Then up the summit, via the infamous
Sadzele chair – the same lift that went viral last winter after a video of it
going rapidly into reverse hit the headlines – over 500 vertical metres of
steep gullies and bowls made this my favourite zone. These were all in perfect
condition and the lack of crowds meant I was still able to get fresh tracks
right until last chair.
The skiable off piste then expands further
if you are prepared to hike or put on your touring skins. Two particular areas
stood out for ease of access – Mt Bidara and Mt Chrdili. The former was
accessed via a fifteen minute bootpack from the Kobi Pass and the latter by a
similar hike up from skiers left of Gudaura. I was able to score over 300m of
vertical in perfect powder for minimal effort and fresh tracks were still on
offer three days after the snow fell.
With a guide and a set of skins however,
the options are limitless. The runs off the north side of Mt Bidara were
popular – you can then hitchhike back to Gudauri – as were routes in the valleys
to the east of Kobi. But one stands out in particular and tackling this proved
to be the highlight of my trip.
Although I did it before the snow fell in
pretty poor conditions, the Lomisi Monastery ski tour was perhaps my most
memorable day on skis. A tough three hour skin through birch forests from the
valley town of Mleti – located a quick taxi ride below Gudauri – led us to an
ancient monastery that had been inhabited since the 9th Century.
We arrived in thick fog and a howling gale,
the buildings were half buried in snow and were located right on the disputed
South Ossetian border, but what happened next will always live long in my
One of the monks welcomed us in to their
warm hut and offered us tea, food and as we were in Georgia, a shot of locally
brewed Chacha, otherwise known as Georgian brandy. Our 45 minutes spent eating,
drinking and talking via our phone translate apps with the monk was a unique
and fantastic experience that I’m not sure many other ski trips can offer up.
Despite these undoubted highlights, the
skiing in Guduari did came with a few teething issues. For example, I got stuck
on the new Soliko chairlift for 75 minutes, the Kobi gondola was regularly run
at half speed and some piste marking was vague at best – but these faults were
so easy to overlook when the terrain was so good and the scenery was so epic.
The fact that my 10 day lift pass cost a
mere £117 definitely helped, representing remarkable value for what I was able
to ski – take note the rest of Europe!