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The first Ski lift in Nepal – Backyard engineering 2.0

IMG_1423The first time I visited Kalinchok in Dolakha was in 2011. As a “backpacker”, I ran into a group of youngsters who began to study tourism at the Nepal Academy for Tourism and Hotel Management (NATHM). The idea to open a skischool in Nepal was only put in concrete terms when Utsav Pathak, one of the students, suggested in 2015 to start a ski project in Nepal. Subsequently we decided to collect used Skitour gear and Snowboards through friends and family in Germany and Austria. In a next step, several friends joined me to teach a group of 15 students and mountain guides how to ski and shred in Rolwaling Valley in Dolakha. It was my second time in Dolakha and once more, after the trip to the high mountains, we trekked up to Kalinchok to scout the area for possible ski slopes.

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Utsav and his friends returned dozens of times to their local mountain to Ski and suggested to me to look into building a Ski lift. It took several months until Florian Trittler, a fellow ski instructor from Germany who also skied in Nepal with me, and my Nepali friends continued to look into the matter. Florian also works in a cable car company in Austria as an engineer and together we drafted the first protype on paper. Our approach of German engineering, mixed with a Nepali cost-benefit analysis, eventually ended in a rope tow system, powered by a gasoline engine.27018429_1955470457854692_366574133_o

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We did not want to errect a permanent structure to keep the footprint light, since Kalinchok is not only part of a conservation area, but also an important religious shrine. Therefore, the poles and bottom- and top station are held in place by metal poles. In addition, electricity in Nepal is scarce, hence we decided to opt for a combustion engine for the first prototype. After looking at backyard rope tows on youtube and historical ski lifts from the alps, we wanted to keep it simple and as cheap as possible.

When I begann to search for reduction gear boxes on Kathmandu markets, I realized it will be a long journey to design and built the lift completly by ourselves. Hence, we approached Guna Raj Dakhal, one of the leading cable car engineers in Nepal, who instantly was interested in pioneering the first ski lift in Nepal. Guna is one of the engineers who is part of the recent boom of cable cars in the country. In contrast to European or American cable cars, the infrastructure is commonly used to transport pilgrims (and goats) to religious shrines. The business model remains similiar. After four to five years, the cable car is paid off. This led to the errection of Manakamana, Chandragiri, Kalinchok and finally a new project in Sarangkot.

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Our vision however is different. We only realized that promoting skiing to beginners is not so easy without a ski lift. Although it worked for the first generation of Skiers in Nepal, it is incredbly exhausting to skin up with skis and to focus again while going down. At least for the very beginners. Therefore, we decided that a rope tow lift, up to 80m is sufficient to introduce beginners to the sport while limiting the environmental footprint to a minimum extent. We still believe in a Skitour & Splitboard tourism in Nepal that can attract foreigners while we establish a Ski culture for Nepalis.

How does it work? This season we faced some temperature issues with the carburator. Also the large iron rebars that we used to fix the system loosend in the soil. We are looking forward to operate again next January and February with some technical improvements. The interest of the locals and Kathmandu tourists was definitely high! Overall at least 250 youngsters came out to Ski with us, hence its a major success to bring more people on the slopes! Ski on! #skisnowboardnepal

Here is the first 100% Nepali Ski Movie filmed and edited by Rupak Tandukar

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Inauguration ceremony with high level guests. Jevan Ram Shrestra President of the Olympic Committee, Vice-Mayor of Charikot, District Chief of Police Dolakha

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Two poles are needed to increase the rope tension. An old rice bag serves as counter weight.

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A reduction gear and a car transmission provide the necessary low speed while permitting enough torque to pull up to 10 persons at the same time

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Ski school exploratory to Humla, the “Wild West” of Nepal

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This February, I was lucky enough to organize an exploratory Skitour trip to the remote district of Humla in the very West of Nepal. Humla´s remoteness is not only given due to its border with Tibet, as many districts in Nepal, but primarily because of the lack of roads. Only since very recently, a road is being built from the Tibetian border town of Hilsa to the districts capital Simikot. However, Nepal Army which is implementing the work is still blasting the last section out of a massive rock. Nevertheless, reports claim that the road could be finished already this year and hence finalising a milestone infrastructure project for Humlese citizens.

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It will take several more years to finalize the connection from Simikot to the Terrai and Humla´s neighbouring provinces, but work is already underway. Currently there remain only two options to reach Simikot: By foot via a multiple days trek, or by plane within several hours from Kathmandu. While I decided for the latter, I convinced my colleagues in Kathmandu to open a chapter of our Skischool in the far West. We sorted out four sets of Skitour gear and avalanche recievers and booked a flight to Simikot.

When I took my flight from Nepalgunj to Simikot, I was the only passenger aboard including dozens of stoves, bags of rice and other foodstuffs. As soon as the Twin Otter touched down and disembarked at the “Lukla-style” airport, dozens of traditionally clothed Humlese rushed towards the plane. I slowly realized what this was about. The crowd of people was desperate to fly out before the winter fully commenced and the ovens, my fellow passengers, were sold at the local market just in time before massive snowfall was about to start.

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Simikot in deep snow

 

Finally, I was welcomed by my friend and the guide for any trekking activites in Humla: Abinash Lama. Abinash, is about my age, fluent in English and dreams of studying Cinematography. Currently he is not only an ace in photography and videography but also frequently vlogs on Youtube. At some point, he confessed to me, that every upload of his edits on the web takes up to 3 days. Which shows his incredible motivation to share and tell stories of Humlese people, social challenges and their hardhsips.

Abinash hosted me for the two coming weeks and was extremly keen to learn how to Ski. Hence, after the predicted snowfall started, we started right away with the training on large flat potato field. The locals were stunned about a short demo run and what you can actually do with skis and I went on to instruct them the very basics of the gear and how to use it.

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Our Ski course attraced massive attention and lots of interest

The following days we recieved further snowfall and I was stunned about the mass of snow in Nepal in an altitude of only 2000m. Due to the Western Disturbances, the massive weather systems that bring the winter rain to the Terai and the snow to many glaciers, precipitation is the highest in the very west. After all my years of instructing Nepali skiers and snowboarders I was incredbibly excited to ski my first ever tree run in Nepal. On the other hand, I was in a quagmire. Should I leave Abinash and my students to explore prospective slopes for bigger trainings and commercial skitour operations and reports to the government? I decided to stay in Simikot for almost two weeks to teach as much as possible, while only exploring the vicinity of the district capital. While the road towards Hebka Valley and Hilsa is already finished, it is quite difficult to travel long distance, even with SkiMo gear.

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Pauli La, I believe one of Nepal´s highest roads

Interestingly, several Bolero Jeeps have already been flown in by helicopters to connect the surrounding villages with Simikot. However, due to the mud and snow, the drivers gave up and went on holidays. Nevertheless, I stumbled upon another road leading up to a pass called “Pauli La”. This is what I believe, one of the highest motorable roads in Nepal reaching about 4600m. I do not exactly know why it was built in addition to the main road following the Karnali river, but it is the perfect access to a pass and several peaks that are perfectly suited for Ski & Splitboard Touring.

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The first snow plough in Nepal

During my two week stay, the airport was shut down due to the snow. Hence, I was stunned again when I saw the first snow plough mounted to a jeep in Nepal. Airport authorities, Army and Police helped to clear the runway, and after several hours of shoveling, the first planes from Nepalgunj were able to land. What was planned to be an exploratory expedition, turned to one of my best skischool trips to Nepal ever. Not only was I able to instruct students and find new friends, I also discovered several new potential spots for a sustainable SkiMo tourism in the very west of Nepal.

-Julius Seidenader-

PS: We are just planning for Spring 2020. Please get in touch if you are interested to join, help or support our cause.

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Joy after my first tree run in Nepal

Further links:

Abinash YT channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZ8lYZF3tLzoVeKPsimVvAg

Abinash´s Vlog on Skiing in Humla: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPC8wWev2a8

Recent article on the high level meeting with Xi Jinping and the “Karnali Highway”:

https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/karnali-corridor-gateway-to-development-and-prosperity/

Photo series on the roads in Humla: https://www.recordnepal.com/wire/photo-essays/on-the-road-in-humla/