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PlanetSKI Goes Skiing in Georgia

Just before the corona lockdown PlanetSKI’s Ian Davis managed to explore the skiing in Georgia for a few days before racing back as the flights stopped. One thing is for sure – we’ll be back.

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Georgia is at the intersection of Europe and Asia and is sandwiched between Russia, Turkey with shared borders with Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Georgia has had plenty of influences throughout its history and has created its own distinctive culture.

It has a reputation for great snow in a cluster of small ski resorts situated in the Caucasus Mountains.

The skiing in Georgia is not going to rival its European peers for the quantity of pistes, but it has a group of small resorts each with around 30kms of pistes.

Its strength lies in the easily accessible freeride terrain and the abundance of ski touring and heliskiing to explore.

And of course the thrill of skiing somewhere so different from the norm.

There are direct flights from Luton into Kutaisi a few times a week and daily flights into Tbilisi from many UK departure points via Istanbul with Turkish Airways.

I took the Istanbul route and joined the Georgia Ski tour offered by Mountain Heaven  at Kutaisi international airport where my adventure began.

PlanetSKI goes skiing in Georgia

PlanetSKI’s Ian Davis was skiing in Georgia as winter ended prematurely across the mountains. Here he is on the wind-swept tarmac at Kutaisi International airport heading to Mestia.See his full web site report here and dream of skiing somewhere adventurous. https://planetski.eu/2020/05/04/planetski-goes-skiing-in-georgia/Mountain Heaven

Posted by PlanetSKI.eu on Monday, 4 May 2020

 

I arrived at Mestia, the main village in the Svaneti Province.

It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site famed for its Tower Houses.

They are defensive dwellings so in time of attack the family would retreat into their towers.

Located at 1500m Mestia is well situated to access the skiing at Tetnuldi & Hatsvali.

It’s a small hamlet with a handful of hotels and plenty of pensions to house visiting skiers and mountaineers.

The village has all that you need with a supermarket, small convenience stores and a few restaurants and bars.

Svaneti tower house, Georgia

And then there’s the mountains and the skiing.

Skiing in Georgia

Skiing in Georgia

Skiing in Georgia

Day 1 – Tetnuldi ski area

Skiing in Georgia is an adventure and the journey to the ski area is by a 4×4 vehicle. It’s 25km mainly on concrete roads but the last few km are pretty much off road.

Following the slightly less glamorous arrival, you are greeted by a modern base station with newly installed Poma high speed chairs.

The base station is at 2265m with the highest lift up to 3160m.

Four chairlifts and a drag lift serve 30kms of pistes making Tetnuldi the second largest ski area.

It’s the highest ski station in Georgia, and situated on the lower slopes of Mt Tetnuldi with its glacier clad peak at 4858m.

Intermediate skiers can enjoy a handful of blue runs from the middle station that roll through the terrain back to the base station.

From the top chairlift there are reds and black to descend to the mid station.

There is enough pisted area for a couple of days, but I was surprised at how much scope there was to lap on the same lifts and take a large variety of off piste routes back to the middle and base station.

For those looking for more adventure, the ski touring is world class and combined with the heli skiing on offer Tetnuldi attracts skiers from around the world.

PlanetSKI goes skiing in Georgia

PlanetSKI’s Ian Davis was skiing in Georgia as the season ended prematurely across the mountains. Here he is in the resort of Tetnudi.See his full web site report here and dream of skiing somewhere adventurous. https://planetski.eu/2020/05/04/planetski-goes-skiing-in-georgia/Mountain Heaven

Posted by PlanetSKI.eu on Monday, 4 May 2020

The food is outstanding and amazing value.

The  mountain restaurants are family run cabins with wood fired ovens and BBQs serving up local specialities.

Khachapuri, a pizza style bread filled with meats and or cheese.

Shkmeruli, chicken cooked in milk and garlic and a variety of barbequed meats.

Lunch on the mountain for 4 people, completely over ordered and including beers cost the grand total of £35.

Just under £9 each.

Following a day on hill we retired for some very civilised après ski in a local wine bar.

There is a handful of bars and restaurants in Mestia all pretty chilled, great for relaxing after a day on the hill.

Day 2 – Hatsvali

The second resort accessible from Mestia is Hatsvali.

This smaller resort is only a 5-minute drive from Mestia.

With only 7kms of pistes it does have something for everyone with greens to blacks runs and being located below the tree line it is a good option for a low visibility day.

The slopes are between 1868m and 2348m.

Unfortunately for us it was late season and the weather had warmed and the rain had settled in, due to this the lifts didn’t open so we decided to head back to Kutaisi a little earlier.

The drive back to Kutaisi from Mestia is a 6 hour adventure with the road being cut through deep gorges and ravines.

The local authorities have their work cut out clearing the rock falls and the journey is slowed by the amount of cows and horses on the road.

But the views are world class with waterfalls plunging from the high cliffs into torrents of water that stream down the gorge below.

Our last night was a celebration of all things Georgia through food and wine.

One thing that strikes you when in Georgia is their friendly demeaner, positive energy and hospitality – food and wine flow endlessly.

The Georgian cuisine is a unique taste sensation with dishes with influences from Asia to Europe.

There are herb rich salads, pomegranate flavoured pulses, stewed and barbequed meats.

Most of the restaurants will serve their own locally sourced wines, some of which resemble the colour of a Cornish Scrumpy cider.

Don’t be put off by this as second they are easy to drink light wines that help wash down the endless supply of food.

 

Day 3 – Quick tour of Kutaisi before flying back to the UK

Kutaisi is Georgia’s second city behind the capital Tbilisi.

It’s located on the banks of the Rioni river and our short Sunday morning stroll was a great experience, rich in history dating back to the fifth century BC.

There is plenty to observe while you meander through the stunning architecture and public parks.

The highlight for me was visiting the vibrant open market and bazaar.

It’s an assault on the senses where you can buy anything from building materials through to meat, veg, pulses, grains, fruit, live seafood and the local speciality Churchkhela.

Strings of walnuts or hazelnuts dipped in a rich grape juice syrup which when left to dry create an energy laden sugary snack.

 

All in all Georgia is a great destination to visit.

The  scope of the ski terrain is amazing, though my trip was cut short as the pandemic took its hold and international travel was threatened.

It has easily accessible off piste and due to the low numbers of skiers and boarders will remain relatively untracked allowing you to make fresh turns all day.

The extent of the pistes isn’t massive, but explore outside the confines of the runs and you are rewarded with world class riding.

The Georgian culture is welcoming and friendly – the food, wine and hospitality is constantly flowing.

Step away from your normal European ski break and take an adventure.

I will certainly be planning another trip and I can’t wait to explore the ski touring opportunities.

I joined the Mountain Heaven Georgia Tour which is a 9-night tour taking in four ski areas as well as exploring Tbilisi, Kutaisi, wine tasting and some of heritage sites of the country.

Mestia, Georgia

Mestia, Georgia

Other ski resorts in Georgia included in the tour are:

Gudauri

With slopes from 2000m to just over 3000m Gudauri has a modern set up with a good variety of pistes totalling 35kms.

Located in the Southerly end of the Greater Caucasus Mountains above the tree line the resort has a slightly more European feel than some of the other Georgian resorts.

One of its great attractions is the secured freeride areas which are all ‘in bounds’.

Bakuriani

29kms of slopes split over 2 areas Mt Kokhta and the Didveli area most of the slopes are red or blacks but it does have some good beginner slopes at the base station.

Bakuriani slopes range from 1641m to 2702m.

Factbox

The Georgia Ski tour is a package offered by Mountain Heaven

Flights

Turkish Airlines – London Gatwick to Tbilisi Via Istanbul

Direct flights from Luton to Kutaisi with Wizz Air

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