After hearing stories from friends about the great snowfalls and remarkable terrain in the Indian state of Kashmir, Bernhard Braun wrangled a crew and headed for the Himalayas last February. Braun went for the snow; the high alpine terrain and enchanted tree skiing seen in their film "Indian Reservation" speaks for itself. But once in the country, the German skier discovered a unique culture of hospitable people who, despite harsh living conditions amid political turmoil, were kind and generous to the European skiers. —SIERRA DAVIS
POWDER: What's most significant about skiing in the Himalayas?
Braun: The size of the Himalayas is the most important fact. Distances look way smaller than they are in reality. When you think about a two-hour hike to the peak, it often turns out that it takes double the time. The low air pressure is another important fact for skiing and touring. When you ski in Gulmarg, you can watch over the whole of Kashmir and the surrounding mountains including the world's 9th highest mountain Nanga Parbat (26,660 feet). You realize how small and petty humans really are.
Where did you find the best skiing?
The Kashmiris offered to shuttle us on the mountain streets around Gulmarg and made us ski super cool trees. If there is a good base, it is some of the best tree skiing in the world. If the avalanche danger is all right, it's the same for the high alpine terrain. We didn´t choose a good snow season—dry and warm, shit avy conditions—but if the powder is there, I would definitely go again.
Despite the conditions, what were the highlights of the trip?
Living on the houseboat at Del Lake Srinagar was a really awesome place to spend some nights to learn and live the culture. When one of the snow monkeys came into our room because we forgot to close the window—the struggle was real! We met a snow leopard in the forest at night, which scared the shit out of us.
What stood out to you most about the culture in Kashmir?
Kashmir is beset with war, natural disasters, corruption, and poverty but [the people] never lost their joy of living and the belief in a better future. They show respect, empathy, and allowance to each other and also the tourists. You don´t have to be in fear anytime you walk through the streets of Srinagar, [the capital city]. They want to show their easy way of life to the world and are open-minded for different opinions.
Sounds like you were pretty welcome in Kashmir. Make any friends?
We met a guy in Srinagar called Muhammad. He was interested in how we felt about the Kashmiri culture and also in our way of living and our culture. He offered to show us around in town and we ended up walking trough the city for over five hours. He refused to take some cash in the end. He just wanted to show the beauty of Kashmir's culture and to explain how the whole territorial fight, flash floods, and poverty affect the population. Kashmiris just won’t let the plagues get them down.
Did you meet any local skiers?
We met a lot of local skiers and local guides. It's awesome to see how excited the Kashmiris are about skiing. It's a very big privilege to be able to ski as a Kashmiri. But most of the people living in Srinagar will never ski. Even though their city is located in the middle of huge mountains and big amounts of snow, they can't afford a ski ticket or the equipment.
You were skiing along the Pakistan-India border—two countries in a decades-long territorial fight for Kashmir. Did you encounter a military presence while in the mountains?
Military is everywhere in Kashmir. They stop you sometimes up on the mountain when you want to pass one of their mountain camps to get into the freeride lines. It feels totally inappropriate to be confronted with military up in the mountains. Especially when you have no clue why they won't let you pass. We are used to having the mountains with ultimate freedom.