staggering costs of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and the white-knuckle chaos of preparations for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

blue skies. High-speed railways have slashed the trip from Beijing to the most distant venues from four hours to one.

In an area perennially short of water, China built a network of pipelines to feed a phalanx of snow-making machines to dust barren slopes in white. Officials this week even claimed the entire Games would be “fully carbon neutral.”

Christophe Dubi, executive director of the upcoming Games, said in an interview that China proved to be a partner willing and able to do whatever it took to pull off the event, regardless of the challenges.

“Organizing the Games,” Mr. Dubi said, “was easy.”

The committee has deflected questions about human rights and other controversies overshadowing the Games. While the committee’s own charter calls for “improving the promotion and respect of human rights,” officials have said that it was not for them to judge the host country’s political system.

Instead, what matters most to the committee is pulling off the Games. By selecting Beijing, the committee had alighted on a “safe choice,” said Thomas Bach, the committee’s president.

unseasonably warm weather. Sochi 2014 — intended as a valedictory of Vladimir V. Putin’s rule in Russia — cost a staggering $51 billion.

Growing wariness of organizing the quadrennial event gave China an unexpected advantage. Beijing — no one’s idea of a winter sports capital — could reuse sites from the 2008 Games, including the iconic Bird’s Nest stadium for the opening ceremony. The Water Cube, which held the swimming and diving events 14 years ago, was rebranded as the Ice Cube.

Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, once a republic of the Soviet Union.

The final tally was 44 to 40 for Beijing, with one abstention. Almaty’s supporters were left to fume over a glitch in the electronic voting system that prompted a manual recount to “protect the integrity of the vote.” That Kazakhstan has plunged into political turmoil on the eve of the Games seems now, in hindsight, further validation of the choice to pick Beijing.

Xinhua, compared to 480,000 three years before.

ceremonial scepter popular in the Qing dynasty, complete with a 6,000-seat stadium at the bottom that is supposed to hold soccer matches after the Olympics.

military preparations for the Games, including the installation of 44 antiaircraft batteries around Beijing, even though the likelihood of an aerial attack on the city seemed far-fetched.

“A safe Olympics is the biggest symbol of a successful Beijing Olympic Games, and is the most important symbol of the country’s international image,” he said then.

accusation of sexual harassment rocked the sports world last fall, the committee found itself caught in the furor.

fumed in private. Without the protective cover of the international committee, they feared reprisals if they spoke out individually.

The 2008 Olympics also faced harsh criticism. A campaign led by the actress Mia Farrow called the event the “genocide games” because of China’s support for Sudan despite its brutal crackdown in the Darfur region. The traditional torch relay was hounded by protests in cities on multiple continents, including Paris, London, San Francisco and Seoul.

The accusations against China today are, arguably, even more serious. The United States and other countries have declared that China’s crackdown against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang amounts to genocide. Ms. Farrow’s biting sobriquet has resurfaced for 2022, with a Twitter hashtag.

only screened spectators of its own choosing. It will mostly be a performance for Chinese and international television audiences, offering a choreographed view of the country, the one Mr. Xi’s government has of itself.

If the coronavirus can be kept under control, Beijing could weather the Olympics with fewer problems than seemed likely when it won the rights to the Games seven years ago. Mr. Xi’s government has already effectively declared it a success. A dozen other Chinese cities are already angling for the 2036 Summer Olympics.

“The world looks forward to China,” Mr. Xi said in an New Year’s address, “and China is ready.”

Chris Buckley contributed reporting. Claire Fu, Liu Yi and Li You contributed research.

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China talks up ‘green’ Olympics but prepares to fight smog

ZHANGJIAKOU, China, Dec 27 (Reuters) – China is using the Winter Olympic Games to drive its efforts to improve the environment, but smog-prone capital Beijing is still preparing for the worst as the opening ceremony looms.

Beijing has improved its air quality since China won its bid to host the Games, but the Ministry of Ecology and Environment has said winter smog risks remained “severe”.

Ministry spokesman Liu Youbin told reporters on Thursday that contingency plans were in place.

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“When the time comes, Beijing and Hebei will be guided to adopt reasonable environmental protection measures in accordance with the law,” he said.

Rumours that polluting heavy industries in the area would be shuttered from Jan. 1 were “not true”, however, he said.

Critics warned in 2015 – when China won its bid – that the Winter Olympics could be overshadowed by hazardous smog in a region dominated by heavy industry. Chinese President Xi Jinping subsequently vowed to run a “green” Games, and Hebei promised to “transform and upgrade” its industrial economy.

Since then, China has planted thousands of hectares of trees in Beijing and surrounding Hebei province, built sprawling wind and solar farms, and relocated hundreds of enterprises.

In Zhangjiakou city, 200 km (125 miles) northwest of Beijing and host to skiing and snowboarding events, 26-year-old amateur skier Deng Zhongping said he has already felt the difference.

“When I came to Beijing a few years back I would suffer with rhinitis because of pollution, but the air quality in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei has improved a lot,” he said.

“I think the air quality at Zhangjiakou ski resort is even better than some foreign ski resorts.”

Wind turbines stand behind a snow gun operating at Genting Snow Park during a government-organised media tour to Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics venues in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, China December 21, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

In 2016, average concentrations of PM2.5 in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region stood at 71 micrograms per cubic metre and soared to more than 500 micrograms over winter. That compares to an average 40 micrograms from January to September this year.

The reading in Beijing was 33 micrograms in the first three quarters, meeting China’s 35-microgram standard, although exceeding the recommended World Health Organization level of 5 micrograms and likely to rise much higher over winter.

“China will win many medals at the Winter Olympics, but the smog … could plunge the Games into difficulties,” the Washington-based International Fund for China’s Environment said earlier this year.

GREENING THE GAMES

Officials said during a government-organised tour this week that all 26 Olympic venues in Beijing and Hebei province would be 100% powered by renewable energy. More than 700 hydrogen-fuelled vehicles will also be deployed, despite the government falling short of a hydrogen production target.

Preparations have included a tree-planting programme that increased forest coverage in Zhangjiakou to 70%-80%, up from 56% previously.

China has also said it would make the Games “carbon neutral” for the first time. Environmental group Greenpeace, though, said without more data it would be hard to evaluate whether the goal was actually met.

Water scarcity is another concern, especially when it comes to creating artificial snow and ice.

Organisers said the Games would not put additional pressure on local water supplies and rely instead on cisterns that collected mountain runoff and rainfall during the summer – in line with China’s wider efforts to create a “circular” economy in which resources are fully utilised and recycled.

“We are all self-sufficient and ecologically circular,” said Wang Jingxian, a member of the 2022 Games planning committee.

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Reporting by Muyu Xu and David Stanway; Editing by Tom Hogue

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Phuket Was Poised for Tourism Comeback. A Covid Surge Dashed Those Hopes.

PHUKET, Thailand — Around the corner from the teeth-whitening clinic and the tattoo parlor with offerings in Russian, Hebrew and Chinese, near the outdoor eatery with indifferent fried rice meant to fuel sunburned tourists or tired go-go dancers, the Hooters sign has lost its H.

The sign, in that unmistakable orange cartoon font, now simply reads, “ooters.”

Like so much at Patong Beach, the sleazy epicenter of sybaritic Thailand, Hooters is “temporarily closed.” Other establishments around the beach, on Phuket Island, are more firmly shuttered, their metal grills and padlocks rusted or their contents ripped out, down to the fixtures, leaving only the carcasses of a tourism industry ravaged by the coronavirus epidemic.

The sun, which usually draws 15 million people to Phuket each year, stays unforgiving in a downturn. The rays bleach “For Rent” signs on secluded villas and scorch greens on untended golf courses. They lay bare the emptiness of Patong streets where tuk-tuk drivers once prowled, doubling as touts for snorkeling trips or peep shows or Thai massages.

kept the virus at bay, although the economy suffered. But even as the last couple of weeks have brought repeated daily caseload highs, the Thai government is reacting slowly.

In early April, as cases began to mount, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha reacted with a verbal shrug.

voted to recommend lifting a pause on the Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine and adding a label about an exceedingly uncommon but potentially dangerous blood clotting disorder.

  • Federal health officials are expected to formally recommend that states lift the pause.
  • Administration of the vaccine ground to a halt recently after reports emerged of a rare blood clotting disorder in six women who had received the vaccine.
  • The overall risk of developing the disorder is extremely low. Women between 30 and 39 appear to be at greatest risk, with 11.8 cases per million doses given. There have been seven cases per million doses among women between 18 and 49.
  • Nearly eight million doses of the vaccine have now been administered. Among men and women who are 50 or over, there has been less than one case per million doses.
  • Johnson & Johnson had also decided to delay the rollout of its vaccine in Europe amid similar concerns, but it later decided to resume its campaign after the European Union’s drug regulator said a warning label should be added. South Africa, devastated by a more contagious virus variant that emerged there, also suspended use of the vaccine but later moved forward with it.
  • On April 18, Thailand’s tourism minister acknowledged that a July 1 opening for Phuket looked unlikely given that the plan depended on Covid being squelched in Thailand.

    To prepare for Phuket Sandbox, the Thai government funneled many of its limited number of vaccines to the island, in hopes of achieving herd immunity by the summer. As of mid-April, more than 20 percent of Phuket’s residents had been vaccinated. Nationwide, only about 1 percent of the population has received the needed doses.

    “I am very relieved,” said Suttirak Chaisawat, a grocery store worker who received his Sinovac vaccine this month at a resort repurposed for mass inoculations. “We all need some hope for Phuket.”

    While the vaccinations may have given Mr. Suttirak some optimism, the present picture remains grim.

    Normally at this time of year, Patong Beach’s golden sands would be heaving with foreign holidaymakers.

    But the beach is now almost deserted, save for a clutch of residents lining up for Covid tests at a mobile medical unit. Up the road, a monitor lizard, a creature more crocodile than newt, lumbered across the tarmac, with little traffic to impede its crossing.

    Phuket’s half-built condominium complexes are being reclaimed by nature, always a battle in the tropics but a lost cause when developer money dries up. Billboards for “Exclusive Dream Holiday Home” are stained by mildew and monsoon mud.

    The Thai New Year period this month was supposed to be a dress rehearsal for Phuket’s revival. Rather than foreign backpackers or business conference attendees, hotels tried to lure high-end Thai tourists who, were it not for the pandemic, might have decamped overseas for skiing in Hokkaido, Japan, or shopping in Paris.

    But instead of prepping the island for its return as a global tourist haven, the Thai New Year may have wrecked the island’s chances for a July reopening.

    At festivals in Patong and at other beaches this month, thousands of affluent Thais partied, fewer masks in evidence than bikini tops. For some in Thailand’s high society, Covid was seen as something that might infect vegetable sellers or shrimp peelers, not the jet set.

    But then these beach revelers started testing positive, the virus spreading from luxe Bangkok nightclubs to Phuket.

    The virus’s resurgence after so many months of economic hardship is shattering for the majority of Phuket’s residents, who depend on foreign tourists for their livelihoods.

    As a 3-year-old elephant munched on sugar cane nearby, Jaturaphit Jandarot swung slowly in his hammock. There was little else to do.

    Before the pandemic, he and the other elephant handlers on the outskirts of Patong used to lead more than 100 tourists a day, mostly from China, on 30-minute rides. Now there are no visitors.

    “I was super excited to hear they are going to open Phuket for foreign tourists,” Mr. Jaturaphit said. “Thai people don’t ride elephants.”

    Whatever the state of international travel, the elephants still need to be fed. Each month, a dozen beasts consume at least $2,000 worth of sugar cane, pineapples and bananas. The 3-year-old, little more than a toddler in elephant years, eats as much as the adults.

    After Phuket’s tin and rubber industries declined, tourism grew from a few bungalows on Patong Beach in the 1970s to a global phenomenon, attracting golfers, clubbers, yachters, sex tourists and Scandinavian snow birds.

    Much of Phuket’s high-end accommodation is clustered near the beach town of Bang Tao, a placid Muslim-majority community where placards for upscale wine bars mix with Arabic signs for Islamic schools.

    Phuket’s largest mosque is in Bang Tao, and this year the first day of Ramadan coincided with the beginning of the Thai New Year festivities, an auspicious augur after a year of economic hardship. The night before fasting was to begin, worshipers streamed to the mosque. Women chopped shrimp, banana flowers and armfuls of herbs for the feasting to come.

    But at the last minute, the Phuket authorities called off mass prayers for fear of the virus’s spread. Iftar, the breaking of the fast, is taking place in homes, not at the mosque.

    As the local authorities traced Covid-19 cases on the island to the upscale beach parties, residents of Bang Tao grew frustrated.

    “We want to welcome people to Phuket, of course, but when they don’t protect themselves and they bring Covid here, I’m a little bit angry,” said Huda Panan, a primary schoolteacher who lives behind the mosque.

    Ms. Huda’s husband is a taxi driver, but he hasn’t worked for more than a year. Most of the mosque’s community depended on tourism, working as concierges, cleaners, landscapers and water-sports guides. Now, some locals sell dried fish and scavenge the hills for a fruit used to add pucker to a local curry — whatever they can do to survive.

    On occasion, Buddhist temples, churches and mosques in Phuket distribute meals to the hungry. Lines are long. The food runs out.

    “We can wait a little longer for Phuket to get better,” Ms. Huda said in the heat of the day as the daily fast grew long. “But not much more.”

    Muktita Suhartono contributed reporting from Bangkok.

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    Deals Designed to Lure Travelers Off Their Couches

    Resorts there are unfurling the welcome mat in the form of deals. Through April, Katikies, which has seven boutique hotels between the islands of Mykonos and Santorini, is offering 20 percent off rates and 100-euro (about $118) food and beverage credits for three-night-minimum stays throughout 2021, including a full refund in case a pandemic-related travel ban is in place. Prediscount, rates at the Katikies Garden Santorini start at 310 euros.

    On Crete, guests staying five nights or more at the new Cretan Malia Park can book the History Package to get daily breakfast and dinner and a guided tour to Knossos archaeological site followed by lunch at a local tavern. Rates start at $250 a night.

    Annual ski pass offers usually start low and end, by the time the resorts open, higher, giving skiers and riders incentive to think snow in summer. This year, Vail Resorts is piling on pressure by slashing its Epic Passes by 20 percent, bringing fares back down to 2015-2016 season prices.

    Right now, an Epic Pass is $783, down from $979 last season, offering access to more than 70 resorts worldwide, including unlimited access to 37 ski areas like Vail and Breckenridge in Colorado and Park City, Utah. By comparison, a one-day lift ticket at Vail currently costs $219.

    Vail has not said if the price for the pass will rise. The competing Ikon Pass, on sale now at $999, offers access to 44 destinations during the 2021-2022 season and seven for most of the remainder of this year’s spring skiing season.

    Vacation homes have been a relative bright spot in the travel industry during the pandemic, as travelers sought the privacy and control of rental homes. AirDNA, which analyzes the short-term rental market, says prices have been creeping up in early 2021, especially in rural areas and resort locations; average daily rates were up more than nine percent in February 2021 compared to the same period last year.

    Sitewide sales on rental platforms are rare, but AvantStay, which has more than 400 properties in the United States and Mexico, is offering $250 off bookings from June 20 to Sept. 22 using the booking code SUMMER250.

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    Czech Billionaire Is Among 5 Killed in Heli-Skiing Crash Near Alaska Glacier

    Five people, including the Czech Republic’s richest man, were killed on a heli-skiing excursion on Saturday when their chopper crashed near a glacier in Alaska, officials said.

    The Czech billionaire, Petr Kellner, whose net worth has been estimated at $17.5 billion by Forbes, was aboard the Airbus AS350 B3 helicopter when it went down near Knik Glacier, the lodge that chartered the aircraft said on Sunday.

    Mr. Kellner, 56, was killed, along with another guest of the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, Benjamin Larochaix, also of the Czech Republic; two of the lodge’s guides, Gregory Harms and Sean McMannany; and the helicopter’s pilot, Zach Russel, officials said.

    One survivor was listed in serious but stable condition, according to the Alaska State Troopers, which said that the National Transportation Safety Board would conduct an investigation to determine what caused the crash. Emergency responders said they were notified at 10 p.m. on Saturday that the helicopter had not returned from an excursion and that debris from a crash had been observed near Knik Glacier.

    The accident was the latest misadventure for an extreme sport with little margin for error that has become a magnet for thrill seekers. Flights to remote mountains, playgrounds of untouched powder, are known for their steep price tags and risk.

    The lodge, which offers weekly packages of $15,000 per person for shared accommodations and heli-skiing charters, expressed its sorrow about the crash in a statement on Sunday night.

    “This news is devastating to our staff, the community in which we operate and the families of the deceased,” the lodge said. “In 17 years of operations this is the first time we’ve had to face an event of this measure.”

    A representative for the lodge, which is in Judd Lake, Alaska, said she did not know what caused the crash. Officials said the helicopter was operated by Soloy Helicopters in Wasilla, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The lodge confirmed that it had chartered the flight.

    According to the lodge, Mr. Kellner was a frequent guest and friend of the resort. His investment company, PPF Group, also confirmed the death in a statement released Monday, saying that the crash was under investigation.

    “His professional life was known for his incredible work ethic and creativity, but his private life belonged to his family,” the company said of Mr. Kellner, adding that the funeral would be held with only close family members.

    Mr. Kellner made his first fortune in the 1990s after starting an investment fund, which he used to buy a controlling stake in the country’s largest insurance company.

    In October, he acquired a major European broadcast network, Central European Media Enterprises, for $1.1 billion, raising concerns in the Czech Republic that the network might lose independence. But in a statement released at the time, Mr. Kellner said the acquisition was driven by “a sense of responsibility” and vowed that the network would retain its objectivity.

    PPF Group has also donated millions of respirators and masks and thousands of coronavirus testing kits and swabs to help the Czech Republic in the pandemic, the Czech news media reported.

    He was married with four children, according to his company’s website.

    According to the lodge, Mr. Harms, 52, was a pioneering guide in the Alaskan heli-skiing community and operated his own excursion business, Third Edge Heli. Mr. McMannany, 38, had been a guide for more than 10 years and was an avalanche instructor, the lodge said.

    Details about Mr. Larochaix, 50, and Mr. Russel, 33, the pilot, were not immediately available.

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    Swiss Billionaire Joins the Bidding for Tribune Publishing

    An octogenarian Swiss billionaire who makes his home in Wyoming and has donated hundreds of millions to environmental causes is a surprise new player in the bidding for Tribune Publishing, the major newspaper chain that until recently seemed destined to end up in the hands of a New York hedge fund.

    Hansjörg Wyss (pronounced Hans-yorg Vees), the former chief executive of the medical device manufacturer Synthes, said in an interview on Friday that he had agreed to join with the Maryland hotelier Stewart W. Bainum Jr. in a bid for Tribune Publishing, an offer that could upend Alden Global Capital’s plan to take full ownership of the company.

    Mr. Wyss, who has given away some of his fortune to help preserve wildlife habitats in Wyoming, Montana and Maine, said he was motivated to join the Tribune bid by his belief in the need for a robust press. “I have an opportunity to do 500 times more than what I’m doing now,” he said.

    Alden, which already owns roughly 32 percent of Tribune Publishing shares, is known for drastically cutting costs at the newspapers it controls through its MediaNews Group subsidiary. Last month, the hedge fund reached an agreement with Tribune, whose papers include The Daily News, The Baltimore Sun and The Chicago Tribune, to buy the rest of the company’s shares at $17.25 apiece.

    Choice Hotels International, one of the world’s largest hotel chains, to make a bid on March 16 for all of Tribune, beating Alden’s number with an offer of $18.50 a share.

    That bid valued the company at about $650 million. The Alden agreement valued Tribune at roughly $630 million.

    Tribune was not swayed by Mr. Bainum’s offer. A securities filing on Tuesday revealed that the company’s board recommended that shareholders approve the Alden bid. At the same time, the Tribune board gave Mr. Bainum the go-ahead to pursue financing for his higher bid.

    He has done just that by teaming with Mr. Wyss, who said in the interview that he planned to own the company’s flagship paper while he and Mr. Bainum seek benefactors for Tribune’s seven other metro dailies, which include The Orlando Sentinel and The Hartford Courant.

    “He made that bid because he wants The Baltimore Sun,” Mr. Wyss said, referring to Mr. Bainum. “I said, ‘Yeah, that’s fine. And I have to make The Tribune even better than what it is now.’”

    the sale of Synthes to Johnson & Johnson for roughly $20 billion. Mr. Wyss and his family — a daughter, Amy, also lives in Wyoming — had the largest stake in Synthes, owning nearly half the shares.

    The sale of Tribune, which the newspaper company hopes to conclude by July, requires regulatory approval and yes votes from company shareholders representing two-thirds of the non-Alden stock. The medical entrepreneur Patrick Soon-Shiong, who owns The Los Angeles Times with his wife, Michele B. Chan, has enough Tribune shares to squash the Alden deal by himself. Dr. Soon-Shiong declined to comment on Saturday.

    Mr. Wyss said he would be a civic-minded custodian of The Chicago Tribune. “I don’t want to see another newspaper that has a chance to increase the amount of truth being told to the American people going down the drain,” he said.

    Alden’s potential acquisition of Tribune has been fiercely opposed by many journalists at Tribune papers. Alden has aggressively cut costs at many MediaNews Group publications, including The Denver Post and The San Jose Mercury News. Critics say the hedge fund sacrifices journalistic quality for greater profits, while Alden argues that it saves papers that would otherwise join the thousands that have gone out of business in the last two decades.

    Mr. Wyss, 85, said he was partly inspired to join Mr. Bainum by a New York Times opinion essay last year in which two Chicago Tribune reporters, David Jackson and Gary Marx, warned that an Alden purchase would lead to “a ghost version of The Chicago Tribune — a newspaper that can no longer carry out its essential watchdog mission.” Since that article appeared, both reporters have left the paper.

    Mr. Wyss, born in Bern, first visited the United States as an exchange student in 1958, working for the Colorado Highway Department. He was a journalist as a young man, he said, covering skiing for Neue Zürcher Zeitung, a Zurich paper, and filing dispatches on American sports to Der Bund, a Bern paper, when he was studying at Harvard Business School.

    He said he believed The Chicago Tribune would prosper under his ownership.

    “Maybe I’m naïve,” Mr. Wyss said, “but the combination of giving enough money to a professional staff to do the right things and putting quite a bit of money into digital will eventually make it a very profitable newspaper.”

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    Skiing in Himalayas Is ‘Like a Beautiful Dream,’ Despite Conflict and Coronavirus

    GULMARG, Kashmir — As a soft snowfall blanketed everything around her, Nihad Ashraf Khan, a college student who had been cooped up for months because of the pandemic, ran up to her attic and almost frantically grabbed for her skis, poles, boots and goggles — and headed immediately for the Himalayas.

    After driving 30 miles from her house in Srinagar, Kashmir’s biggest city, Ms. Khan reached a scrappy ski town tucked deep into the folds of the world’s highest mountain chain. And she was hardly alone: A steady stream of skiers, music blasting from their cars, were racing to make it to the slopes while the snow was still fresh.

    It felt like arriving at a carnival in the middle of a forest, she said.

    “I wanted to throw away my mask and wear my skis,” said Ms. Khan, an avid downhill skier. “There was only one place on my mind: Gulmarg.”

    Every year, Gulmarg, one of Asia’s largest and highest ski resorts, attracts thousands of skiers, drawn by perfect powder, cheap hotels, breathtaking views and the feeling of an island of peace inside an often restive territory.

    snow leopard or a brown bear on the way down.

    ski slopes around the world have suffered because of the coronavirus, Gulmarg is having one of its busiest seasons ever. By mid-March, the resort had already drawn 160,000 people, nearly 10 times more than last year and far more than any other season for at least three decades.

    fought to break the territory away from India and either join Pakistan or become an independent state. But India isn’t letting go. It has deployed hundreds of thousands of troops, and in 2019, the Indian government stripped the Kashmir region of its autonomy, a move that left even those siding with India feeling betrayed, disillusioned and disenfranchised.

    waiting to be frisked by soldiers, part of a security routine that residents say is humiliating.

    Growing up here, the turmoil was often so bad that we couldn’t leave our homes, and in fact, until recently, I hadn’t been back to Gulmarg.

    The resort, a few miles from the Line of Control that divides India and Pakistan in Kashmir, is surrounded on all sides by Indian forces, who maintain a tight control over the region. Visitors encounter policemen before entering Gulmarg, who search cars and scan passengers.

    Still, this was the ski town of my youth, with a few changes. The government rental shop, once offered just a dozen low-grade skis. Now it has a wide choice of world-class equipment. And today you can ride a gondola running along the Apharwat Mountains, one of the highest cable cars in the world at 13,800 feet.

    The resort supports 20,000 local residents and 40 hotels. This year, because of the spike in demand, hotel prices have skyrocketed. A double that used to go for $50 costs $200, and many skiers are packing into them, five to a room.

    There are still some angrez around — foreigners who make the town their home during the ski season, which can last into April.

    Brian Newman, a lanky skier from Colorado, is the head of Gulmarg’s ski patrol. His job includes instructing crews on where to place dynamite to trigger man-made avalanches to prevent natural ones.

    “It’s not a world class resort,” Mr. Newman admitted. But, he said, “it is special” because of the wide open terrain and amazing vistas.

    Each day, skiers of all abilities pile out of buses and battered Indian jeeps. They take their place at the cable car station where the parka-clad crowds inch forward on their skis, ready to be transported through the clouds to a ridgeline that looks out over the Kashmir Valley.

    There are four bunny ski runs for beginners and one slope running for miles, reached only by a gondola. There is also sledding, and each morning legions of young Kashmiri men trudge up the slopes tugging their long wooden sleds. Chai-wallahs stand in clumps, pouring out steaming cups of tea for skiers taking a break in the iridescent sunshine.

    On a bright morning a few weeks ago, Fanny Godara, a French businesswomen who runs a restaurant in the southern Indian city of Pondicherry with her Indian husband, watched her children learn parallel turns on a beginner’s slope.

    Like every parent, she said, she had been worried about the well-being of her two children during lockdown. Amid canceled holidays and before an impending move back to France, her children jumped at the chance to learn to ski.

    “There is something magical about this place,” Ms. Godara said. “You want to come back, again and again.”

    Ms. Khan, the skier who rushed to get here at the first sign of snow, had been restless for months, hunkered down indoors, infections surging around her, friends and relatives falling sick.

    Staying inside was becoming impossible, she said, and the snowflakes falling outside her window were an irresistible invitation.

    Lockdown restrictions have gradually eased in India, and much of the economy has been operating normally the past few months. In Gulmarg, crowded with skiers and snow lovers, social distancing was aspirational at best.

    But Ms. Khan, 23, who is studying biosciences, said she still felt safe. As she slid off the chair lift on the 11,500 foot Merry Shoulder peak, she said she had never seen so many other people on the slopes.

    Before she plunged down, she looked over her shoulder at her friend Ishani Jamwal, another college student, and yelled out: “How does it look from here?”

    “Like a beautiful dream,” Ms. Jamwal yelled back. “I don’t want to blink.”

    Jeffrey Gettleman contributed reporting from New Delhi.

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