Rare snow leopard encounter captured in stunning skier video, or was it?

A snow leopard photographed in Hemis National Park, India. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A snow leopard photographed in Hemis National Park, India. Photo: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Snow leopards typically live at elevations from 9,800 to 14,800 feet and since they are endangered, with a global population of around 6,500 at most, chances of seeing one in the wild are extremely remote.

So it was a rare encounter when a group of skiers in the backcountry of Gulmarg in Kashmir, India, the oldest ski destination in Asia, came across a snow leopard lying in the snow, according to Wall Street Journal India and the Daily Mail.

“I was guiding people down and was skiing along when I saw something that was not covered in snow and then skied by it,” Dave Marchi, a skiing guide with Bill's Trip agency, told India Today. “I stopped and asked my guests above to stop. That is when they got the footage.

“We were excited and kind of nervous. You don't see that very often.”

Australian skier Owen Lansbury caught the encounter on video and posted it on Facebook and Vimeo (warning for strong language):

Lansbury wrote on Facebook that the skiers had just skied their first powder line when Marchi, in the yellow, almost ran over the snow leopard.

“I stopped just as it huddled in the snow, where it stayed for about a minute checking us out,” Lansbury wrote. “It then let out a solid roar and bounded away down the slope towards Dave, but scooted off into the forest, where we think it probably had a kill stashed. Pretty amazing experience!”

However, Mehmood Ahmad Shah, director of the department of tourism for India and a skier himself, is skeptical that it was a snow leopard.

“You rarely see a snow leopard. It is endangered. If it was found in Gulmarg as stated by the skiers, its sight will be added attraction to foreigners apart from skiing in Gulmarg Himalayas,” Shah said, according to India Today.

“[But] I have number of times seen a leopard while skiing in Gulmarg. But I have not come across any snow leopard.”

Rouf Ahmad Zargar, a wildlife warden in North Kashmir, echoed similar sentiments of skepticism.

“I have seen short video footage taken by the skiers,” he told India Today. “I think it is most probably a leopard. It is not a snow leopard.”

The issue remains open for debate since it is difficult to get a clear view of the snow leopard, but Lansbury's words remain true either way. It does seem like a “pretty amazing experience!”

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