Manali, Jan 17: When bestowed with great snow, the steep pistes near this picturesque tourist resort in Himachal Pradesh would attract skiers from across the globe. But this winter, the ski slopes in the Solang Valley are bereft of snow cover, disappointing the aficionados. This month, the precipitation - both rain and snow - in Himachal Pradesh has been a staggering 82 percent deficit. There was a 40 percent shortfall last month.
"We are desperately awaiting the onset of heavy snowfall," Roshan Lal Thakur, secretary general of the Winter Games Federation of India, told IANS.
He said the Solang slopes usually remain covered with a blanket of snow from late November to March-end. "There used to be more than a four-foot snow cover by this time," said Thakur, a local skier and international coach.
He said there is a snow deficit all over the region, including at the Auli ski slopes in Uttarakhand and at Gulmarg in Jammu and Kashmir.
"Our skiers are currently in Europe for training and there is no snow there too," he added.
This time, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has imposed a complete ban on commercial activities including skiing, paragliding, snow scooter ride and horse-riding at the Rohtang Pass and its adjoining areas, including the Solang ski slopes, in the western Himalayas, to check environmental degradation.
But professionals and trainees of the state-run Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports here could conduct skiing in Solang, located just 13 km uphill from here.
"The Solang region experienced snow in December but it was too scanty and erratic. This month there was only one mild spell of snowfall and that too melted speedily due to high temperatures," institute director Randhir Singh Salhuria said.
He said the institute had to postpone its skiing courses for professionals and amateurs from January 11.
The meteorological office in Shimla said the upper Manali hills, including the Solang slopes, had negligible snowfall this year, like many other high-altitude areas in the region.
"Solang and its nearby areas had experienced snow thrice last month, but that melted within a few days due to high temperatures. The last spell of snowfall was on January 9; that too was mild," Manmohan Singh, director of the meteorological office here, told IANS.
Manmohan Singh said dry conditions would continue at least for a week or so, as no major western disturbance is approaching the region.
The Solang slopes offer a challenging run to both beginners and advanced skiers and are of international standard.
For newcomers, the mountaineering institute conducts basic, intermediate and advanced ski courses at Narkanda, 65 km from Shimla.
Narkanda has shorter and gentler slopes that mostly attract newcomers. These slopes are also currently totally bereft of snow.
Mehar Chand Thakur, a prominent travel agent in Manali, said the tourism business this year would be badly affected by scanty snowfall.
"If the gods oblige us with a good spell of snow in the coming days, the tourists would return to Manali and its nearby hills," he added.
Skiers say in 2013 the Solang slopes were devoid of snow cover till mid-January. Later, it snowed heavily.
In 2010 too, the National Senior Alpine Skiing Championship in Solang was beset by uncertainty. In mid-February the region witnessed heavy snowfall and the championship was successful.
The skiers are however pinning hopes on the weather gods.
"We are praying for snowfall so that the skiers could return on the slopes here," said local skier Santosh Kumar.
Himachal Pradesh, whose economy is highly dependent on tourism, every year attracts 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.