Skiing in Georgia 

Guadauri Ski Resort in the mountains in the north of the Republic of Georgia. Max Hartshorne photos.
Gudauri Ski Resort in the mountains in the north of the Republic of Georgia. Max Hartshorne photos.

To Georgia for an Inexpensive Winter Ski Vacation at Gudauri

By Max Hartshorne
GoNOMAD Editor

Arriving at the Marco Polo in a February snowstorm.
Arriving at the Marco Polo in a February snowstorm.
I recently spent a week in the mountains of the Republic of Georgia skiing at their largest ski resort, called Gudauri. There were many things that made it wonderful, including perfect packed powder, almost no lift lines and the prices….see below.

Too Good to be True?

It almost sounds too good to be true, but there is only a tiny catch. You have to get here. So for me that took flights from Boston to Paris then to Tbilisi, the small capital city of Georgia with a population of just about a million.

Then the hard part, a tough slog for about two and a half hours on the most truck choked road you’ve ever driven. The road that leads to Russia.

Local police regulate when the trucks can move but the road is just two lanes and drivers are always eager to overtake.

It’s one of those times when you just have to not look as the snowy road winds around mountain bends and the trucks pass you by with inches to spare.

Size of South Carolina

The scenic area is a winter paradise with parasailing, skiing and sledding. Guadari
The scenic area of Gudauri is a winter paradise with parasailing, skiing and sledding.

Georgia is about the size of South Carolina, and shaped like Tennessee. But one of the sad aspects of the country’s geography is that twenty percent of its original borders have been occupied by Russia since the 1990s.

Old Town Tbilisi.
Old Town Tbilisi.

So Georgians can’t visit two sections of the nation, South Ossetia in the middle, and Abkhazia in the west.

As the frequent sight of the graffiti says, it’s pretty much F the Russians here, even though many people here speak the language.

Tbilisi is an easy city to get to know and to get around. Cabs accept the Bolt app to take you anywhere in the city and it was always less than $2US.

One night we found a popular restaurant with a sign like others nearby, that said khinkali. These are the famous soup filled dumplings made in this part of the city, and served all around Georgia.

There is a friendliness with most young people here even though not all of the people speak English.

Here it’s more likely to be Georgian and Russian, and a friendly pantomime to help you get into the cab.

Marco Polo Hotel's bowling alley was a fun evening diversion after skiing. Drinks are totally cheap.
Marco Polo Hotel’s bowling alley was a fun evening diversion after skiing. Drinks are totally cheap.

There is also, however, a preponderance of serious looking bald or shaved headed men in black and old women who have a stern frown look. It’s a common type here, along with the friendly younger people.

Food is a treat here, both because it is often so cheap, but also because of the variety and freshness. Vegetables are easy to find on any menu. On a Tbilisis street, pomegranates and cups of perfectly ripe sliced fruit are for sale.

The lettuce is always crisp and good with their famous bread baked daily wafting with layers of cheese, or broken off and dipped in with the egg and cheese inside. The number of dishes often seen make every meal a mini-feast.

Apartment Five Nights $250

For my four-night stay in Tbilisi, I found an apartment for $250, in a new building with one bedroom, kitchen and living area in the Old Town, high above the center of the city.

Fresh pomegranites and other fruits on the street in Tbilisi.
Fresh pomegranates and other fruits on the street in Tbilisi.

I was asked to pay cash, which is easy to get from a nearby ATM. Down by the Tuva river, the towering Radisson Blu Hotel and Casino makes a commanding presence.

Just across the wide boulevard that’s too hard to cross (you have to use the tunnel beneath the road), there are more of the traditional houses, with wood and mortar that’s old and cracked and dilapidated throughout.

Walk up that narrow street and the wooden behinds of the buildings reveal lots of shoddy buildings and broken ones that nobody ever finished fixing. It’s only unnerving because in most western cities you don’t see so much disrepair.

We embarked on the 120-kilometer drive to our five-night ski holiday from Tbilisi’s famous bicycle statue overlooking the river, in three very tightly-packed four-wheel drive, right-side drive vans, piloted by men who didn’t speak any English and smoked cigarettes during the breaks.

These are the vans that take skiiers from Tbilisi to Gadauri Ski Resort in the north of Georgia. They all have right hand drive.
These are the vans that take skiiers from Tbilisi to Gudauri Ski Resort in the north of Georgia. They all have right hand drive.
Trucks line the road waiting for their turn to go through a series of tunnels.
Trucks line the road waiting for their turn to go through a series of tunnels.

The country drives on the left but many vans like this have the opposite steering wheel positions.

Apparently these guys were driving experts who would get us to the ski resort safely, and the luggage was packed up top and beside me in the crowded van.

The snow fell hard just after we left Tbilisi and began gaining altitude, driving north toward Russia.

I kept trying to avoid having visions of slipping into a giant truck as we tried to pass…but thankfully, the journey was without incident.

Marco Polo Hotel in the Snow

We got to the Marco Polo Hotel as the snow piled up everywhere, a pillowy dry powder that would make for great conditions.

Packed powder slopes of Gadauri Ski Resort with few steep areas. Perfect for a nice long ride.
Packed powder slopes of Gadauri Ski Resort with few steep areas. Perfect for a nice long ride.

The snow would keep falling until the third day when bluebird skies emerged. This large hotel was one of the three nearby that our group would be staying in. It is a very well laid out property and as comfortable as any city hotel with nice big rooms, but with the unique benefit of a snowy path that leads right down to the first chair lift.

Every hotel room comes with a ski locker at the Marco Polo.
Every hotel room comes with a ski locker at the Marco Polo.

There is a ski locker with a number that matches every room. Marco Polo also has a bowling alley, sauna, large indoor pool and a gym. It is a fine place to spend a week even if skiing is only a part of the day’s activities.

To me, there are few things as tempting as having a five night stay in front of me with a buffet breakfast downstairs and the freedom to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. Heaven!

A Foggy First Day

I was also eager to strap on the skis and see what the skiing was like here. My first day out, a foggy covering made most of the trail hard to discern. The wind was blowing hard, and I made a decision to plunge right down straight into an ungroomed part of the trail, into thick powder that the snowboarders were navigating with ease. Ten feet in and I took my first and last faceplant! Welcome to Georgia, watch out for powder!

Georgian foods like Khachapuri with egg inside are a big part of the country's appeal to tourists.
Georgian foods like Khachapuri with egg inside are a big part of the country’s appeal to tourists.

The whole mountain is big, really big, with a vertical drop longer than Vail, Colorado. It’s also completely treeless, so there are fewer and wider slopes and many people go off piste down the sides.

Gudauri has 18 lifts including four gondolas that take you 7200 feet to the very top. From here instead of black diamond runs, it’s a slow long descent where you can quickly gain speed.

It’s interesting to take a run so long with no trees, just the flattened down track to follow and some fun twists and turns en route. Moguls were not seen on any of the trails and most of the experts chose some more difficult off-piste routes than that famous thick powder that tripped me up.

Newbie on Skis

Some of my friends on the trip had never put on skis before, and so a few of them signed on for lessons. It was a difficult task to get much instruction from the ski instructor, language barriers and too many people at once made it a challenge. So I stepped in for a few runs to give my buddy Stevie from Belfast some pointers.

IMG 0941

I sympathized recalling my own teenage days of learning to not fear the angle of the downward slope and to effectively carve my way back and forth to get down. But he got better and better and it was a joy to see him ‘get it’ and feel confident pointing down hill and letting it go.

Ski Where It’s Cheap…Republic of Georgia!

IMG 0941

  • Four-day ski pass at Gudauri Ski Resort $87
  • Full equipment rentals including helmet $76
  • Transport to Guadari from Tbilisi, 2.5 hours $75
  • Luxury hotel with spa, indoor pool, sauna $143/night
  • Two beers one wine one cider in a bar $13
  • Really good dinner in a cafe in Tbilisi for one with drinks $20

Republic of Georgia Websites

Gudauri Ski Resort

Tbilisi

The author’s visit to Gudauri was sponsored by the Georgia tourism board but the opinions are all his own. Visit Georgia

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