The wintertime. If you are passionate for wintersports you will wait for this time of the year excited. For the people from Czech Republic or Slovakia there is a wide range of options where to go for skiing or snowboarding. Beside the local mountains the Alps are very often the common target. Mainly those in Austria, Italy or in France have recently become very popular winter destinations since the prices there are similar or just a bit more expensive than in our country and the quality and variety of skiing / snowboarding options is uncomparable. However these places are usually crowded (especially in Austria), the services beside skiing and accommodation are rather expensive and most importantly - because the skiing trips there are usually picture perfect it becomes boring after some time. :-)
But nowadays - in the time of unlimited options for travellers - new alternatives are offered for those who seek adventure and new experience.
So we decided to try something unusual. A trip to the mountains reaching more than 3000 meters asl, a week of skiing in Gudauri resort in the heart of Caucasus mountains in Georgia. Based on the few references we got we should have expected a very good quality of skiing, beautiful panoramic views and perfect snow conditions. All we had to do was to book a pretty flight tickets from Budapest to Kutaisi and count the days until the departure...
We started our trip in the middle of January 2017. We used the Regiojet bus for the transfer from Brno to Budapest and then we flown overnight with the Wizz air low cost airline directly to Kutaisi. The flight took us slightly more than 4 hours and we landed in Kutaisi sometimes around 6am. A very nice thing is that after you land and go through the passport control you get a small bottle of local wine as a welcome gift. We then bought some local sim cards for the internet (30gb for 10 eur!!) and took a transport to Gudauri (circa 300 km) by minibus, which we arranged in advance. After tiring, 5 hours long and "death in the eyes" journey, which could also be described as "how to play "Need for speed" in the narrow mountain roads in your real life", we reached our target - Gudauri mountain town.
The first impression: amazing view of snowy mountains, clear skies, sunshine and ... our accommodation. As we did not have many pictures of our "hut", we were curious. This "Rezo hut" is a building (probably handmade) of Mr. Rezo who offers the low-cost (for local standard) accommodation with half board in "Georgian style" for tourists and mainly for ski touring fans (as Rezo himself likes ski-touring). Most of the tourists in Georgia are the rich Russians or Ukrainians though, which is why in general the accommodation prices here are higher than you would expect in Georgia. The hut itself has 3 floors and it is sort of a "school trip" style accommodation. Bunk beds, limited time for breakfast and dinner and a "lights out" time. We found out very quickly that local people prefer the quickly-done work from the high-quality work. It was not only seen at our hut but everywhere else. Covering stickers at the brand new (actually couple years old) plastic windows (even those in the sauna), crooked cut wooden plates, protruding screws or cable network weirdly gripped on a building walls etc. However these things are just little details which everyone can live with I assume and which add to the local atmosphere. As regarding to the food the meals in the Rezo hut were traditional, homemade and a lot of them contained dill and coriander. The variety was great so even though we did not like it every time we enjoyed trying new flavors and combinations. :)
It is also important to say that only few of the local people can speak English, but most of them are able to speak Russian, which was the case also at the Rezo hut.
Now, finally something about the main attraction - skiing. Gudauri is a large skiing resort comparing to the resorts in Czech republic and Slovakia. Most of the downhill routes were easy (blue, the lenght 22 km) or intermediate (red, 28 km) with pretty comfortable steepness and width and with nice bends and profile, which made them not boring even after 6 days of skiing.
Unfortunately the difficult (black) slopes on the highest mountain of the resort were all closed due to the lack of snow and the chairlift up there was only open if you had left your skis at the bottom. The lowest cableway starts at 1 990 m asl and the top station ends in 3 279 m asl, so the vertical difference is pretty interesting. The cableway system consists of different types of the chairlifts, several single lifts and one cablecar. As far as we understood the resort uses the second-hand equipment (like chairlifts) from Alpine countries but they all worked all right, the only thing we could object was the annoyingly slow speed of the lowest chairlift, which unfortunately we had to take every morning. This made the cost of the skipasses very comfortable (12 eur per day) and also the rent of the ski-equipment was pretty affordable although it wasn't the latest models (9 eur per day for the whole set).
What we enjoyed the most however is that this resort was mostly not crowded at all (as we are unfortunately used to here in our country and usually it was quite the opposite - many times we were literally the only skiers on the slope. The only exception was Sunday when it was beautifully sunny so obviously lot of people from Tbilisi came to ski. Regarding the prices of food and drinks I would say they are equal to ours in the supermarket over there, the restaurants are more pricy though. The prices in the "aprés-ski" bars and buffets located around the cableways or on the slopes were affected by the mountain surcharge, which made a regular lunch meal cost around 6 eur.
Most of the time, the weather we had was just amazing. Sunshine, clear blue sky and no wind at all, which was not expected in these altitudes. As usual, we had some cloudy days as well (let's say one and a half out of seven days in total) and we also had few days with the very low clouds. That was very nice as you could literally ski in the heaven "above the clouds". The temperature was all the time below zero, so it was sometimes painful to sit on the chairlift for a long time. Surprisingly, if you felt too cold, the easiest way how to escape it was just to take a cableway and go higher. There was always a sunshine at the top and in combination with no wind you could literally just lay down there and sunbath. All in all, the weather was just perfect I must say.
Only one day it was very foggy and snowy so we decided to go to visit the capital city and to try the local cuisine, meet the local people and enjoy the traditional natural baths in Tbilisi. Long story short, you can say this city was full of contrasts. Poor "destroyed-like" houses right next to the rich palaces. Modern futuristic architecture right in the middle of the old city centre. Anyway, we walked around, had a good meal and topped it with amazing traditional baths with natural hot mineral water and sauna, so it was a nice distraction from all that skiing. :-)
The last thing to briefly touch is the snow conditions. From what I've heard Gudauri was supposed to be a freeriders and ski-tourers paradise with a lot of powder and great mountains. The latter I can confirm, the first hardly yet. Even though it was the middle of January the snow conditions were not very good after our arrival. Let's say there was less than 50 cm in the beginning and the rocks were lying on the surface of some parts of the slopes. The snow was roughly 2-4 weeks old so some of our friends who came to do a ski-touring primarily did not feel like in a paradise. A bit of an improvement came couple of days later with some light snowing during the two nights and one day (+10 cm of fresh snow).
All of the snow was natural though so you could easily feel the difference here from the technical snow back at home and we enjoyed this very much. From what we heard (while talking to one of the locals) they are planning to secure the whole area with the snowmaking system in the near future in Gudauri and they plan to improve the whole resort much more, especially by building better infrastructure and alpine style huts and hotels.
So it looks like the Georgian ski-business is going to boom and I can say it deserves it. As mentioned above we had an amazing time, the on-slopes skiing was excellent and even though the whole trip was more expensive than expected and there was less snow than we expected we got what we looked for and came back home with missing the place.
And after all that is what counts, I believe...!
I would therefore like to thank Irina for organizing this trip (finally a trip I was not involved in organizing of :-) ) and to Pavlinka for helping me with drafting this text. ;)