Himalayas: Skiing’s last frontier?
Can an Aussie ski guide and mountaineer convince people they should ride the foothills of Mt Everest? Nick Farr hopes he can. And he says you don’t need to be much more than a fit intermediate skier to do it …
“I have been over there so many times but I remember even the last time thinking about the whole notion that there’s Everest; it was a beautiful day and the snow was light, I thought this is bullshit – it’s amazing. It’s a place you feel you have no right to be,” – Nick Farr.
Mention Everest or the Himalayas and skiing and most people conjure up extreme athletes, avalanches and oxygen canisters. The more morbid of us might contemplate cerebral edema, frostbite and fatalities. And those who are ski nerds will no doubt bring to the table Darvo Karnicar, Mike Marolt and Yuichiro Miura – the latter that Japanese dude who skied down the world’s highest peak in 1970 and was spat off a cliff but lived (footage of that classic incident right here).
But Farr, the only person in the world offering organised ski trips to the region, wants to share a different side to a mountain he has been visiting for close to two decades.
“It seemed sought of fanciful that you could go skiing up there,” he admits.
“I tried to do some stuff in Cho Oyu in 2003 and 2006 which was moderately successful but the whole notion of skiing over there was just hard work. But then I found myself at Mera Peak and thought this has got real potential. I sought of stumbled across it and it just fascinates me that no one is trying to do it.”
At 6,476 metres and in the shadows of Mt Everest and four of the other five highest peaks in the world, Mera is a zippy point guard in a land of 2.2 metre centres. But its undulating, glaciated and decidedly nontechnical slopes makes it a great place to ski according to Farr.
“You can talk about the height and the altitude but what is really epic about it is that you stand on top of Mera Peak and you’ve really earned that right to stand there because you have to spend two weeks hiking in to get there,” he says. “From the top of Mera Peak you get one of the best Himalayan panoramas that is available – anywhere.”
This is not your cookie cutter ski trip. From Lukla (about 140km east of Kathmandu) you trek from its 2800m base over the next 11 days. Then after a 2.30am wake up call there’s the ascent to the summit of Mera and the 1500 vertical metre (five to six kilometres) ride back. You can sometimes ski almost to Khare (4,790m); taking in some of the most glorious and untrammeled terrain in the world.
Farr, who like all his guides on the trip has summited Everest, realises his toughest sell is convincing people just how achievable and safe it all is. Food and liquid consumption is carefully monitored and the length of the trip (18 days) gives people the best chance of acclimatizing in the Himalayas without compromise he says. Farr adds that 90-95 per cent of people do so and he promotes a flawless safety record of operating as a mountaineer and a guide in the region over a decade.
“People look at it and look at the altitude and associate a lot of risk going to that height and they don’t know it. But for fit people who know how to ski it it is just incredibly do-able. If you are an advanced level skier you can do it – you don’t have to be an expert. In fact you could ski the runs as an intermediate but if you throw in the altitude and all the other stuff the skiing does have to be automatic; you don’t want someone having to think about linking up turns.”
In a world of mundane, extreme and nothing in between a trip to the Himalayas can be a little difficult to market but Farr says he’d label it as a journey for someone who wants to go to Nepal, see Everest and do a little skiing. And – in many instances undergo something of a life altering experience.
“I find people undergo a bit of a transformation (during the trip) and more often than not they actually go through a bit of an identity shift in the way they would react to things, ” Farr says. “You start to work out what is important in your life when you get away. For people who want a life changing experience it is that – it’s not just a ski holiday.”
Nick Farr’s next planned trip for Mera Peak is in October 2016. The trip is limited to eight guests. For more information see the Trek Climb Ski Nepal website.