Frigid Gales: India’s Winter Adventure Sports’ Athletes

Winter varies drastically across the Indian state. While the northernmost regions of Ladakh and Kashmir are coated with a film of ice and frigid stillness looms over the region,  allowing for a tremendous range of winter adventure sports ranging from skiing, ice-skating to snowboarding which is often associated with the more dominantly glacial regions of the world. Niveous white snow muffles parts of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. The states of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh also provide ideal backdrops for winter adventure sports. These regions are a niche for commercial sports activities and buzz with tourism throughout the year and allow for a short thrill of a ride.

What perpetually remains dubious, then, is the scope of practicing this category of adventure sports in India as an amateur or even a professional. Not only does it require skills, developed over years of application but also an unmatched fervor. The culture and infrastructure are officially meager and hence it is limited to a self-motivated niche with the required skill, capital, and access. Few eminent personalities of India have had path-breaking journeys in the world of winter adventure sports. TheVibe brings to you India’s renowned winter sports athletes:

Ice Climbing with Karthik Maddineni

Featuring: @Karthik Maddineni

Field instructor at North Carolina Outward Bound School and possessor of a diverse range of climbing and mountaineering, Karthik Maddineni has taken up ice climbing with curiosity and anticipation. Though ice is dripping and risky in juxtaposition with regular mountain climbing it is thrilling as well. “It is also a surreal experience, like in a winter wonderland,” says Maddineni. He learned of the domain’s presence in India through fests like Screwed Up organized by and found a group of people equally enthusiastic about it. He is glad at having connected with and their passion to promote adventure sports in India. He believes in the potential of the Indian State’s sizable chunk of the Himalayas which promise potential for the evolution of winter adventure sports.

Ice Climbing is unique to a frigid terrain and an alpine climate poses a plethora of challenges. The act of reaching the very climbing objective in itself is bestrewn with hurdles. Karthik tells us that it requires a lot of vigorous trail breaking and hiking in immensely cold and unfavorable conditions to reach a frozen climbing objective. “Unlike the certainty of a solid rock, there are hazards unique to volatile terrains like avalanches during approach and exit, frostbite and chilblains” Additionally the high cost and less availability of the equipment makes the sport inaccessible to a lot of people. Maddineni aspires towards greater accessibility and looks forward to applying his rich skillset to training masses. “I look forward to bringing sports like these to the masses and organizing workshops to use my skills as an outdoor educator to promote safe practices,” he says.

Snowboarding and Dhruv Chakkamadam

An extremely efficient artist who can boast of a range of diverse and developed skills like slacklining and mountain climbing, Dhruv  Chakkamadam talks about his journey of snowboarding which commenced a decade ago as a recreational activity. Living in Manali, snowboarding appealed to him as winters are a great opportunity to make the best of a time that has to curb into cozy but monotonous homes among other alternatives. Additionally, Manali has a lot of external influence in terms of tourists bringing in the culture of adventure sports. Seeking a rush of adrenaline and a hearty workout, Chakkamadam applied himself closely to snowboarding among others. To him, the concept of training only refines with time as one must make the best of the short winter we have to revisit the place and refine one’s skills

“Gulmarg has the best slopes and what little infrastructure we have like the best gondola. While Manali has a relatively smaller scope which takes more time to reach” It takes approximately five hours to reach the latter for twenty-minute slope. Gulmarg remains, for snowboarding, a place brimming with potential however the tourism in the region can be increased in order to provide the kind of infrastructure that the sport requires. The few circles which practice snowboarding, says he, are voluntarily and out of passion engaging in snowboarding, however an introduction of proper training and infrastructure could tap into the potential of the region and the enthusiasts alike.

Skiing with  Aanchal Thakur

Featuring: Aanchal Thakur

For a region that celebrates cricket as an integral part of its culture, skiing remains a fairly novel introduction to the collective consciousness of India. Skiing requires suitable slopes and a range of specialized ski gear and protection equipment. At this point in time, Aanchal Thakur a 21-year-old woman from Burua, Manali made history and brought home India’s first Olympic medal in skiing in 2012. She won the bronze medal in the slalom race category, in the famous Alpine Ejder 3200 Cup conducted by the Federation Internationale de Ski (FIS), the sport’s international governing body, at the Palandoken Ski Centre in Erzurum, Turkey.

Aanchal started her skiing journey at the tender age of five alongside her brother on the slopes of Manali. Born to a skiing family, she grew up amidst her brother who made his Olympic debut in 2014, and her father, the Secretary of the Winter Games Federation of India (WGFI).  “It’s beautiful. You can lose yourself in nature, in the speed of the descent, in the wind that rushes past you and hits you in the face. It’s an incredible feeling, coming down the mountain”- she tells TheVibe.  One faces a range of challenging hurdles in order to become a Winter Sports athlete and Aanchal is no exception to the challenges of the terrain.   “The risk-factor is elevated with Alpine Skiing. In India, because there is no snow in the summer, you have to stay on your toes keep up with conditional training in preparation for the winter.” Despite these, she continues to train herself through activities like mountain climbing in the summers.

Ice Skating with Vishwaraj Jadeja

Featuring: Vishwaraj Jadeja

Wreathed with multiple laurels in the domain of Ice Skating including sixty-five national records and four medals at the Winter Games’ Masters last year, Vishwaraj Jadeja is extremely close to his aspiration of bearing the India flag at the Winter Olympics next year and at the highest frozen lakes in the world. He was representing India in line skating in 2008 when he shifted to Ice Skating and from then onwards it has been no looking back. At the same time, he continues to explore the adventure skating or nature skating aspect of the sport and hence surpasses the boundaries of the indoors to capture the essence of it in its true domain. His has been a journey of challenges and the lack of infrastructure in India only amplifies it hence it was only in the past half-decade that he could switch to ice skating completely. However, he continues to hope for the best while applying himself close to it. “It has been a phenomenal journey and I am extremely grateful. Of course, the undercurrent of challenges is there but I try to focus on the positives of life”, he tells TheVibe.

Ice Skating is usually restricted to indoor stadiums, however, its origins and true spirit lie in nature ice skating. Jadeja believes in the tremendous potential that India has in terms of frozen rivers and stagnant bodies of water, particularly up north in Ladakh. At the same time, the remoteness of these regions and the process of procuring permissions and support from the locals is a tedious process. “It turns out that the frozen lakes in India are some of the highest. It is a unique feature and their value quotient must be explored more than it is being explored in contemporary times” He questions the lack of collective inclination towards winter adventure sports in the country but he perceives hope in endeavors like Khelo India which are increasingly taking these sports into consideration which were hitherto practiced in closed circles.

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