Skiing in Georgia in 2020 – Awesome Terrain with Growing Pains

Stepping off the marshrutka after a stomach-lurching 2-hour ride into the mountains, you are greeted with mighty snowy peaks and tourists, speaking Russian, English and other languages, trudging back to their chalets after a long day on the slopes. You’ve arrived in Gudauri, Georgia’s most-developed ski resort.

Word is traveling fast that Georgia is a top skiing destination within easy reach of Europe. Last week, CNN published an article titled ‘Why Georgia is one of the world’s most underrated skiing destinations,’ further propelling Georgia’s image as a top winter sports destination.

Currently, only 11% of tourists enjoy Georgia’s skiing opportunities, but this is changing fast. The number of skiers increased five-fold from 2018 to 2019. With Bakuriani set to hold the FIS Freestyle Skiing and Snowboarding World Championships in 2023, Georgia’s popularity as a winter sports destination is sure to continue increasing.

We sat down with Taylor Beckwith-Ferguson, founder of Vagabond Ski School, to find out more about Georgia’s skiing potential and any growing pains the resorts may have.

What first attracted you to Georgia’s slopes?

The snow. At that time, it was a much less popular destination and I wanted an adventure somewhere that I didn’t know anything about and that not many people had heard of. I saw some really cool ski videos so I could tell that the terrain was amazing – big wide open terrain and good snow.

Did it live up to your expectations?

The terrain did for sure – it’s incredible. Georgia is also an interesting place to live. But the snow is not always very good.

What is your favorite resort in Georgia?

Goderdzi. It’s a very different place, more local, and with fewer tourists. The access to the mountains is very easy and you can hike everywhere or go by snowcat. Skiing in the forest is great and there’s much more snow in that part of Georgia. The terrain is flat and not so exciting, but it’s still a lot of fun thanks to the forests and powder. There’s so few tourists that it’s very easy to connect with people and ski with them the next day. It takes so long to get to that it feels kind of like you’re at the end of the universe.

Is the infrastructure well set-up to welcome international tourists?

In Gudauri – almost. Although I love Gudauri, it still has some growing pains.

For example, the gondolas and chairlifts work well but the different base areas are not connected. It’s stressful to deal with the taxi driver mafia since there’s no app like Bolt or Yandex available and there’s no public transport between the base areas. It needs toilets on the mountain as at the moment there’s just squatters, and squatting in ski boots is not ideal. The medical facilities are also poor here. The doctor has misdiagnosed five of my friends who were severely injured, yet were told by the doctor to just walk home.

As a ski instructor here, I can also say that the beginner facilities are terrible. First-time skiers are limited to one tiny slope at the top of the gondola which is poorly maintained and not suitable for all ages, especially kids. If Gudauri wants to be an international ski resort it needs to have a beginner facility which is designed by an expert who knows about teaching skiing.

Other than that, when there’s good snow in Gudauri, it’s amazing. Gudauri is great for intermediate skiers, there’s a huge selection of runs. It’s cheap and there’s good food. It has awesome potential to be a world-class skiing destination and, with a bit more attention to detail, it could be the same quality as the Alps. Ultimately, that’s why I’m still here.

How does Georgia compare to other winter sports destinations?

It’s more chaotic which is both good and bad. It’s kind of nice that there are no rules and you can ski anywhere without red tape. If you know what you’re doing, it’s an incredible place to ski. Georgian food is also the best ski food. As it’s above the treeline, the terrain has an epic feel – everything is huge and steep. The slopes aren’t groomed very regularly which isn't good for the average tourist, but is lots of fun for advanced skiers. Ultimately, you get much better value for money in Georgia than in the States or Europe. You pay a lot less but the quality is still pretty good.

By Amy Jones

Photo by Taylor Beckwith-Ferguson

27 February 2020 19:39