Cold Storage: Etseri, Svaneti


No danger of forest fire here now! After a ridiculously mild November, including unheard of rain instead of snow, winter has settled in for the long run. Our first two falls of white stuff are here to stay, and a clear cold snap is making everything sparkle.

The school’s outdoor sports arena is snowed under. Now the choices for activities are either the indoor sports hall, or what you can do with snow:

Sledding or tobogganing! Locally made wooden vehicles are very popular, with metal runners. Plastic bought ones need to be able to cope with temperatures down to minus 15 C, without getting brittle and breaking far too easily in the punishing treatment they receive. My sisters and I had tough plastic disks, lightly concave, in our early Canadian years, and they worked great in any direction, even while spinning.

Skiing! The road running past our house is very popular for this as it’s a nice downhill run. Sorry, no uphill lifts, you just have to walk back up and start again. Some children start this soon after they can walk, when their fears of speed and falling are as yet undeveloped. There’s hardly any cross-country skiing here; I suppose it’s considered too placid for most. The small training run with its own lift built on the edge of the village has turned into a bit of a fiasco, though, as its location gets maximum sun, and thus will retain minimum snow over the season.

(The selling price of our house here nearly doubled on rumors that then president Saakashvili, an accomplished winter sportsman, and a team of experts were considering a ski resort above Etseri. The price went down again after they decided against it, but many locals still feel that it would be a great location.)

Snowboarding! I’ve never tried this, but my nieces and nephews in Canada are experts at it.

Building an igloo! There are many plans and teaching videos for this online, and it does draw my interest.

A full-on winter carnival! Snow and ice sculpting in addition to the above ideas. Hot foods and drinks served outside as part of it, and prizes for winners in all categories of events.

Making sure your house and livestock are winterized! Food for them; extra preserves of fruit and vegetables for you- I make chutneys and liqueurs; my wife makes pickles and we both make jams. Water set up so it can’t freeze, because this would (and has been) a disaster for morale; winter tires for the car, and chains to boot. Firewood aplenty. This winter, for the first time, I have a trapdoor to the crawlspace under the floor, and ALL my winter wood stored there, for easy access. No more going outside and digging down to reach the tarpaulin under snow, hauling out wood, and bringing it in! Luxury, an idea long overdue.

I also gathered up all scraps from chopping the firewood, put them into 15 sacks of kindling, and have been storing them in the barn and garage to dry out. They make ideal starter fuel: I hardly need paper, let alone diesel, though both are at hand if necessary.

Simple determination not to let the short daylight hours and cold get you down! It can do, but if you plan to find the best in it, and to fight the rest, you can cope. Get enough sunlight when you can, and enough exercise. Winter here is unavoidable, so one might as well jump right in and relish it!

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 2000 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

By Tony Hanmer

05 December 2019 16:21