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The Top Destinations for Freeride Skiing

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Connoisseur's Guide · Europe · georgia · Georgia · The Top Destinations for Freeride Skiing


Author: Māris Birzulis0 COMMENTS


Foto: SvanetiFoto: SvanetiFoto: Svaneti

Gudauri, the most famous ski resort in the Caucasus Mountains, Georgia, boasts a brand-new and powerful gondola lift and offers much better possibilities for heli-boarding enthusiasts now, yet the most memorable moment of our organized tour was unfolding of the Latvian flag on the very mountaintop. Exhilarating free-rides over vast virgin Gudauri snowfields this time was followed by a trip to the impressive Svaneti mountain region.

Svaneti region, Georgia, shares a border with the Russian Federation (Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria), Abkhazia, Mingrelia and Racha-Letchumi regions. Svaneti is famed for the village Ushguli, the highest settlement in Europe (2200 m above the sea level), "King of the Caucasus", Mt. Ushba and the highest peak in Georgia - Shara (5201 m).

Until the 19th century, Svaneti was quite isolated and basically cut off any flow of visitors, with one road leading there in summer while being virtually inaccessible in winter.

The official language of Svan ethnic group (approximately 23.000 people) is Georgian, but in daily communication people continue to use their own Svan language, belonging to the South Caucasian language family.

Foto: SvanetiFoto: SvanetiFoto: Svaneti

Svani tower architecture is the most specific feature of the region's cultural heritage and these inhabited towers date back to the period of time between 6th and 16th centuries. Historically, they served as safe shelter from intruders, as well as snow and landslides.

Only vague echoes of the modern world have reached today's Svaneti and the whole region can be characterized as absolutely intact - both from natural and socio-cultural point of view. Typically to remote corners like this, roads are almost impassable and it may happen that a road you have chosen abruptly comes to an ends at a construction site of a new mountain serpentine. Also "productivity indicators" of his area may seem amusing, especially when you observe three or four guys with axes heading towards the forest in the morning and returning with just a couple of logs in the evening, dragged by their two cows. What a result of an entire day's work!

The main motif for our visit was a fast and well-equipped ski lift, however, installed there 3 years ago thanks to the Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili's order. It's pretty amazing to find something like that in the middle of nowhere! Svaneti is gradually turning into an attractive tourist destination nowadays.

The best lodging is Grand Hotel Ushba ( there at the very foot of Mt. Ushba. It is a joint project of the local Argvliani family and a Norwegian-born Richard Bærug. Modest guestrooms of the hotel guarantee a truly fantastic night's sleep. What else can you actually ask for - a good mattress, nice bed linen and a warm duvet. Moreover, your room will have a private entrances form a courtyard, cozy wooden flooring and an amazing mountain panorama behind the window! The mother of the Argvliani family is an expert in Svan cuisine and a sumptuous meal along with good local Svanetij wine is part of the enjoyment there.

The hotel offers a variety of physical activities, ranging from horse riding and biking to themed trekking, mountain climbing and cross country skiing.
Weather in this side of the Caucasus is changeable, yet snow conditions are very good! Taking off in a helicopter perhaps would offer even better free ride opportunities, yet unfortunately heli-boarding in Svaneti is not available.

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