Half awake, we reach the Kutaisi airport in western Georgia at 4am. Waiting for us there is Nick Phaliani, our local contact, taxi driver, guide, host, and all-around organizing pro. A bumpy minivan ride brings us to Mestia, our base for the coming ten days. Sunshine; fresh, deep snow; and a magnificent panorama greet us. A little sleep deprivation seems like a pretty fair trade-off. We head out immediately to the ski resort at Tetnuldi. The only chairlift isn’t working. We learn replacement parts have to be sent from France, which will take weeks. Luckily we have our ski skins with us, because at the top of the lift a massive northside bowl with uncountable freeride runs stretches out before us. It snowed the day before and the snow is stable, so let the fun begin!
Georgia runs on its own slightly slower time. Stress? Never. The lifts don’t open till 10am. As Europeans we’ve been spoiled by the infrastructure in the Alps- but experiencing a little adventure is exactly why we’re here. Getting up the mountain is a daily challenge, because the roads aren’t even cleared, let alone salted. Deeply grooved lanes and countless safety maneuvers, with the occasional contact between cars, are part of the routine. We spend the next few days in the ski resort, hiking some cool routes, and enjoying the surroundings, the slow pace, and the delicious food.
Next stop Mestia, a small city in the Greater Caucasus range in northwest Georgia at an altitude of about 1500m (4900 ft). It’s the main city of the historical Svaneti region, whose medieval stone towers have qualified it as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here we’re staying in a guest room at Nick’s family’s home. In the daytime we’re on the mountain, evenings we’re enjoying Mama’s fantastic Georgian delicacies. The local schnapps, Cha Cha, is a must at every meal.
After extensively checking out everything around the Tetnuldi sand Hatsvali ski resorts, it’s time to head out with Nick to the community of Ushguli.
Ushguli is a touring paradise with options in every direction. Around 250 people live in this mountain village perched at 2200m (7200 ft), where snow is on the ground six months per year, often closing the road to Mesti. Mountain life is hard…
It’s an exciting drive to Ushgili. The mountain road snakes upward through a deeply carved out valley. Walls of snow extend up for meters. To the right it’s down into a deep ravine. We reach Ushguli late in the evening through a pounding snowstorm. The next morning we head straight out from our guesthouse on our ski tour. We see Shkhara, at 5200m (17,060 ft)Georgia’s highest mountain, shimmering in the distance. Once again we’re lucky with the weather and snow conditions. Almost 1000 vertical meters (3280 ft) of awesome powder. Awesome!
Our time here has gone by too quickly and suddenly it’s time to say goodbye. After ten days it’s back to Europe, back to the daily grind. Too bad, really. I’ll miss the stress-free life here; humans and animals co-existing; chaos on the streets; the delicious food. What I’ll really miss is the cows and pigs running free in the streets. We got to meet nice people, the Georgian cuisine was sensational, and the scenery was breathtaking. Our whole team had nothing but fun! We’ve abandoned our original plan of ‘just’ shooting photos. The land and the people are too exciting not to share with the world, so there will be a movie out in autumn.
Georgia is definitely a worthwhile travel destination- I’d love to come back!
Text: Melissa Presslaber