We have a culture that we call delivering the unexpected.
In a good way, of course. After all, we wouldn’t be very good at our jobs if we sent you off somewhere that hadn’t been personally inspected and prepared by our own directors.
You can ski in more countries than you believe. Reel off your top ten and, subject to being an EU resident, you’ll certainly include the lands dotted around the French Alps as a starting point. France, Italy, Austria and Switzerland are a given and held – quite rightly – in very high regard.
I fit in to the conversations extolling the virtues of western European resorts and share many a great memory with friends in winter retreats such as Risoul, Chamonix, Courmayeur and Les Arcs. However, the redolent memories derive from strapping into my trusted Salomon board in Norway, Chile, New Zealand, Canada, Poland, Slovakia and Lapland – the latter of which I spent a very chilly winter lodged 180km inside the Arctic Circle at Levi Resort in Finland.
Now I head to resorts for reasons other than memory gathering as we populate the portfolio for MSG Ski. Japan (more on that later) and Georgia made the shortlist and, with a blank canvas to paint, it was time to start preparing the new kids on the block.
Georgia (not the American one)
Having trodden the mountainous paths of the Caucasus Mountains in prior years whilst ascending Mount Elbrus I’ve always had a yearning to re-visit this incredible range. Within two hours of landing at Tbilisi Airport I was greeted by the happiest of sunrises in the resort of Gudauri, jaw-droppingly beautiful and extremely enticing.
Located above the tree lines and boasting 50km of skiing, it was of immediate surprise that the resort was so quiet during ‘peak’ February time. The panoramic was breathtaking and that was before I clocked the lift pass price for the day (equivalent to a large latte in many well-known European coffee houses). Gudauri doesn’t struggle with snow or even have any snow cannons. There’s no need as winters are always full of beautiful powder, blue skies and consistent sunshine.
What struck me most was the community feel for this resort in Georgia, perhaps accentuated by its eastern European positioning south of Russia and north of Armenia. It shouldn’t have surprised me knowing so many Georgians through the rugby community yet many resorts have a distant feel through hotel competition and conflicting business interests. Here, everyone smiles and is truly glad to see you make the pilgrimage to somewhere off the beaten track.
Inspecting the facilities and safety standards of the resort hotels is par for the course. The Alpine Hotel offers complete views of the resort in its 4* environs whilst The Mountain House is built for school groups on a lighter budget. With both a short 5-minute stroll from the lifts and competing on views we’re pleased to make the choice of lodgings your decision.
Georgians seem to pick up the English language easier than most. All menus and signposting made the navigation of life in this resort simple and efficient with local Georgian delicacies sitting alongside the crowd favourites in each hotel.
Ski schools offer balanced ratios and taken by English-speaking staff whose eagerness to chat all things football and rugby made for a pleasant experience. Without a queue in site the life of a skier is one of fluidity and satisfaction across the blend of beginner, intermediate and advanced slopes of Gudauri. Being able to clock up uninterrupted km’s is a rare luxury in many European resorts; here, the snow is seemingly all yours.
With a heavy heart I bade farewell to Gudauri but not before an evening spent exploring the majestic city of Tbilisi. With architecture challenging any other European capital and hotels dotted in and around the Old Town, an overnight stay here is highly recommended prior to flying home to the UK. Soaking aching muscles in the traditional sulphur baths, exploring old-fashioned markets and hopping between castles on the cable cars is undoubtedly the way to sign off a visit to Europe’s new kid on the block.
Mark travelled as a guest of Turkish Airlines, voted The Best Airline in Europe at the 2015 World Airline Awards. 7 day school ski trips to Georgia are available from £698pp during February half term 2017 with flight packages departing Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham and London. Enquire here for further details for your school’s next trip.