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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 the region’s rich culture, strong traditions and unspoiled landscapes.
During the winter months, the remote slopes of Svaneti become the perfect scene 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 winter season, several groups of enthusiastic backcountry skiers contacted local IFMGA guide Ilia Berulava through Explore-Share and ventured into this amazing land in the Caucasus Mountains.
Ilia’s 11-day ski tour in Svaneti traverses some of the region’s small villages and majestic mountains:
“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:
The itinerary will take you ski touring around some the most emblematic peaks in the area, including 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 what rural life is like in this remote corner of the world. Besides, it’s an opportunity to enjoy the hospitality and delicious cuisine that the Svan people (and the Georgians in general) are well-known for.
“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 spent 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 who 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 that are normally very difficult to reach”.
Oliver was part of a group of skiers who booked the same program with Ilia in March 2019. The group enjoyed plenty of powder snow during the week they spent in Svaneti. When he came 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, stunning scenery, ridiculous powder (some of the best snow ever!), and a very friendly, professional and experienced ski guide”.
Traveling with a mountain guide enhances the experience: it allows you to connect with people from the local communities and discover the best ski spots. 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.
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.
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 once-in-a-lifetime ski adventure, contact Ilia and join an 11-day ski tour!
You can also check out here for all the ski touring options in Svaneti listed at Explore-Share.
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