Roller Skiing To The Top
January 10, 2020
How one woman is creating a new life for herself through her love of the mountains.
From the pages of Issue 5: Black + White
By Charlotte Massey | @peak_charlotte_
Artwork by Charlotte Massey and Allyson Stevens | @allykatartshop
Most women in India marry and spend their days raising children and caring for their husband’s parents. Not Thakur Bhuwneshwari. She runs up hills, rock climbs, and roller skis. You also can add entrepreneur to that list.
“I don’t want to do things in a room,” Bhuwneshwari, 37, affectionately called Bhuvi by her friends and the children she teaches at an outdoor education program in Manali, India said. “I want to go up and down, here and there. I want to be in the mountains.”
Bhuvi is one of India’s top cross-country ski racers and has won multiple Indian and Southeast Asian Championships, despite growing up in a community without cross-country ski trails.
Bhuvi’s town, Manali, is nestled in the Solang Valley at the base of the Indian Himalaya in the northern Himachal Pradesh state. Waterfalls cascade down cliff walls surrounding the valley. The yearly monsoon paints the landscape a rich emerald green with leafy tropical plants, and the high altitude pines and lush valleys sit in stark contrast with the sharp, snow-covered 5,000 meter peaks of the Pir Panjal range. Manali has the rare and perfect mix of high altitudes and wet monsoon clouds to create one of India’s few skiing destinations.
The Solang Ropeway and Ski Center is gaining popularity now that ski areas in nearby Kashmir are politically more difficult to access. Like many locals, Bhuvi taught herself to ski in the sloping apple orchards that her parents and grandparents work in, using wooden equipment that she built herself. She’d always been most comfortable outside—her brother says that she walked like a mountain goat on their first overnight trek. Bhuvi took to skiing and was speedy and sure-footed on the slopes.
When Bhuvi was 18 years old, a friend recommended she participate in a ski competition specifically for people with wooden skis. Nearly all the racers were men and Bhuvi stood out as one of only a handful of girls. She finished in first place, beating everyone—including the boys.
Following this feat, Bhuvi borrowed professionally made cross-country skis from a neighbor and competed in a larger local race. This time she came in second. Bhuvi wanted to test just how far she could take her ski racing, but there are no cross-country ski trails in Manali. She could only do dry land training, like running and mimicking the skiing motion on long, specialized roller skates called roller skis. “I found power from transforming my skills and efforts into accomplishments,” she said.
Cross-country skiing is an expensive sport. Racers usually compete in two styles, skating and classic. Each style requires a different set of skis and poles, and Bhuvi’s family invested a huge amount of resources into buying equipment. Bhuvi had to learn skills for the preparation of her skis as well. Racers must melt specialized waxes into the bases of their skis to help the skis slide across different temperatures of snow. Bhuvi didn’t have access to expensive wax and arrived at the 2009 Nordic World Ski Championship in the Czech Republic with only candle wax. A coach from another team lent her some professional wax which helped her compete on the international stage.
Bhuvi has never limited herself to cross-country skiing. She also has alpine ski raced, worked as a trekking and climbing guide, and is constantly expanding her outdoor passions. After 18 years of working as a guide for companies owned by men, she has a new dream—starting Himalayan Women Outdoor, an adventure company for women. She’s put off racing since 2017 to focus on starting her company. “My goal is to provide trips for women who wouldn’t feel comfortable spending time outside without a woman guide,” she said. This is a groundbreaking concept in Manali.
“Women feel unsafe when they go outdoors. When they go with women, they feel safe,” she explained. “Women should not be stuck inside.” Bhuvi is working hard to provide economic opportunities for women in Manali and her life shows that there can be a future outside the home if that’s what a girl chooses.
Bhuvi wants everyone to be able to explore the mountains, ski the snowy slopes, and climb Manali’s cliffs. Everyone should be able to go up and down, here and there. Himalayan Women Outdoors is her solution to get more women outside, up mountains, and into their own independence.