Issue 1, 2012. February-March

   

LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW

Here's hoping that the weather will be frightful: Georgia is full of great skiing locations, with slopes and resorts that cater to everyone, from the super black-diamond mogul racer to a toddler's first go at the lifts. Investor.ge's Aleqsandre Bluashvili breaks down the country's ski options, with travel tips, accommodation hints and even a short list of places to dine.


GUDAURI

Gudauri is Georgia's most well-known ski resort due to its proximity to Tbilisi; just 90 kilometers from the capital. The ski resort's base is 2200 meters above sea level but it boasts lifts as high as 3285 meters above sea level. Extreme sports like helisking are also available (see "Things to Do").

How to get there:
It is easy to reach Gudauri, either by taxi, car or minibus. Minibuses depart from Didube station four times a day: 9:00 am, 9:30 am, 6:00 pm and 6:30 pm, at a cost of just six lari (approximately $3) per person. Taxis charge 100 lari, one way, although it is best to negotiate the price up front to avoid surprises. If you prefer not to haggle, local taxi agencies offer fixed prices. The trip takes about 1.5-2 hours, depending on road conditions. The road is fairly well maintained, but in extreme conditions the patrol police may not allow all vehicles to attempt the ascent.

Accommodation:
Prices of accommodation vary from 50-500 Laris per night. More information about housing options can be found on the web-site: www.georgia.travel or http://www.info-tbilisi.com/travel/.

Things to do:
The ski slopes are extensive and range from bunny slopes to expert trails. Six ski lifts-including a rope tow, chairlifts and a gondola-service the runs, operating from 10am to 5pm. Lift passes are available at the resort and at Smart supermarkets in Tbilisi: a day pass costs 30 lari ($18), or a ten day pass - valid for any time during the season - costs 260 lari ($157).
Ski equipment can be rented in Gudauri. the average price of rental is 25 lari ($15) per hour, although it is more advisable to rent equipment in Tbilisi, which will be drastically cheaper compared to the prices at the resort itself. Snowboards and skis can be rented from the following addresses in Tbilisi: Mogzauri + at 91, Vazha Pshavela Street, 231 91 01. The price of daily rental varies from 15-30 lari ($ 9-18), bring a Georgian friend since the rental requires copy of a Georgian ID.
For the adventure skier, helisking is available at Gudauri. For more information, contact (+995 32) 2243 503, (+995 32) 2243 504, e-mail: info@heliksir.com.

Entertainment:
Gudauri offers a variety of dining and entertainment options, including:
"Caucasus Restaurant"
(+995 32) 220 2901
"Gradusi" (on the slope)
(+995 32) 220 2901
"Vitamini"
(+995 599) 174 422.


BAKURIANI

Located on the northern slopes of the Trialeti range, Bakuriani is known as Georgia's family ski resort but don't be put off by the bunny slopes, adventure skiers: with ski runs coasting at 2,255 meters, there is plenty of extreme terrain for powder buffs of all levels and aptitudes.

How to get there:
Driving from Tbilisi to Bakuriani will take about three hours. The road is well maintained and newly renovated, although in case of heavy snow and ice, snow chains are highly recommended.
Another option is the railway; the train from Tbilisi to Borjomi departs at 7:00 a.m. from Tbilisi Central Station and takes about four hours to reach Borjomi. Once travelers arrive in Borjomi, they have to catch the small local train, known as the Kukushka, to Bakuriani, a two hour ride. While the trip is long, it is pleasant and picturesque. The Kukushka travels through a beautiful fir tree forest, so take a camera to record the lovely scenery. If train travel is too slow, however, there are also minibuses and taxis to rent. The mini-bus departs from Didube bus station at 8:30 am every day. It takes approximately 3 hours, half the time needed to get to Bakuriani by train. A taxi will cost travelers about 100-150 lari ($ 60-90).

Accommodation:
Prices of accommodation vary from 50-500 Laris per night, more information about housing options can be found on the web-site: www.georgia.travel or http://www.info-tbilisi.com/travel/.

Things to do:
Skiing: There are three main ski runs available at Bakuriani. The central, a 25 meters ski run near the center of town, is designed for beginners and is served by several soviet-era rope lifts. Lift tickets are inexpensive, ranging from 50 -70 tetri. Ski rentals are available near this slope, and vary in price depending on style, age and negotiating ability. The average price is 8-10 lari ($5-6) per hour, although multi-day packages are also available. The Didveli run, which offers three separate ski trails for skiers of a wide range of abilityes, is about two kilometers in length. The trails are serviced by a modern, gondola-style lift that costs three lari per ride. A day pass is also available for 20 Lari ($12). Skis are available at a ski rental facility near the gondola, but the prices are higher than at the center.
The Kokhta-Gora ski run has steeper slopes and it is designed for experienced skiers. Lift tickets are also three lari a piece, and lines can be long since the run is serviced by a single, two-seater ski lift.

Excursions:
The local tourism center offers several excursions around Bakuriani. Most day trips include Bakuriani-Tabatskuri, Bakuriani-Mitarbi and Bakuriani-Tsikhisdjvari.
Trips can be arranged with the local tourism center coordinator: 593 335 058, e-mail: bakurianitourism@gmail.com.

Entertainment:
Although people do not travel to Bakuriani for its night life, there are local clubs, bars, billiard halls and casinos available for those who are not tuckered out after a full day on the slopes. Casinos like the one near the Hotel Eurika could soon be popping up all over the sleepy village, however, since Bakuriani no longer requires a gambling license to open a casino.

MESTIA

Mestia, Georgia's newest skiing paradise is - at 400 kilometers - a bit far from the capital. But whether you are going for skiing, climbing, sightseeing or just to sample authentic kubdari (Svan meat pies), it is worth the trip. The base altitude of the local ski lift is 1 800 meters above sea level, with the highest run at 2350 meters.

How to get there:
Planes, trains and automobiles will bring you to Mestia. The scenic route, by car, takes a solid seven hours, nonstop, depending on the weather. Road conditions are good until Zugdidi and a new road is under construction up to Mestia, but can be hazardous in bad weather. Minibuses to Mestia depart daily from 7, Tevdore Mgvdeli Street in Tbilisi at 7:00-8:00 am. Trains run from Tbilisi to Zugdidi, with a connection to Mestia via minibus or taxi, as well. Daily trains from the capital leave from the Central Railway Station at 22:15 pm. Ticket prices vary from 5,5 to 15 lari ($3,5-9). The fastest way to get to Mestia is to fly: Canadian-built airplanes, with seats for 19, make the trip every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at 11am, although flights depend on the weather. A roundtrip ticket is 150 lari ($90). For more information, call (+995 32) 2400 400 extension 517 or 509.

Accommodation:
Hotel rooms vary from 40-300, a list with contact details of the hotels and guesthouses can be accessed on the following link: www.travel-tbilisi.com/hotels-in-mestia

Things to do:
Mestia offers three ski routes, serviced by one lift. The nearly five kilometers of runs vary in difficulty from bunny to advanced. Skis can be rented close to the chairlift. Snowboards and safety equipment, however, are impossible to find in Mestia,so it is better to rent it in Tbilisi beforehand. Average price of daily ski rental in Mestia is 20 lari ($12).
Compared to Bakuriani or Gudauri, Mestia is unique because of its historical and cultural heritage: skiing was popular in Mestia during the Soviet period but languished following independence. Now, with fresh state and private investment, this tiny mountain hamlet offers visitors a unique view into Svan culture, including the region's delicious cuisine and fascinating towers. There is a newly opened tourism information center with English speaking staff to help plan excursions in Mestia and neighboring villages. Center staff can be reached at (+995 0790) 35 73 75; the center is open every day from 10 am to 6 pm.

GOMARDULI

What Gomarduli, the new ski resort in Adjara, lacks in modern infrastructure, it makes up for with unique nature and local culture. There are limited facilities but adventure travelers will enjoy the pristine mountain views and delicious local food.

How to get there:
Buses traveling from Batumi to Gomarduli depart daily at 5:00 pm, with tickets costing 5 lari ($3). Traveling by bus takes about two hours, depending on the road conditions. The road is only accessible to 4WD vehicles in bad weather, however, and is subject to closure.

Things to do
The length of Gomarduli's one ski trail is only 500 meters and it is served by the 250 meters long platter lift (rope tow) that is free this season. Skis can be rented in the village of Gomarduli at 5 laris ($3) per hour. Batumi Tourism Information Center has information on excursions and other entertainment near the village. The staff speaks English, Russian and Turkish: 577 909093, info@toursimadjara.ge.

Accommodation
Accommodation in Gomarduli includes family hostels and cottages. Family hostels cost about 35 lari ($21) per night including meals; cottages charge 30 lari ($18) a night, meals excluded.