Svaneti is a historical region in northwestern Georgia. During the winter months, its remote slopes become the perfect scenery for a ski touring adventure off the beaten tracks. Here we share the stories of some Explore-Share users that went on a ski tour in Svaneti with local guide Ilia.
Svaneti is a historical region in the northwest of Georgia, surrounded by some of the highest peaks of the Central Caucasus Mountains. This ancient region ―famous for its picturesque villages, orthodox churches & Medieval watchtowers known as koshki― is divided in two valleys: Upper Svaneti and Lower Svaneti.
Mestia is the only town in Svaneti, and the gateway to explore this region’s rich culture, strong traditions and unspoiled landscapes.
During the winter months, the remote slopes of Svaneti become theperfect scenery for a ski touring adventure off the beaten tracks. Snow-capped peaks above 4,000 m ―including Georgia’s highest mountain, Shkhara (5,193m)― deep gorges, forests and virgin powder snow, attract skiers looking for a unique travel experience. Still largely unexplored in terms of skiing, Svaneti is one of Georgia’s best kept secrets.
“This is a trip for skiers looking for new destinations and unique experiences. Also, for those who like remote places and the feeling of being alone in the mountains”.
According to him, these are some of the main reasons that make this trip an amazing experience:
It’s possible to adapt the itinerary for all types of skiers,
The trip is also an experience of culture, great good and old traditions,
It is still not a crowded place,
Prices are cheap and there are many direct flights,
For Georgians, hospitality is always on the first place,
It’s very easy to travel around this region.
The itinerary takes you ski touring in the most emblematic peaks in the area, like Ushba (4,710m), Shkhara (5,193m) and Tetnuldi (4,856m); and also around the two ski resorts in Svaneti: Tetnuldi and Hatsvali.
Besides Mestia, the trip includes visiting the villages of Becho, Etseri and Ushguli (a UNESCO Heritage Site and the highest inhabited village in Europe). Staying at guesthouses in traditional Svan villages allows travelers to get an authentic experience of how rural life is on this remote corner the world. Besides, it’s an opportunity to enjoy the hospitality and delicious cuisine that the Svan people (and the Georgians in general) are so well-renowned for.
Happy Explore-Share users in Svaneti!
“My job brought me to Georgia many times in the past year and many people had told me how beautiful Svaneti was. I had always stayed in the Tbilisi region, so I decided to explore another part of Georgia”, says Antoine. He and Florent spend several days there in the company of Ilia. “I had this idea that Svaneti was still wild and untouched, I expected great ski runs that would end up in remote villages, amazing landscapes and fantastic food”. Fortunately, the trip lived up to his expectations:
“I would definitely recommend this trip. Svaneti is beautiful and it gets quite a lot of snow. Also, Georgians are very kind people and our guide was just amazing!”.
When asked about the things he enjoyed the most of this experience, Antoine said: “Definitively the professionalism and kindness of our guide. He has been perfect and he is a person that really cares about people. Also climbing peaks with this feeling of being alone is great. Lastly, the flexibility of the driver that brought us to places very difficult to reach normally”.
Oliver was part of a group of skiers that booked the same program with Ilia on March 2019. They enjoyed plenty of powder snow during the week they spent in Svaneti! When they went back from the adventure, he told Explore-Share:
“Mestia and in particular Ushguli provided for a remarkable context to this amazing, off the beaten track skiing trip. The pictures speak for themselves: it is developing quickly but is nevertheless a place frozen in time, where cows and donkeys far outnumber cars and the Caucasus provides for an imposing backdrop”.
Benoit, who joined this same group, said:
“Mestia in the Svaneti region will not remain a hidden gem for long. It’s got it all: alpine descents, all-you-can-ski-powder and remote villages charged with history. Illia was a great guide both in and out of the slopes; safe, fun and knowledgeable. And do not worry about the food, it is amazing!”
Victoria, also a skier on this group, was also happy with the experience:
“Absolutely loved our trip to Georgia. In short: incredibly picturesque villages, wonderful people, amazing food, a stunning scenery, ridiculous powder (some of the best snow ever!), and a very friendly, professional and experienced ski guide”.
Why You Should Go There with a Local Mountain Guide?
Traveling with a mountain guide enhances the experience: it allows you to connect with people from the local communities and discover fascinating spots for skiing right at the heart of the mountains! A knowledgeable guide will always know where to find the best snow conditions and keep you safe throughout the whole journey.
As Antoine says, “it is not because you have experience with the mountains and avalanches that you know where to go. Our guide has toured those mountains often and knows very well where danger lies. We met a group of tourists that provoked an avalanche… exactly where our guide told us it was a dangerous spot”.
Finally, a guide can deal with logistics (accommodation, food, transport) and help you communicate in a foreign country. “Having someone who speaks the local language is extremely useful and very comfortable”, adds Antoine.
What is the Best Time to Go Ski Touring in Svaneti?
The best snow conditions in Svaneti are between December and April. January is great for powder snow, while March and April provide spring conditions and exciting opportunities for ski mountaineering. However, snowfall in the Svaneti region begins as early as September.
How to Get to Svaneti?
The first step is flying into Tbilisi, Georgia’s Capital City. From there, there’s a chance of taking a flight from Natakhtari (near Tbilisi) or Kutaisi airport to Mestia airport.
Another option is to travel from Tbilisi to Mestia by train: take the overnight train to Zugdidi (8.5 h) and then a marshrutka (minivan) to Mestia.
You can also take a marshrutka from Tbilisi to Mestia. The trip takes around 8 hours.
Traveling to the remote region of Svaneti offers a blend of amazing powder snow, rich culture and ancient villages where time seems to run at a slow pace. If you are up for a different ski adventure, contact Ilia and join an 11-day ski tour!
Nestled in a valley at the foot of the Andes, Santiago is the premiere location for mountain sports in Chile. Within a couple hours drive from Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in South America and the southern hemisphere, the city is defined by the peaks on its horizon and beyond. In just an hour, you can be at some of the best ski resorts in the region.
Though the city rarely sees a significant amount of snowfall, having the snow-sure Andes in its backyard has made Santiago a one-stop shop for all of your skiing needs.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this ski-friendly city is its multi-discipline accommodations. For ski touring, freeriding, and even heliskiing, there are hectares and hectares of skiable terrain that were designed for each one. Lodging can be basic, from breakdown camps to lodges in the lap of luxury. Santiago truly knows no bounds when it comes to serving its ski community.
Many of the tallest mountains on the continent are located just to the east of the city. Views swing through valleys and along ridges, often sweeping across the sky with undisturbed clarity. It is a deep ski experience in a natural environment that, no matter how close to the city it is, seems worlds away from everyday worries.
The city of Santiago has become one of the most interesting and sought after cultural beacons in all of South America, so it’s easy to say the city can do great all by itself. This will always be a close second, however, to the bodacious runs and mouth-watering conditions that are waiting just up the hill from this capital city treasure trove of adventure.
Santiago is synonymous with the Andes surrounding it. Staying downtown, you can’t look to the sky without seeing the mountainous backdrop and feel compelled to drop what you’re doing and head for the hills. Few cities, especially ones with over six million people, provide such seamless and pain-free access to world-class snow and routes.
Thanks in part to its size, finding help and guidance in the city before, during, and after your program is a breeze. Coordinating transportation, including air travel to smaller areas and regions, can be done from airport and hotel pick up to program and back again. Many guides will provide or at least assist accommodations as soon as you arrive.
2| Big, Rugged Terrain
The towering volcanoes and mountains to the east of Santiago have one thing in common: they are all larger than life. This means that if you find yourself tussling with a glacier at Cajon del Maipo, it’s an epic challenge. If you are sliding out of bounds and about to take on the Portillo backcountry, it will be legendary. If you are sliding into a luxury lodge spa after a full day in fresh, uncharted snow, it will be life-changing reinvigoration.
The Andes are indomitable, so skiing on them requires the skill and know-how to appreciate them as they are. These narrow chutes, tree-lined runs, gentle-ish glades, and open bowls can never be groomed, but you can rest assured they will satisfy you more than many other high-profile locations across the globe. Freeriding around Santiago is big in every way.
3| Top-Notch Views
Mountain for mountain, the Chilean Central Andes have some of the best views in the world. The unique geographic of Chile and the charming location of its capital play into the beauty of the region. Mountains over 5,000 meters will take your breath away from their sights, sounds, and unforgettable snow pack.
Much of the skiable terrain happens to be in or near natural reserves or parks, adding to the illustrious appeal of the landscape. When blanketed in snow, the Chilean environment is at its best. Charming, serene, and profound, the beautiful land surrounding Santiago will never let you forget one of the most magical parts of the city: its unrelenting wilderness.
Where To Go?
1| Cajon del Maipo
To the east-southeast of the city lies Cajon del Maipo, a canyon replete with streams, rivers, and some of the region’s tallest peaks. With views of Maipo, San Jose, and Marmolejo, it is a great place to strap up your boots and step into your skis. Known for its particularly wild wilderness, ski touring fanatics will love the challenges presented in the picturesque valley.
The best part is, you don’t get to just see the incredible mountain territory, you get to feel the rush of skiing on active volcanoes with 360-degree panoramas. Exposure and steep, narrow chutes are the name of the game here, with nothing but untouched powder at your disposal. Skinning up these epic peaks is just as rewarding as the descent. Add in some glacier skiing for some adrenaline-pumping fun.
This untamed wilderness is great for experienced powder hounds and heliskiers who want to get straight to the good stuff. The isolation and lack of crowds translates to healthy snowpack of the highest order. Sunny days will net pockets of corn snow, the cherry on the top of your already-powder-rich adventure.
Location and Distance: Southeast of Santiago, less than 50 kilometers away
How to Get There: Take Camino al Volcan from the Puente Alto neighborhood of Santiago. It is a relatively straight shot southeast, and should take roughly two hours.
Difficulty: Advanced skiers with backcountry experience
Types of Skiing: Ski touring; Heliskiing
BONUS: Wash down your ski trip with a glass of Cabernet! The Maipo Valley is a historic wine region that is often considered “the birthplace of the Chilean winemaking industry.” It is specifically well-known for its Cabernet Savignon production.
Skiing in Portillo is historic, not only because it is South America’s oldest ski resort, but because you will be skiing at the site of South America’s only Alpine World Ski Championships. Everything here is so well done. From the accommodations and services to the snow and slopes, even Mother Nature seems keen on providing you with the time of your life.
The area has 14 lifts, including some that whisk you away to the hardest to reach places for an extra challenge. Narrow, steep drop-ins are common, as are some easier areas for off-piste newbies with the backcountry proficiency to hang. This is a great spot for those who want a bit of tradition while skiing in tradition.
There are few frills here, though the resort does have vital infrastructure to qualify the spot as a top tier destination. Heliskiing is even available for die hard skiers who want to supplement their descents with pure pockets of unadulterated snow.
Location and Distance: Northwest of Santiago, roughly 160 kilometers
How to Get There: Follow Americo Vespucio north, exiting at Los Libertadores Highway. Follow this towards Los Andes. At the bypass, head east on the international route towards Mendoza. Portillo is approximately five kilometers from the Argentina border.
Difficulty: Intermediate to advanced
Types of Skiing: Freeriding; backcountry skiing; ski touring; heliskiing
BONUS: Ski in the shadow of Aconcagua (6,961m)! The largest mountain in South America and the southern hemisphere is just to the north of this iconic ski spot.
Due east and a bit north of downtown Santiago, Farellones is in a sweet spot. This small resort connects to three great ski areas in the same valley: El Colorado, Valle Nevado, and La Parva. All of these resorts could stand alone as great places to ski. When combined, they form the ultimate skiing experience that we know and love in Farellones Valley.
Valle Nevado is the largest resort south of the equator, which rightfully brings its off-piste “A” game. Deep powder and plenty of boundary-jumping runs are nothing short of mesmerizing. La Parva is the small, rustic ski area of Farellones, providing the intrepid skiers with the most bang for their buck on challenging backcountry lines. El Colorado is known for its stormy and snowy weather, so if powder is what you need, look no further.
Within the entirety of Farellones, you can find wonderful glades for picking up backcountry technique. Proficient skiers who are looking to transition from the groomed resort to wild and woolly ski touring terrain will have a ball at this location. The views of Cerro El Plomo and the surrounding Andes are sure to move you.
Location and Distance: East of Santiago, about 70 kilometers and two hours away from Central Santiago
How to Get There: Shuttles and taxis can brave the commute, but a straightforward drive on Camino A Farellones and then Camino Valle Nevado will get you into the heart of Farellones.
Difficulty: Intermediate to advanced
Types of Skiing: Freeriding; ski touring; backcountry skiing
BONUS: Swing by the snow covered Yerba Loca Nature Sanctuary! With coniferous forests and hanging glaciers, there are some natural wonders on display here that feed your hunger for knowledge!
If you want to experience the best the Andes have to offer, Cipreses Valley programs are a no-holds-barred experience for the most fearless skiers of Santiago. Most programs will include an all-inclusive lodge stay and multiple days in the mountains. This is a perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in the most rugged and craggy spots of the region.
Skiing in the heart of the O’Higgins Region is profound, and depending on the nature of your trip, you may have chopper access to fly into the best snow in the Andes. Beautiful rivers, glaciers, and untamed terrain stretch for miles, and there are little to no signs of life outside of your lodge. This means the exposed ridges, Alpine bowls, couloirs, and steep chutes are all yours.
The Cipreses Valley has iconic lodges that allow for the ultimate experience for both ski touring and heliskiing. Staying close to the lodge, you can skin into the wilderness to blaze your own trail. For those who want to get into the thick of the deep powder, heliskiing throughout the region will save energy without compromising the quality of your runs.
Location and Distance: South-Southeast of Santiago, roughly 130 kilometers and two hours away
How to Get There: Head south on Ruta 5 and Ex Ruta 5 before turning east on H-35. Follow the road right onto H-33 and you will be nearing your destination.
Difficulty: Advanced skiers with proficient backcountry skills
Types of Skiing: Heliskiing; ski touring
BONUS: Come for the slopes and stay for the luxury! Booking a week-long program in the Cipreses Valley won’t just give you unencumbered access to world-class ski runs – it can give you nights in a private all-accommodated retreat! Enjoy spa and sauna facilities, a gym and climbing walls, pools and game rooms, and so much more to recharge before your next day in the snow. Combine luxury with fun for a completely satisfying adventure.
When Is the Best Time To Go Ski Touring Around Santiago?
The best time for skiing in Santiago is in the winter and early spring. For the southern part of the world, this means June. The beginning of the ski season in the Central Andes peaks in August when the snowpack and snowfall are both ideal. These great conditions can last all the way into October and even November on a good year.
July and August tend to be the busiest time of the year at and around the resorts, so it may behoove freeriders to plan a trip at the beginning or tail end of the season. The size and shape of the summits in the area can produce quality runs without the crowds. Accommodating early and late season trips is one more perk to a Santiago ski trip.
For heliskiers, keep in mind that some operators have specific time periods for helicopter access. While you may be looking for a late-season program, make sure your destination is available and your specific program can provide the adequate air time you need for a satisfying and worthwhile trip.
How To Get To Santiago, Chile
Serving as a transportation hub for the southern cone of South America, getting to and around the capital of Chile is fairly straightforward. Santiago can be reached by direct flights from most major regional cities as well as New York, London, and Auckland.
LATAM Airlines Group, British Airways, and American Airlines are just a few of the major airlines that connect Santiago to the world. Smaller airports have regional airlines operating to specific destinations outside of the city and can even provide access to O’Higgins and Puerto Montt.
Driving across the Andes to Santiago can also be done. Bus services from cities like Buenos Aires and Montevideo are efficient and affordable. In most cases, they will travel to Mendoza before continuing through the pass to Chile. While this is an affordable option, it is quite an undertaking and can take one to two days to complete the journey.
Norway offers some of the best ice climbing around. Not only are there plenty of stunningly scenic locales in which to practice the sport, ranging from outside of the capital to Nordland, but there is also plenty of variety within each place. Climb short ice falls or some of the tallest frozen waterfalls on earth.
Boasting a landscape that has been carved by ice, Norway is logically one of the best places you could venture out to for an epic ice climbing expedition.
The western and northernmost country in Scandinavia spent thousands of years under a thick glacier during the Ice Age. As the planet warmed and the glacier receded, it carved out the deep valleys and iconic coastal fjords, for which the country is famous.
Any ice climbing trip will take you through some of this history as you will be bound to venture through these valleys and fjords, heading up exquisite ice and waterfalls ranging from a few meters in height to a few dozen.
Along the way you will get to see and enjoy some sights that are incredibly rare anywhere else in the world, from the colourful ice falls around Rjukan to the Northern Lights illuminating the sky.
Before you begin planning your next ice climbing holiday in Norway, take a look at some of the useful facts and information that we have compiled below:
Top 3 reasons to go ice climbing in Norway
1| Stunning scenery
Norway is an exceptionally beautiful country and one of the best ways to experience this stunning place to its fullest is by heading out ice climbing. Not only will ice climbing take you to scenic locales, such as Hardangervidda National Park and the Lofoten Islands, but it will also give you a view from above.
See deep green coniferous forests, stunning ocean views as well as mountainous panoramas all from above.
2| World-class climbing
From famed fjords to glaciers and the numerous frozen waterfalls that dot the landscape, there is plenty of ice climbing to be done in Norway. Take advantage of hundreds of different spots ranging from right outside Oslo to the tip top of the country.
Whether you are a beginner or expert, there is something for you here. Norway is both the perfect place to learn this exhilarating outdoor sport as well as challenge yourself and test your skills.
3| The Northern Lights
Heading to Norway for any type of winter outdoor activity means you will almost certainly have the option to see the Northern Lights. From November to March, they are quite prevalent throughout the country, but your likelihood of seeing them increases along with your latitude.
If you don’t see them on the first night, don’t be disheartened, depending on the weather you may have to wait a week or so, but when you see them you’ll realize the wait was certainly worthwhile.
Where to go? Best ice climbing spots in Norway
Located just 175 kilometers west of the capital, Oslo, Rjukan is a popular and easily accessible ice climbing location for climbers of every level.
Sitting on the outskirts of Hardangervidda National Park, you’ll be sure to enjoy excellent scenery as you hike and climb through the ice.
The area also boasts more than 150 icefalls and frozen waterfalls, meaning there are icefalls that everyone can enjoy here as well as plenty to go around. It is highly unlikely that you will need to share the ice with anyone at all.
Ranging from a few meters tall to dozens of meters high, Rjukan is the perfect place to find exactly what you want to climb and do it. You’ll also have the opportunity to work your way up to a more advanced level as you learn.
While it may not sound as glamorous as popular ice climbing spots farther north, Rjukan also has coloured ice, which is something you surely won’t see in many other places!
How to get there: From Oslo, Rjukan is a 2.5 hour drive via the Fv37 or a 3 hour bus ride using the NW180 or NX1 and the NW185.
Difficulty level: Easy to Advanced
2| Lofoten Islands
Situated way up in Nordland, almost as far north as you can possibly go in Norway, the Lofoten Island archipelago boasts a long history of ice climbing and numerous places in which to do it.
With quaint fishing villages located on the seashore and imposing, ice-covered mountains, surrounding them, it is little wonder the islands are considered one of the most scenic spots in all of Norway.
It is within these mountains that you will find a plethora of icefalls and frozen waterfalls just waiting to be climbed. In fact, some of the world’s longest frozen waterfalls may also be found here and promise a real challenge for any advanced climber willing to give them a go.
Otherwise, intermediate climbers should be perfectly comfortable exploring the archipelago, ascending various other icefalls and ice walls. There are even some spots for beginners as well, though they are fewer and farther between.
How to get there: From Oslo, take a domestic flight to the Harstad/Narvik Airport (EVE) in Evenes then transfer via bus or shuttle to your starting point.
Difficulty level: Intermediate to Advanced
Sitting just east of the Lofoten Islands is yet another incredibly scenic and varied ice climbing locale, Narvik.
Offering many varied multi-pitch routes up both inclined slopes and steep waterfalls, Narvik is a haven for first-time climbers as well as advanced ones, and everyone in between. With easy access to the Lofoten Islands as well, there are nearly endless opportunities for adventure.
There are simple and short climbs right by the road, which give novices a chance to learn the sport. There are also long and involved climbs that are perfect for advanced climbers looking for a challenge, including some of the tallest frozen waterfalls in the world.
Take a week or more to explore the various spots that may be found here. Check out the fjords around Andørja for an adventure with a view. Venture farther inland to make some alpine climbing ascents in the valleys of Spansdalen or Sørdalen, which are a bit farther in land.
If you’re really feeling up for an adventure, head out to the Abisko and climb up one of the icy routes to the top of the plateau that separates Norway from neighboring Sweden. There really is no shortage of climbing to be found here.
How to get there: From Oslo, take a domestic flight to the Harstad/Narvik Airport (EVE) in Evenes then transfer via bus or shuttle to your starting point.
Difficulty level: Easy to Advanced
What is the best time for ice climbing in Norway?
Most guides offer ice climbing trips throughout Norway from November until March.
During this time of year temperatures are generally well below freezing, sometimes getting as low as -15 °C, especially farther north in the country.
During the heart of winter, from December until February, darkness prevails throughout the country, especially above the Arctic Circle.
While you will get to enjoy some hours of sunshine at certain times of year, snow is not uncommon. You will more likely be climbing in the twilight hours when the sun is closest to the horizon.
So what are you waiting for? Combine stunning scenery with some amazing ascents in diverse and varied places when you book your next ice climbing trip to Norway!