Manali: Plentiful snowfall has turned this picturesque resort town in Kullu valley into a paradise for skiers visiting from across the globe.
"Nice snow", remarked a skier from Australia who along with friends has been skiing for more than a week at the Solang slopes near Manali.
"At present, Solang has more than four feet of snow and the snowy landscape is expected to remain till mid of March," Randhir Singh Salhuria, director of the state-run Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports here, told reporters.
He said icy conditions are still prevailing in the region and there are chances of one or two more spells of moderate snow before the season is over.
"Last week`s intermittent spells of snow has really turned the Solang slopes into a hub of skiers and snowboarders," he added.
The mountaineering institute is conducting courses and events for skiers - both amateurs and professionals - in Solang in the western Himalayas. The course that began Jan 11 would continue till the slopes are wrapped in a thick blanket of white.
Ricky Hilton, a skier from Australia, said: "The slopes really have a magnetic pull. This is one of the finest slopes in the world."
Another skier said: "Last week`s snowfall has made conditions much more favourable. We want to stay longer but our visa didn`t permit."
The Solang slopes in Kullu Valley are located at a distance of 13 km from Manali.
District Tourism Officer Rajeshwar Goel said: "There is a noticeable spike in the arrival of domestic tourists. It`s the white blanket charm that is mesmerising the adventure lovers. Most of the tourists are enjoying snow scooter rides and sledging at Solang."
He said a large number of private tour operators are providing both skiing apparatus as well as instructors to the tourists.
According to Goel, the fee ranges from Rs.300 to Rs.1,000 depending on the time and ski kit.
Private ski instructor Atul Thakur said this winter the Solang slopes have experienced plentiful snowfall after a long gap.
"We will move to the higher hills (Marhi, Gulaba and Rohtang) after the snow starts vanishing in Solang sometime by mid-March. Till May, such activities would continue in upper Manali," he added.
The mountaineering institute is charging a fees of Rs.3,150 for a seven-day ski course in Solang that includes boarding and lodging. The institute also boasts of ski instructors of international fame.
The last few years, except 2010, were quite bad for skiing as the Solang slopes were totally bereft of snow.
In 2010, the Winter Games Federation of India had allowed the Himachal Pradesh Winter Games Association to hold the National Senior Alpine Skiing Championship during Feb 7-11.
At that time, the slopes had seen negligible 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.
The idyllic, pastoral setting of the Himalayan range in Himachal Pradesh has been drawing an increasing number of backpackers. With a population of just over six million, the state attracted 13 million tourists in 2010.
Famous hill stations like Shimla, Manali, Dharamsala, Dalhousie and Kasauli were preferred among both Indian and foreigners.