Adventure Sports with Renault Triber | Chapter 1: Skiing
The story goes this way. I meet Sirish in his cabin, and he asks me out of the blue, “Do you know how to ski?”
Now you might think it’s an absurd question because of course none of us know how to ski.
“I can learn but what if something happens to the car?”
Sirish (now perplexed): “You don’t need to actually drive on snow!”
I’m even more confused now. The only ‘skiing’ I know is stunt drivers balancing a car on two wheels. Errrm, “Okay, when and where?”
Sirish: “Your tickets to Srinagar are booked.”
In the car world, skiing is a driving stunt. I suggest none of you try it. I sat in a car once when it was piloted by a stunt driver on the main straight of the BIC. It is the craziest experience ever, one that I have no intention of repeating, leave alone performing. The driver rolls two of the car’s wheels over a ramp to induce a tip-over. When both wheels on one side are in the air, the driver balances the car on the other two wheels using just the steering wheel. Neither do I have the equipment for it, nor the skills. But that’s not what Sirish has planned.
Turns out, over the next six months, I am going to enjoy/experience/learn an adventure sport while trying not to break any bones, and facilitating this thrilling life is going to be the Renault Triber. From jumping out of a plane to white water rafting, paragliding over the Himalayas to surfing on India’s western coast, I am going to be attempting a new adventure sport every month. And before the snow melts, my first adventure sport is skiing. So that is how I find myself on board a flight to Srinagar where a white Renault Triber is waiting for us.
Srinagar has a nip in the air but there’s no sight of snow as far as I can see. It’s also late in the evening when I meet Azan Mullick, a professional skier. He’s a friend of a friend who helped us access Kashmir in the most epic way possible last year during the Mod Ball Run supercar rally, so I am expecting an exciting ski session over the next few days.
To the west of Srinagar is one of the best skiing destinations in the world. There’s proper infrastructure such as ski lifts and gondolas to take you to the top of the mountain in Gulmarg but the crew takes one look at me and cancels the plan. I clearly don’t need a 16km ski slope to begin with. Instead we take the longer and, if I might add, ‘scenic’ route to Sonamarg where the snow-capped mountain is accessible from the roadside. The Triber loads up all the ski equipment — the skis, the boots, the ski poles, all the winter wear that will keep you warm in -15 degrees Celsius — it is all gobbled in. The flexible cabin is excellent for hauling such large equipment, and you can even take off the third row completely. It is when we load up and start driving for Sonamarg that I realise you don’t need a skiing destination — just a pair of skis and a trainer. Fortunately, Azan has been skiing for over 17 years, a pro skier who is skilled enough to save me even in an avalanche.
It’s only fair that I take him for a spin in the Triber first. Before you get to the beautiful mountain road that snakes along the Sindh river, you pass through the lanes of Ganderbal district. The surface isn’t the best and the streets are quite narrow but the Triber makes light work of it. Azan is amazed by the large space on the inside but the compact dimensions on the outside. You can quickly manoeuvre out of tight spots, motor over bad roads without slowing down much and as long as you keep the 1-litre engine boiling, you can make good time exiting the city. It’s a nippy unit with a slick five-speed manual gearbox. As the traffic thins and the road begins to climb, the Triber lets me stretch its legs, turns in and out of corners like a light hatchback and is effortless driving uphill. Azan rechecks if we are still in a seven seater.
The Triber is deceptively spacious and comfortable. It is a car built to a certain price point to be accessible to young adventurous professionals but it gives a lot more in return, doesn’t it? Prices start from just Rs 6.33 lakh, a good lakh cheaper than Azan’s estimates. Right then, what are my estimates about his ski equipment?
“Skiing is like motorcycling, you often end up spending more on your kit than the motorbike itself.”
I look at Azan a bit concerned now because I don’t ride motorcycles but I know what motorcycling gear costs. It runs into lakhs of rupees if you start cherry-picking the best gear. The skis are carbon composites, lightweight and strong. It can cost up to Rs 2 lakh for the best skis.The ski boots can cost up to a lakh of rupees. I look at him and say, “That’s why I prefer driving cars instead of motorcycling.”
Azan laughs out loud as we reach the snow-capped mountain in Sonamarg. No one skis here because the infrastructure isn’t in place to bring you back up the mountain once you ski down the slopes. But it’s an ideal spot to learn. The slopes aren’t too steep and the weather is beautiful. We haul the ski gear from the Triber to the top of a small snow hill and Azan begins training me. The first few minutes involve just getting used to wearing such a large contraption on your feet. The ski boots fit into ski bindings and lock in place to keep the skis attached to your feet. You use your shin to put pressure on the boots and help direct the skis in the right direction. The movements are easier said than done, especially for someone with a high centre of gravity. At least that is going to be my excuse for falling multiple times in very ungraceful ways. I finally manage a few slow straight runs to complete my first skiing lesson.
By now I am eager to see Azan work his magic so I quickly remove the skis from under my feet when I spot a snowmobile because that I am a bit familiar with. He hitches a ride up the mountain and then we drop down the slope in tandem. The man on skis flies in the distance, much lighter and faster than the snowmobile, jumping over mounds and landing with the grace of a ballet dancer. I full send the snowmobile to the base of the hill and finally catch up with Azan who is smiling because he just smoked me down that hill. I ask him if I would be able to do that after 17 years of training. He tells me a 14-day course is a good place to start.
The Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering (IISM) in Gulmarg conducts skiing courses for everyone from beginners to experts. You spend 14 days in arguably the prettiest place on earth and learn skiing under expert supervision. That’s how Azan started learning to ski too. From basic programmes to extensive courses, IISM offers everything and these are certificate courses so you do get to boast about it when you return. Living in Gulmarg for a couple of weeks while you get to learn skiing — that’s the perfect life, isn’t it? If you are under 25 years of age, the course costs Rs 10,000. For 25 and above, it costs Rs 20,000. All you need to do is go to the institute’s website and book it directly.
A day trying to learn skiing also makes me realise how intense a sport it is. The best sportspersons in the world take up skiing, the top movie stars do it too, because skiing is a proper full-body workout. If you aren’t fit and flexible enough, you won’t be able to handle the toll skiing takes on the body; something I find out in my hotel room the morning after. A quiet drive back to Srinagar makes me contemplate on the unassuming car I was driving. The Triber offers immense value for the price. You want a seven seater at this price point, you can only buy a Triber. And it comes with a healthy dose of performance, comfort and features. The Triber packs in everything and delivers good quality ride and handling too. On the snow-ravaged highway, the 182mm of ground clearance of the Triber and the comfy seats ensure my reality check is delayed to another day.
That said, it was a splendid day. I learned a new sport, at least the basics of it, enjoyed a scenic drive to the stunning mountain slopes of Sonamarg and drove back without breaking a bone. That’s a win in my book. Next month I’m going white water rafting (“What a life!” says Sirish)!