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Author Topic: March 2013 Trip Report- Republic of Georgia, Svane  (Read 21660 times)
radski
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March 2013 Trip Report- Republic of Georgia, Svane
« on: 04/07/13, 05:50 PM »

Note: More detailed pictures and writing on my blog, theworldofbcor.blogspot.com.
    I decided on a whim to head to the Republic of Georgia for some skiing over Williams' two week spring break. Not too hellish of travel with a direct flight to Munich via Lufthansa and then a 4 hour flight from there to Tbilisi, followed by a long layover and 1.5 hour twin otter flight if the plane is running (rarely, though worth checking and $45 US one way to Mestia) or a 9 hour mini bus ride (quite a cultural experience, just be sure to grab your ski bag and then hop a cab and have them call the marschrutka driver for Mestia).
    Once in Svaneti, a sparsely populated, mountainous region in the NW of the Republic of Georgia, you realize that there is limitless terrain. The Svaneti range to the south has plenty of 4,000 plus meter lines, and the Greater Caucasus to the N (make sure to not cross the Russian border) have stuff in the 4700 meter range. Even in March, there was still perfect powder on some aspects, followed by nice corn, and then more powder later in the week. A chopper would be nice, but given the occupied territory around Svaneti (Ossetia and Abkhazia) over which numerous recent wars have been fought, its difficult to get one in. As I was headed out through Munich, a rumored German group who chartered a chopper and security from Turkey were headed over; this was the first time a western group had had a chopper in a couple years. But no worries, you can ski plenty of stuff straight from village homestays, get (free) or cheap rides in (Soviet jeeps) or more current Japanese AWD vehicles. There are a couple of snowmobiles (4-5 max in the entire region), but with some Svan hospitality you can probably figure out a way to get one for a couple days if necessary.
    Food and housing available for $20 US- $50 US per person very easily, depending on if you want a traditional homestay and endless wine and food, or more Western hotel-ish accomadations (though in the winter these end up being mostly a homestay). I'd reccomend Hotel Hatsvali (tell Vito Ben Corwin sent you), Roza's guest house (same deal), or Grand Hotel Ushba if in Becho/ Mazeri. This place is packed in summer due to beautiful nature and views, but in winter there are less than a dozen Western groups per season, and the lifts at Hatsvali, the local hill, are almost always empty.
   Anyways, onto the skiing. Hatsvali, about 30 mins from town (free transport if the employee minibus driver is nice, your host will know where to meet it), $9 US for a day pass. 1800 vertical feet or so, with one well-maintained piste and hundreds of off-piste options. The local Georgians, of whom the majority of skiers at Hatsvali belong, either don't have powder skis or just like to rip wide GS turns. But the lift-assisted powder skiing is some of the best I've ever had: steep birches, large evergreens, old lift lines, roadcut drops, etc. And this was in March with only a foot of fresh. Hotel Hatsvali is at the base, and the top has an awesome summit restaurant. Unknown hours and options, but I was invited in for lunch and drinks by the director of the resort and some friends, and there's often some employees lounging on the deck.
   From the top of Hatsvali, you can ski down to Ili (pronounced Yelli) village, and try to get a ride out. But other touring options about just out of town past the airport, above town near the cross (where there are ski races in August), and pretty much every side valley and village has nice lines within easy skinning distance of the road. I won't go into detail on the lines we skied, but you can find an adventure and stable slopes almost anywhere you look (Geoland maps are hard to come by, email me and I'll do my best to get you an emailed scan of some precious 1:50,000 topos). Some of the ridges outside of Becho on Ushba are awesome, as are the slopes near Tetnuldi. I didn't have a chance to ski Laila, but with a tent and a couple days the Svaneti range has lots of potential. And if you can finish in a village, you'll always have delicious Svan pancakes, local meat and potatoes, jams, "tourist" salad, and plenty of wine.
   If you do end up taking my advice and going to one of the best "unfound" and easy to access ski destinations on earth, please mention that you saw this and email me at benski123@gmail.com and I'll get you mobile phone #s for contacts while you're there, as well as personal emails for guesthouses and guides and such. I'm working with some of the locals to see how winter revenue can be increased, and if word-of-mouth is effective or if marketing of some sort is necessary in order to convince skiers to try out Svaneti's lines. During summer, most people are employed, but in winter, alcoholism is becoming increasingly problematic, and extending the tourism and guiding season (right now there's really only one guide in the entire region) could be very good for the community.
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davidG
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Re: March 2013 Trip Report- Republic of Georgia, Svane
« Reply #1 on: 04/08/13, 10:27 AM »

Nice!  What an adventure.  Wish you had some pics, here - I can't get the link to work..

You mentioned some other visitors hired security to attend them..  what's the general feel of the area in that regard?  Can you sell your used gear for a fair price on exit?

Geoland (I think the regional garmin rep) has a nice web presence, but couldn't figure out how to get their maps - maybe that was your point..

Too early for condos..?   Smiley
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"Maybe we should ban hikers from anywhere that there is a potential threat to surface water?"   [courtesy Newtrout, 2011]

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Micah
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Re: March 2013 Trip Report- Republic of Georgia, Svane
« Reply #2 on: 04/08/13, 11:21 AM »

I can't get the link to work..

http://theworldofbcor.blogspot.com
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radski
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Re: March 2013 Trip Report- Republic of Georgia, Svane
« Reply #3 on: 04/09/13, 07:24 PM »

Generally very safe, other group had a heli so they got security for that. Otherwise most everyone is hospitable, except for some drunkenness. Obviously pre-negotiate taxi rates and destinations and housing prices, but no one will try to gouge you too bad. Not sure what the deal with selling gear would be as I only donated stuff to the local kids, but given that there is only one ski shop in Tbilisi you might have some luck with beater ski gear, though not enough westerners skiing to sell anything above $150-300 probably.
Yep, Geoland is awesome but there office is hard to find in Tbilisi if you can even get there before heading out, and shipping maps to the US is prohibitive (over $40 for a DHL package which is the only reliable service; took 3 weeks for a post card to arrive in the US and unsure about the others).
Way too early for condos. The one westerner investing independently is a norwegian who put a couple grand US into the Grand Hotel Ushba which is an awesome place if you're in Becho.
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radski
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Posts: 88


Re: March 2013 Trip Report- Republic of Georgia, Svane
« Reply #4 on: 10/23/14, 08:05 AM »

Excited to be heading back in March & April. Feel free to PM if interested in joining. They're opening another couple resorts with French and Austrian aid and always more to explore on the touring front.
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