We arrived to the Caucasus in quest for fresh powder. Is not just another snowboarding trip, above all it is the opportunity to get to know a new country and an interesting way to spend two weeks with good friends.
I’ve already had the pleasure to experience snowboarding on the northern slopes of Caucasus (the Russian part of the mountain range). Elbrus, Cheget and the friendly folks of the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria made a great and memorable experience. Because of that I’m looking forward to another adventure with even greater excitement. It is time to discover the southern slopes of the Caucasus.
Things get slightly complicated even before our departure. At the airport it appears that the plane will be delayed by one day due to icy conditions at Kutaisi airport in Georgia. We are forced to spend 24 hours in the hotel together with a group of roughly 200 Georgians waiting to visit to their home country. This feels like acclimatization camp. I also explain it to myself that the plane is delayed due to the difficult weather conditions. It means nothing but even better snow conditions in the mountains. Finally our plane takes off and in turn due to the heavy snowfall it eventually makes an emergency landing at the airport in Tbilisi. That’s even better as our trip to Gudauri from Tbilisi is only 150km, about 200 km shorter comparing to a 350km trip from Kutaisi. We had hard time deciding where to go as there is a long list of alternative resorts to choose from: Mestia and Bakuriani. This time it is going to be Gudauri.
Georgia is a very friendly country for tourists. Firstly, all EU citizens do not need a visa. Secondly, all you need to enter the country is a national ID. If that wasn’t enough, each visitor will receive a bottle of fine Georgian wine on arrival. That’s how tourists should be treated worldwide!
Now we are just a several other means of transportation away from Gudauri. We take a couple of overcrowded marshrutkas, then a subway and a collective taxi to find ourselves in the middle of a mysterious village without any idea what to do next.
Our original plan was to arrange accommodation with help of local babushkas. It’s an old well-tested way and does not require any previous arrangements. In theory, all you need to do is just wait in a place where you have arrived and a babushka will find you. This time it is different. Beginning of January is not as we expected a low season. Due to the Orthodox Christmas we are now in the middle of high season. All of the apartments within a radius of twenty-five kilometers are booked-out.
Fortunately we are lucky. By sheer coincidence we find “a motel” – that is, a room in the post-Soviet style directly accessible from the outside. It has mountain view and hot running water, which from time to time is available. We have less than 10 minutes’ walk to the lift station and just nearby there are a few restaurants with excellent Georgian cuisine. That’s all what we need.
Home sweet home in our “motel”.
We use the first day to get familiar with the area, ski lifts and slopes.
There has been a lot of snow in the last days so the season is now at its best. The two bottom stations of the resort are located at an altitude of about 2,000 m and the upper station of the highest lift is at over 3000 m. In Gudauri there are 5 chairlifts, one gondola and one T-lift. There are further investments planned in the future. Infrastructure is quite at par comparing to Austrian resorts in terms of modernity. Ski passes are fabulously cheap, around €10 per day. The entire resort maintains approximately 50 km of groomed slopes, but the main reason we are here is off-piste. The freeriding possibilities are nearly countless and in the coming days we will try to explore as much as possible.
From the first evening we start daily tradition of having a nice restaurant dinner, grab some drinks and gradually unveil the secrets of Georgian cuisine.
My greatest applause goes to the local grilled meat and aubergine dishes, fresh breads, pomegranate snacks and an interesting combination of salty and sweet flavors.
Be sure to try khinkali, dumplings with minced pork and beef meat filling and herbs. These delicacies appear on our table in dozens.
Kharcho is a thick goulash, it is rich in meat and other nutritious extras. It is available in many variations.
You should also try Adjaruli Khachapuri, which is a hot boat-shaped bread that is filled with cheese and a raw egg yolk topped with butter.
When it comes to drinks, Georgia may be primarily associated with wine. Visitors can also enjoy a bottle of good beer, for example. Natakhtari, Argo or Kazbegi. It is not only that. At some point during the dinner a bottle of unknown content appears on our table. It’s a gift from the owner of the restaurant.
Looking at the volume and its colour, we classified it as white wine. With the first sip it was clear that it is something else. Something more powerful. That’s how we discovered chacha, the flagship of the Georgian distilling traditions.
Chacha is a home-produced alcohol from grapes (sometimes also other fruits are used). It tastes similar to Italian grappa and also has digestive properties. Homemade chacha is something that every host is proud of.
In the second week of our team expands in numbers so we are now looking for accommodation for 7 people. In our the “Motel” there is not enough space. There is no enough room in Szymon’s bus either. Check out Okowoko.org. Since we have a bit more time, we can reactivate operation “babushka”. After several hours of searching, we happen to meet one babushka in a local wine shop. She introduces us to one lady called Luba, who happens to know someone who has an apartment for rent.
We have a deal. There is even 5 liter wine bottle as welcome gift waiting in our new apartment. Now the ski lifts are even closer and we have a reliable hot water supply. It is worth to mention that in the meantime we came up with a card game that we named ‘Luba’ out of respect for that lady.
Buying a ski pass sometimes involves a small typo. The main thing is that there is plenty of fresh also in the second week.
It is also the first snowboarding days for Ela. As we know, the beginnings are not necessarily easy. It usually helps if you try to explain that everyone has to go through it, but you also need a great amount of resistance to ass pain. The experience a beginner snowboarder gains in a number of uncontrollable falls starts to pay off from early days. Soon snowboarding is getting easier and Ela is eventually going downhill without falling.
Thanks to the recent snowfall the highest lift going up to Mt. Sadzele (3279m) was opened. It’s amazing feeling to be one of the first snowboarders on the pristine untouched slopes of this mountain. Time for some real freeriding. The mountain offers diverse types of terrain and varied pitch. There are a few jumps and drops, so you can just jump, pick up the speed and sweep fresh powder to the left and right. Awesome!
The downside is there is still quite a lot of large stones hidden under the thick, yet relatively light layer of snow. Unfortunately January is the beginning of the season, the month during which the deep bottom layer of compact snow only begins to form. Snowboarding over loose powder you run a risk of hitting a piece of rock with the bottom of your board . But that’s just details. With this great snow conditions and nearly endless opportunities, we spare no moment to enjoy it.
We keep on snowboarding and enjoying our time. Georgia, Gudauri, mountains, snow, friendly people and excellent food, all of these aspects form an ideal composition. My brand new snowboard looks as if someone has been trying to make a sculpture out of it for the last two weeks. This is just a small cost to fix. Memories and experiences make whole trip to Georgia worthwhile.
As one saying goes, “certain things happen only once, unless something happens for the second time, in which case, there is no doubt that it will happen also for the third time”. Because of this, I know that a return to the Caucasus is going to happen and I’m looking forward to that!