Skiing in Georgia is a foreign concept for many people, even those who have been heli-skiing all over the world. However, in a year where Canadian and American borders remained closed throughout the winter, many European skiers were looking for an alternative to satisfy the heli fix.
Navigating the numerous Covid restrictions, our team descended upon Tbilisi to explore the semi-lockdown city for a few days before heading up into the mountains. A city famous for its architecture and checkered past, this cobblestoned metropolis is filled with a wide variety of architectural distinctions ranging from Orthodox churches to brutalist Soviet modern structures. On top of that, layer in a wave of rich hipster culture and you get venues such as our hotel Rooms/Stamba that look like they were dropped into the city straight out of Williamsburg.
Part of the adventure is the journey, and while not all of our original team members made it into Georgia, the team picked up a few last-minute additions and headed up into the mountains as weary passengers ready to explore.
Deep in the Caucasus Mountains is a hamlet of a town called Mestia. A stone’s throw from the Russian border, this place is quite remote, even most Georgian citizens have never visited the region. In the winter, the local airport is closed and therefore requires an eight-hour drive from Tbilisi traversing the entire country. Mestia is not your typical ski town. A highland town (1,500 meters) at the end of a dirt road, the region has its own culture and language that differs from Georgian. Dominated by stone towers (called Koshki), the town is the epicenter for mountaineering in the region. One does not have to look farther than local legend, Mikheil Khergani, who earned the nickname “Tiger of the Cliffs” and who our lead ski guide was also named after.
Enter Svaneti Heli-Skiing. I first spoke with the team at Svaneti about a month before COVID started in the Winter of 2020. Launching a new heli-skiing business is not an easy task, but to have a global pandemic hit you during your inaugural season can defeat many people. That said, they persevered through and as we evaluated options to go heli-skiing in Europe, Svaneti turned out to be the perfect solution. In April, you imagine spring skiing conditions and that is exactly what we got. Days were mixed with beautiful sunshine and ferocious precipitation creating conditions that ranged from pure powder to warm corn chowder.
I believe that trip reports should leave the reader with a baseline understanding to let their imagination wander. However, I would tell you that for those who seek adventure in their post-pandemic life, look no further than Georgia. There is a beauty to the people of this region that is difficult to articulate. From the consistent sharing of khachapuri (a local delicacy of cheese-filled bread) to their endless desire to please, it is difficult not to feel enriched when leaving this region.
I hope to return very soon.