CNN:  Why Georgia is one of the world's most underrated skiing destinations

CNN: Why Georgia is one of the world's most underrated skiing destinations

access_time2020-02-25 13:07:29


When travelers think of Georgia, its ancient winemaking tradition, epic cheesy breads and trendy nightclub scene usually come to mind.

But the country's greatest asset is actually its snow-capped mountains.

Spanning 1,200 kilometers, the Caucasus Mountains cover approximately 60% of the country's surface area, making the Alps look like child's play.

So why haven't more people cottoned on to Georgia's magnificent skiing possibilities?

For starters, most travelers have only recently warmed up to the small country that borders Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey as a viable vacation spot.

Then there's Georgia's remoteness -- it's a five-hour flight from Western Europe.

Those plugged-in travelers who do make the trip over tend to visit in summer, when hiking, off-roading, and winery-hopping are key attractions.

Skiers paradise

Georgia skiing, Mestia

 

This suits in-the-know skiers and snowboarders, who'd rather keep the pillowy powder, non-existent lift lines and dazzling mountain scenery to themselves come winter.


And who can blame them? For the paltry price of around $15, the cost of an average lift ticket (compare that to $61 at Chamonix in the French Alps,) you might get a whole mountainside to yourself.

Georgia's cheap lift tickets used to be a drop in the bucket compared to the airfare it took to actually get to the Caucasus.

But in November 2019, Ryanair launched in Georgia with routes starting at $20 from Bologna to Kutaisi, Marseille to Kutaisi, and Milan to Tbilisi (Cologne to Tbilisi will kick off in April).

As a result, the country has become a realistic add-on to any European trip -- winter ones included -- virtually overnight.

The insanely economical flights and ski passes -- paired with the fact that you can eat and sleep like a Bagratid monarch here for about $10 and $50, respectively -- make it an unequivocal bargain for ski travel.

And it seems word is traveling fast -- five times more skiers took to the slopes in the 2018 to 2019 season than five years prior.

Further sweetening the pot are new designer lodges, off-piste experiences, and après-ski perks including fireside khinkali (soup dumplings) and gut-warming chacha (Georgian brandy).

Now all you have to do is decide on a mountain.

Here are our top resort picks, plus hotel recommendations for when the boots come off.

Gudauri

Georgia skiing resorts - Gudauri

 

Far and away Georgia's most popular resort, Gudauri is a 90-minute near-vertical drive north from the capital city of Tbilisi.

Even the parking lot here clocks in at 7,200 feet, higher than the summits of most slopes in the Alps (squint and you can barely make out the treeline below you).

The 56 kilometers of skiable terrain, culminating at an ear-popping 10,750 feet, take in everything from long, moseying cruises apt for snowplowing beginners, to bomb-able black runs prized by speed demons.

There are English-language lessons (book via Vagabond Ski & Snowboard School) available for beginners, and adrenaline junkies shouldn't pass up the opportunity to heli-ski down virgin slopes with Heliksir, an adventure company with a decade's experience under its belt.

A new ski lift connects Gudauri to Kobi, beyond the Jvari Pass, making the resort far more accessible from Stepantsminda, the tourist-frequented town known for its proximity to Mount Kazbek and the hilltop Gergeti Trinity Church.

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