In a first, Himachal to host national ice hockey meet

In a first, the Ice Hockey Association of India will hold a national tournament in the newly developed open-air rink amidst the stunning backdrop of the Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh’s Spiti Valley, a cold desert, officials said on Friday.

“We are going to hold the under-20 ice hockey tournament in Himachal Pradesh for the first time. It will start on January 27,” Ice Hockey Association of India General Secretary Harjinder Singh told IANS over phone.

He was here to inaugurate a training camp on Thursday being organised by the state government in association with the ice hockey federation in Kaza town, some 350 km from here.

Authorities this week opened the ice rink of 31 metre by 61 metre size by giving a natural coating of thick layers of ice.

The rink lies at an altitude of 3,720 metres, the highest in the country as Kaza is located at an altitude higher than Leh, where temperatures plummet below minus 20 degrees Celsius in winter.

According to Singh, winter sports have immense potential in the Spiti Valley where snowfall cover remains at least for five months.

“In the coming years, the skiing will also be promoted here as locals have much talent and excitement. Right now, the children in the age of eight to 20 are being given coaching in ice hockey. Some of them will be shortlisted for an advance coaching camp in Gulmarg,” he added.

District Youth Services and Sports Officer Jiwan Negi told IANS that this was for the second time that the training camp was being organised in Kaza.

He said that last year, on an experimental basis, a tennis court was converted into an ice hockey rink.

“Seeing the response of the youngsters towards ice hockey, we have decided to set up a permanent rink this winter,” he said.

Negi said 165 students have been undergoing basic training camp being organised by national coach Amit Berwal.

“Fifteen of them will be shortlisted for the advanced coaching in Gulmarg. After that they will be selected for the national meet. The state will bear the entire expenditure of their coaching.”

Olympian Skalzang Dorje, an instructor with the Youth Services and Sports Department, said the entire Spiti Valley “is a magnet for winter games”.

“There is so much potential… each youngster at an early age picks up a ski board and hits the snow-covered slopes. Every house has a ski blade — largely developed indigenously — depending upon the financial status of the family. This ‘art’ of making blades is being passed on from one generation to another,” said archer Dorje, who competed in the men’s individual and team events at the 1996 Summer Olympics.