Shimla: With record amounts of snow falling, the pistes overlooking Himachal Pradesh's popular tourist resorts Shimla and Manali have turned out to be a paradise for skiers.
"This is just the beginning of good skiing days," skier and international coach Roshan Lal Thakur told IANS.
Thakur said the Solang slopes, just 13 km uphill from Manali, had more than three-and-a-half feet of snow cover and more spells of snow were expected.
Like Thakur, the Winter Games Federation of India secretary general, there are a number of skiers who grew up with the Solang slopes in their backyard.
Skiing and winter adventure sports organisers in Manali say more skiers will converge with the reopening of roads between Kullu and Manali.
"Our institute has lined up courses, both for amateur and professional skiers, from Jan 11 in Solang and Narkanda," Randhir Singh Salhuria, director of the state-run Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports in Manali, told IANS.
Salhuria said the Solang slopes offer a challenging run to both beginners and advanced skiers. However, for beginners, not for professionals, the Narkanda slopes would be ideal.
Currently, Narkanda, some 65 km from Shimla, has more than two feet of snow.
The Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corp's (HPTDC) Hatu Hotel at Narkanda provides ski apparatus.
According to the Met Office in Shimla, it snowed heavily in Solang and Narkanda Dec 13-14, the season's first snowfall.
"The snow quality is marvellous (in Solang) and moreover it's not crowded like Auli and Gulmarg slopes," Mudit Arora, a skier from Delhi, told IANS.
"We're looking at more snow," he added.
Kufri, just a half-hour drive from Shimla and known as a honeymooner's paradise, has also turned out to be a hub for skiers.
Discovered as an ideal hill resort by the British in the 1930s, Kufri emerged as a popular destination for winter sports due to good snowfall. For many decades, it was a regular venue for the national winter games. But in the past one decade no winter sports activity was organised.
"This time, after a long, long break, we have managed to revive skiing in Kufri," private instructor Mohit Bragta said.
Skiers said the Kufri slopes were shorter and gentler, attracting mainly the tourists and the first-timers.
Besides skiing, the tourists in Solang can enjoy snow scooter and sledging.
A large number of private tour operators are providing both skiing apparatus and instructors to the skiers at Solang.
Rohan Thakur, a travel agent in Manali, is upbeat about the skiing season ahead.
"As per queries we are getting, we're eyeing a huge opportunity heading into this season," he said.
More than 50 private operators are based in Solang to conduct activities in winter sports for students, families and corporates.
Himachal Pradesh, whose economy is highly dependent on tourism, attracts every year tourists who surpass the state's population of about 6.8 million. Kullu-Manali has emerged as a favourite tourist destination, followed by Shimla and Dharamsala, the abode of the Dalai Lama.