Manali, Jan 16 : The ski slopes are deserted as scores of skiers in picturesque Solang Valley of Himachal Pradesh have been literally left high and dry with snow failing to cover its steep slopes.
Their hopes of skiing down the precarious slopes are fast thawing as snow is playing truant with the region even in January after several years.
The ski slopes, located just 13 km uphill from this tourist resort, are empty. During this period, the slopes are normally covered in three to four feet of snow.
"The Solang slopes are totally bereft of snow cover.
We are desperately awaiting the onset of heavy snowfall," Randhir Singh Salhuria, director of the state-run Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports here, told IANS.
The institute is conducting skiing courses -- for professionals and amateurs -- in Solang in the western Himalayas.
The courses have not begun this season.
Salhuria said mountains overlooking Solang like Gulaba and Rohtang have plentiful snow but no ski slopes.
In fact, there was a proposal more than a decade ago to develop a Ski Village complete with pistes, chalets and other such paraphernalia at Gulaba, half way between Manali and the Rohtang Pass but it fell through for a variety of reasons -- mainly relating to environmental issues and objections of the locals.
Normally, the Solang slopes remain wrapped in a blanket of snow from late November to March end.
Besides skiing, the tourists can also enjoy snow scooter rides and sledging.
Local skier Ashish Thakur said this winter the slopes have seen negligible snowfall, taking a toll on ski tourism.
"The Solang slopes draw both beginners and advanced skiers from across the globe.
The local skiing industry is providing employment in accommodation, food, apparatus and coaching. Now they are desperately awaiting the onset of snowfall and the return of the skiers," he added.
Japanese skier Akako Takashi and his family have been camping here for over a week, awaiting the onset of the skiing season.
"Solang is one of the best backcountry resorts.
We are awaiting the onset of snowfall. We have come to know that even in other ski destinations like Gulmarg and Auli slopes (in Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand) there is not adequate snow cover for skiing.
So we are waiting here for the onset of heavy snowfall," he added.
The other attraction in the snowy peaks of Solang is a multimillion-rupee ropeway-cum-ski project.
The ropeway takes the skiers to the ridge of Mount Phatru at an elevation of 3,200 m (10,000 ft) to enable them to increase the ski run by at least three kilometres.
Besides Solang, Himachal Pradesh has developed ski runs in Narkanda, just 65 km from state capital Shimla.
These are shorter and gentler, attracting mostly newcomers.
Narkanda too has no snow cover at all.
According to the Met office in Shimla, dry weather would continue to prevail in the state till January 21.
It said the Solang and Narkanda ski slopes have so far seen negligible snowfall.
In 2010, the Winter Games Federation of India had allowed the Himachal Pradesh Winter Games Association to hold the National Senior Alpine Skiing Championship from February 7 to 11.
At that time, the slopes had seen insignificant snowfall and the organisers were planning to move towards higher hills to hold the championship.
Just a few days before the event, the weather had obliged the organisers with plentiful snow.
Officials say 2008-09 was pretty bad for skiing as the slopes witnessed scanty and erratic snowfall throughout the winter.
Let's hope plentiful snowfall will come and the skiers will return with their ski boots and equipment across the snow-clad Himachal slopes.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)