Watch Skiers Come Face-to-Face With a Snow Leopard

While leading a group of skiers through delectably deep snow in northern India—the region’s unique “curry powder”—backcountry ski guide David Marchi nearly collided with one of the rarest of the big cats, a snow leopard. Fortunately, the next skier, Australian Owen Lansbury, had a video camera mounted on his helmet and captured the scene moments later, after Marchi had stopped a few hundred feet below the leopard. As the other skiers in the group gathered on the slope above, the seldom seen cat lay motionless for several seconds before bursting into tail-whipping action and bounding down the slope in the general direction of the waiting Marchi. As Marchi quickly slid in the opposite direction, the feline veered into the forest and disappeared from sight, leaving the skiers to whoop and cheer and finish their run with an extra burst of leopard-fueled adrenaline.

The encounter took place just outside Gulmarg, a former British hill station turned ski town on what’s known locally as Monkey Hill in the Pir Panjal Mountains, a subrange of the Himalaya. A burgeoning ski destination known for its deep snowpack and spectacular backcountry terrain, Gulmarg is also home to the Gulmarg Biosphere Reserve, a refuge for a variety of wildlife, including the endangered snow leopard, the critically endangered Kashmir stag, and even the occasional brown bear. According to veteran wildlife biologist Tom McCarthy, director of the Snow Leopard Program for the wild cat conservation organization Panthera, it’s not unusual for a snow leopard to be near a small village.

“A lot of times we see snow leopards wandering right above remote villages,” McCarthy says. “People say, ‘No, there’s none around here,’ and then we go a couple hundred yards behind their house and find snow leopard tracks.”

What was unusual, however, was coming across one of the secretive cats in deep forest, as they typically stalk alpine zones in search of sheep and ibex, their preferred prey. McCarthy speculates that this leopard may have been a young male in search of its own territory. While Marchi, who nearly skied across the leopard’s tail, told National Geographic Adventure that the experience was both “magical and terrifying”—an understandable reaction to having what you thought was a log suddenly spring to life—the reality is that the cat was probably even more frightened.

“Snow leopards are extremely shy,” explains McCarthy. “When humans are nearby they lay still and most people go by without seeing them. When the skiers are right beside it, it’s trying to hide.”

With their snowshoe-like, five-inch-wide paws, snow leopards are masters at moving through deep snow, which you can see in the video when the cat realizes it’s been spotted and makes its escape. It flies across the snow with the speed of a ski racer. And, contrary to some reports, the leopard isn’t chasing any skiers—it’s simply getting away from them.

“Snow leopards have never attacked anyone, ever, as far as we know,” says McCarthy.

It’s estimated that there are only a few hundred snow leopards in the remote mountains of northern India, the southern reach of their habitat, but the endangered cat’s population appears stable there thanks to India’s conservation efforts. Though they can weigh up to 100 pounds and take down a horse, they’re not a threat to humans.

When asked what others skiers should do if they’re lucky enough to come across the elusive leopard on some snowy Himalayan slope in the future, McCarthy says, “Enjoy it. You’re having a wonderful experience, and it’s going to leave pretty quickly.”

 

Comments

  1. Carlton Ward
    Vancouver, Wa
    February 19, 2016, 6:30 pm

    Wow – a very cool and amazing experience these skiers will never forget.

  2. Tim Meaghher
    Denver, CO
    February 20, 2016, 4:38 pm

    I knew India was getting very active in conservation efforts for the Snow Leopard. We can only hope that an encounter like this might actually indicate a {possible} increase in the overall Snow Leopard population in that region. I might just be an old fool, but I’d like to believe it is so…

  3. David Jonathan
    United States
    February 21, 2016, 10:55 pm

    Just to be clear, the camera was following someone in red who was not Marchi. The snow leopard is first visible motionless in the snow at 0:21, meaning Marchi already encountered it. Marchi, in yellow, is first visible at 0:24, and the man in red has whizzed on presumably without even seeing the big cat.

  4. Eduard Kanevskiy
    Bellorussia
    February 22, 2016, 10:19 am

    Well give You all incredibly! With such a wonderful mood you scared the leopard so he decided prikosnutsya the tree and not to interfere with the ski company. Would gladly have spent the winter ski season in these parts-but I don’t know what it will cost-can sorentrue me in this matter?! Oh well I loved your positive energy shows in vidio clip and article-but not sure that all leopards are such goody-Goodies, it is possible that they may hunt and people not in such a reckless company where the cat he decided to become a skier. Best wishes!

  5. Cyril
    Paris
    February 23, 2016, 5:18 am

    Screaming like that at the end probably scared the leopard even more. Poor thing must have been terrified. Can’t you witness Nature’s beauty without screaming like a retard…

  6. sateesh
    Mumbai
    February 23, 2016, 10:50 am

    can you tell us where in the Northern India did this take place

  7. 3rdimension
    February 23, 2016, 2:13 pm

    Interesting to see a top predator not slightly intrigued by the movement of humans, possibly mistaking one for it’s normal prey out of the corner of it’s eye for a split second. I’ll bet the girl below him didn’t know if it was stalking her, ready to pounce or not; her words and reaction says it all. Apparently the guy filming knew it wouldn’t touch her. I’d be shittin my pants not knowing what it’s reaction would be or where it would go. If their natural prey becomes more scarce, hopefully not; it very well could test human flesh for future meals. Hopefully that will never become the case.

  8. liam
    usa
    February 24, 2016, 9:27 am

    isn’t there a second leopard *right behind* the yellow jacketed skier? You can see it run away at the 29-30 second mark with the yellow jacket skier facing the other direction

  9. Arnold Levine
    NYC
    February 24, 2016, 10:11 pm

    Wow, what an amazing experience. I remember taking my young son to the Bronx zoo too see a pair of snow leopards and even there they were shy ans secretive. So beautiful!

  10. Tximeleta
    pyrenees
    March 3, 2016, 12:09 pm

    Most amazing thing in this video is to see how a very stupid animal called human being can react screaming like a retarded at the sight of a wonderful and endangered animal. Bravo. This video just makes me sad.

  11. Ken Watkins
    South Africa
    March 16, 2016, 2:00 am

    I agree with Tximeleta, dreadful for animals to have these noisy morons spoiling their home.

  12. […] Yet, in many places the leopard occupies a key ecological role as the top carnivore, helping to keep prey species in balance. And the big cat often has cultural and historical significance in many parts of its range. (Watch skiers come face-to-face with a snow leopard.) […]