountain guides. But if people other than the guides are interested in the sport, they can get basic training too. “We have been working in partnership with Nepal Mountain Academy through which we train non-guide individuals as well,” says Ang Norbu.
Ski and Snowboarding Foundation Nepal (SSFN) and Nepal Ski Association have also been organising different ski events in Nepal. “We have been conducting ski training campaigns for ski promotion since 2016,” says Suraj Kafle, Treasurer and a skier at SSFN. They have also been conducting ski training at Kalinchowk. “Some of the skiers that we trained are also capable of imparting training now, but we are basically dependent on foreigners who come to Nepal to train people voluntarily,” Kafle adds.
When asked whether SSFN is promoting ski as sports, Kafle informs, “The skiers that we have trained have been participating in different championships, however, we are more focussed on ski tourism for now.”