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Rising to the challenge

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Located in Gulmarg, Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering (IISM), the foremost institute for adventure sports in India has had a chequered history. IISM was established way back in 1969 by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India as Gulmarg Winter Sports Project (GWSP). “The initial project envisaged development of Gulmarg as an ideal ski resort of world standards with desired infrastructure and also train instructors to meet the requirement of tourists. The ski hire shop was established along with a chairlift and a ski lift in early 70’s. It also proposed to establish a cable car between Gulmarg and Kongdori,” states Colonel JS Dhillon, principal, IISM. The project that was initiated in borrowed huts of tourism department of Jammu and Kashmir, started off well and due to the limited period of skiing, the institute was diversified into other adventure activities during summer period. Mountaineering, trekking and water skiing were also added to its courses.

Col J S Dhillon

The long spell of insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir had an adverse impact on the institution for almost two decades, with the employees migrating to different parts of the country. IISM barely managed to survive during the turmoil. The improving situation in the Kashmir Valley led to the revival of the institution by Ministry of Tourism (MoT). A new hostel building was completed in 2008, new skiing equipment and machinery was also procured. Col Dhillon, a renowned mountaineer from the Indian Army was selected as principal and given the challenge to revive the institute. He took over the new building in 2010. Despite initial constraints of manpower, lack of budgetary support, Dhillon has managed to revive this institute and added many new adventure activities. New adventure courses in trekking, parasailing, waterskiing, hot air ballooning have been started in addition to snow skiing.

“IISM is a subordinate office of Ministry of Tourism, Government of India. It acts as an advisory to the ministry for formulation of national policies/programmes and coordination of activities of various central, state government and private agencies for development and promotion of adventure and adventure tourism in the country. The institute trains youth of the nation, especially from Jammu and Kashmir in different adventure skills through different courses. With peace returning to the Valley, there is huge demand of instructors to conduct various adventure activities for tourists. The institute trains such instructors hence generating huge employment potential for the unemployed youth of the state,” informs Col Dhillon.

The institute also aims to develop personality of the Indian youth through different adventure activities. “Adventure training develops those traits of personality in our youth which are not possible in the protected environments of schools and colleges and also brings harmony amongst different regions/cultures through its adventure courses. These children spread the awareness of adventure tourism in the country,” mentions Col Dhillon.

Talking about the significance of his institution, Col Dhillon says, “The trend of tourism is undergoing a sea change. Present day tourist wants to indulge in different adventure activities. But unfortunately we are not yet ready to exploit this potential as we neither have the desired infrastructure nor the trained manpower to conduct adventure activities. This is denying the Indian youth an opportunity of huge employment in this sector. There is a need to have many such institutes in the nation to train instructors who with the help of state governments can start their own adventure nodes to entertain tourists and earn livelihood.” He also points out that outdoor adventure is very essential for children to develop in them those traits of personality which are not possible in the protected environments of schools and colleges.

Being an extremely specialised field with not too many practitioners, leave alone experts who can train and guide adventure enthusiasts, the institution engages foreign trained instructors who have retired. “Currently we are getting the best faculty on contractual basis within the country. But soon the ministry is planning to recruit fresh faculty and get them trained in foreign institutes to modernise adventure training in our country,” states Col Dhillon.

Adventure courses conducted by IISM
  1. 6 x Snow Skiing courses from December to March
  2. 10 x Water Skiing courses from June to September
  3. 10 x Parasailing courses from May to October
  4. 10 x Trekking courses from May to November
  5. 5 x Hot Air Balloon courses from October to December

The institute also takes an active role in helping the local community. Economically weaker students are sponsored free of cost from different organisations. “Local students trained by the institute have becomes state champions in different skiing events. Two of our students have represented the country in South Korea in international ski events,” states Col Dhillon with evident pride.

IISM has tieups with some renowned schools in India. According to Dhillon, now the institute has become so popular that direct enrollment is much beyond its capacity. “However we are open to tie up with quality corporates and institute of the country. We are also planning to get associated with renowned foreign adventure schools,” he adds. The institute is already a member of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation and Winter Games Federation of India.

The hospitality venture of the institute includes a state-of-the-art centrally heated building which can accommodate up to 60 corporates or up to 90 school children. “The quality of training and administration is a matter of envy for others,” feels Col Dhillon.

Dhillon sees a great potential for adventure training in India. “It is being introduced in school and college syllabus by AICTE. It will transform the personality of the youth of our nation. In addition it will create millions of jobs bringing social and economic uplift in the nation. There will be an urgent need by the government to gauge its potential and create the desired infrastructure to meet this big demand in the future,” he states with optimism.

Some of the recent achievements include –

  • Restarting the major activities and training more than 1500 students in different adventure activities
  • Ski lift reactivated after two decades shedding its dependency on other agencies
  • All machinery including snow groomers, snow scooters activated/ revived
  • Diversified adventure activities such as hot air ballooning, paragliding, parasailing, etc, introduced in the courses
  • Trained and fielded ski team of the institute in National Ski Championship after 25 years which won second position
  • Trained Arjun Vajpai who became the youngest Indian to climb Mount Everest
  • Received appreciation from the Army for organising major rescue operation by the institute to save lives of soldiers buried under avalanche in Gulmarg
  • Principal awarded the Skill Developer of the Nation Award by Aspire Skill Development Group.