Early season backcountry skiing and powder touring in Georgia, based in the culturally fascinating Svaneti region of the High Caucasus. The week includes a 50-50 mix of off piste days and day touring. The area has only recently opened up to skiers – so it’s still very quiet – but abounds with great ski terrain amid a backdrop of stunning 4000 and 5000m peaks. Home to the legend of the Golden Fleece, the history and architecture of the region is unique – with towns and villages dominated by 1000 year old fortified Svan Towers.
Skiing in Svaneti, Georgia
The Svaneti region of Georgia lies in the western Caucasus – the high mountain range running between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea – that forms the boundary between Europe and Asia. The Caucasus range is bigger than the Alps, with numerous 4000 and 5000m peaks, but is far quieter and less developed. This is a remote, ‘off the beaten track’ backcountry skiing and day touring area, with plenty of great terrain, often skiing on powder snow at this time of year.
Georgia itself is a culturally fascinating place to visit: it’s a Christian country with a passion for wine production (and enthusiastic consumption!) that has numerous incredibly well preserved 1000 year old monasteries, religious sites and other unique architecture – such as the famous Svan Towers that dominate towns and villages of the Svaneti region. We’ll have a chance to explore some of these cultural aspects of the country during our trip. It’s a westward looking nation that has come a long way since the end of the Soviet era and over the last 10 years, the infrastructure within Georgia has improved greatly; nowadays it’s one of the safest countries in the world to visit. Visas are not required by UK, EU, US, AUS and NZ citizens as well as those from 98 other nations.
The week starts at Luton Airport, where we meet up and fly to Kutaisi in Georgia. In Kutaisi we are picked up at the airport and dropped off again there at the end of the week – the journey up to Svaneti takes 5-6 hours to the mountain town of Mestia at an altitude of ~1500m. During the trip we stay at a hotel in Mestia, the main town in the Svaneti region, which is ideally located for skiing in the surrounding mountains.
Each day we are picked up at the hotel by 4WD vehicle, in order to access the different ski venues. There are two small ski resorts in the area – both have good off piste skiing and lift assisted day touring, with few other off piste skiers around. In addition, there are numerous good quality mid altitude day tours in the area, offering lovely skiing in open alpine pastures and pine forests at this time of year.
NB This is an ‘off the beaten track’ ski trip to a less developed nation, so a flexible mindset and a sense of adventure are prerequisites to enjoy this type of holiday. Expect the unexpected and you’ll have a great time – but if you like everything to go like clockwork, then stick to skiing in Verbier and Zermatt!
NB This trip travels on Sunday out/Sunday return, in order to make use of direct flights from London Luton to Kutaisi, the nearest international airport to the region.
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This is an intermediate level trip. To take part you should be at Fitness Level 3 and Tech Level 3 (see our Fitness/Experience guidelines below). You need previous ski touring experience in order to join this tour and you must have some powder skiing experience – if you are a strong/fit skier, then just a few previous days worth of touring will be sufficient. The week includes a 50-50 mix of off piste days and day touring. The tours involve generally steady climbs and typically 600-1000m of ascent a day – so you can expect to be skinning for 3-4 hours a day on touring days. Type of ascent: we use 30% uplift and 70% skinning during the week – approx 3000m of skinning up, 10000m of skiing down, with day packs and at mid altitude.
One UIAGM guide skiing with 6 clients.
Included in price
- 5 days of guiding
- Half days sightseeing
- All guides expenses
- 2 nights hotel accommodation in Kutaisi including breakfast
- 5 nights hotel accommodation in Mestia including breakfast and evening meal
- Transport during the course
- Airport transfer to Mestia
Excluded from price (see factsheet for extra cost estimates)
- Lift Passes
- Lunches and drinks
- Evening Meal in Kutaisi
- Flights to Kutaisi
- Equipment hire
Our base for the week is a good local 3 star hotel in Mestia, in the heart of the Svaneti region. Our hotel is conveniently located in the centre of town and well set up for skiers, with friendly staff and good local food – importantly, it also has central heating rather than individual room heaters, which makes for better winter accommodation than most hotels and guesthouses in the region! In the evenings, we either eat at the hotel or in local restaurants nearby (evening meals in Mestia are included in the price). Hotel rooms are provided on a twin sharing basis, but if you wish to book a single room please let us know and we will confirm availability.
Fly from Luton to Kutaisi in western Georgia, overnight at Hotel in Kutaisi. NB The flight arrives very late (ie early Monday morning local time), so our first day in Georgia is planned for traveling and some sightseeing.
After breakfast, we make the 5-6hr transfer from Kutaisi up to Mestia. After 2 hours of flat driving, the road climbs spectacularly up into the mountains, passing through deep valleys and gorges. For most of the journey the road is pretty good, but gets a bit rougher towards the end, where we pass some of our potential ski venues for the week.
Arriving at Mestia, we check in and have a late cafe lunch, then spend the afternoon doing some sightseeing. Georgia is a Christian country with a long history of religious art: historically the Svaneti region was an incredibly remote part of the country and because of this, during times of war, treasures and other religious artefacts were often sent here for safe keeping. However, many of these treasures were not retrieved and as a result, they have remained in the area ever since, making a visit to the local museum a fascinating experience.
The other thing that the Svaneti region is famous for, is the 1000 year old defensive Svan Towers that dominate the towns and villages in the area. Families would retreat into these at times of danger and strife. We’ll have the chance to visit the Svan Towers at the top end of town.
PM Evening Briefing – your guide will run through kit checks and safety routines, before going on to discuss the current weather and mountain conditions and how these affect our plans. We’ll have maps and information on the area to show you, so if you’ve any further questions or last minute requests, then this is the ideal time to bring them up.
Tuesday to Saturday
Day touring and off piste skiing in Svaneti – typically we do a couple of days making use of the lifts, with shorter sections of skinning if required to reach good snow and 2 or 3 full day tours during the week. Possibilities include:
Lift Accessed Powder
The Svaneti region now has 2 small, recently opened ski stations with modern lifts. Both venues offer good off piste skiing and are known freeride spots – but due to the remoteness of the area, there are still few other skiers around mid week.
Therefore it makes a good venue for lift accessed powder sking early in the season, when temperatures are low and north facing slopes remain unaffected by the sun.
Snowfall in the area frequently occurs on light winds, which is good for powder conditions and with skins especially, it’s possible to find good untracked snow for a number of days after each dump.
Descents to Local Villages
One of the unique aspects of visiting Svaneti are the local villages dotted with Svan Towers, which give the remote valleys in this region an other worldly feel.
During the week we’ll have the chance to ski down to a number of villages, passing cows and other ‘non typical’ ski day sights.
These descents are always an adventure, offering a mix of forest glades in powder and a bit of obligatory bush whacking! At the bottom, we’ll be picked up at the village by our driver for the return trip to town in a 4 wheel drive minibus.
There are a number of great day tours in the region; some close to town and others in neighbouring valley systems, which we access via 4WD vehicle. Many of these tours offer stunning views of iconic Mount Ushba, the ‘Matterhorn of the Caucasus’.
We choose venues based on current snow and weather conditions, but the aim is to do ski tours that offer good quality powder descents at this time of year.
Typical ascents are 800-1000m a day but the pace is generally pretty steady, especially if trail breaking is involved (as is often the case) – putting a skinning track in through 1000m of deep powder keeps the guide well exercised!
In poor visibility and on storm days, we often go tree skiing above town.
The local ski hill is built on a north facing hillside that offers great powder skiing in the woods, especially on fresh snow days.
There are plenty of good lines to go at straight off the lift, as well as shorter part day tours and descents that require a bit of skinning to return to the station – having a reliable poor weather option like this, means we can go skiing in just about all weather conditions at this time of year.
On Saturday, we finish skiing at mid afternoon and set off back to Kutaisi, spending our final night at a hotel in Kutaisi.
Transfer to the airport for flights home (if flight times are later in the day, there may also be time to do some sightseeing in Kutaisi).
Your meeting point for this trip is London Luton Airport, at 14.00 on Sunday or at Kutaisi hotel/airport. If you plan to fly to Georgia via another route, then you must make suitable arrangements to make absolutely sure that you will arrive in Kutaisi at the same time as the rest of the group – please inform us of your plans if this is the case.
You need to book the following flights for the trip:
For Week 1: fly out on Sunday 12th January 2020, fly back home on Sunday 19th January 2020.
For Week 2: fly out on Sunday 19th January 2020, fly back home on Sunday 26th January 2020.
Travel out: You need to book on the Sunday Wizz Air flight W9 6424 from London Luton to Kutaisi, Georgia departing at 16.15 (5hr flight, arriving 00.55 local time, +4hrs GMT). Booking a Wizz Go Package, plus skis is probably your best option – at the time of writing (May 2019) flights are available for as little as £275 for the return flight, including skis and 20kg hold baggage.
Travel home: You need to book on the Sunday Wizz Air flight W9 6423 from Kutaisi to Luton, departing 14.20 local time (flight arrives Luton 15.45 local time).
We advise you to book 1x Hold Bag and 1x Ski Equipment on all flights.
Further information and travel links can be found on our Travel Planning page.
To enjoy this trip you should be comfortable operating at Fitness Level 3, and Ski Tech Level 3:
Fitness Level 3
You do 3-4 hours cv training/sport per week. At this level you are happy doing a 5-6 hr hillwalk, 50ml cycle or 3-4hr mountain bike ride without being totally exhausted. If you are into challenges – then the thought of doing a road sportive, or training to do a 1/2 (or maybe even a full) marathon, wouldn’t seem too ridiculous. On foot: you should be able to do the full Langdale Horseshoe: Langdale – Pike of Stickle – Angle Tarn – Bow Fell – Crinkle Crags – Pike of Blisco – Langdale in a day without finishing up exhausted. On skis: you can skin uphill at 300m/hr for 3-4 hrs a day (ie 8-1200m of ascent each day).
Tech Level 3
Confirmed Off Piste Skier. You can put down a reasonable set of tracks in powder, but difficult snow types – eg heavy wet snow, crusts, poor visibility or 40dg slopes – can all cause problems (though you can cope with them safely, if not elegantly!) *Equivalent to Ski Club of GB Off Piste Level: Purple – Advanced*
Likely to say: ‘I’d like to handle difficult snow/steep slopes more confidently in better style’
Our Advice: Off piste coaching still useful. Intermediate off piste weeks are at your level too. If you want to get into ski touring, try a touring course or intro level ski tour. If you’re an established ski mountaineer, then intermediate level tours are generally suitable.
To view all of our Ski Fitness Levels and Off Piste Technical Levels, please visit our Ski Ability page.
If you need to top up your fitness for this trip, please see our Ski Touring Training Advice page.
Day Touring/BC Ski Course Equipment List
Just remember, every extra kilo on your back knocks 10% off your enjoyment on the descents – so try and keep the weight down!
- Waterproof Jacket – preferably lightweight and breathable
- Overtrousers/ski pants – preferably with side zips
- Fleece mid layer or equivalent
- Spare fleece or lightweight insulated duvet jacket
- Socks – specialist ski socks or a warm loop lined pair of mountain socks
- Wicking thermal top – not cotton please…
- Thermal leggings or ski pants
- Thin inner gloves
- Warm ski gloves or mittens, if you suffer from cold hands
- Warm hat
- Water container – at least 1 litre
- Personal medications and blister kit – regular meds, zinc oxide tape, compeed and painkillers etc
- Ski goggles
- Sun glasses – CE rated 3 or 4 with side protection
- Sun and lip cream – factor 30+
- Wallet, passport and insurance docs
- Rucsac 25/35l – try and avoid ones covered in too many features, just ski and ice axe attachments required
- Freeride boots or ski mountaineering boots – check detailed factsheet kit list for preferred boots
- Skis with touring bindings – check detailed factsheet kit list for preferred skis and bindings
- Velcro ski strap – to keep skis together on your rucksack if we need to carry them
- Ski poles – with good size 5cm+ baskets (telescopic poles are not needed)
- Climbing skins – they come with the skis if you hire your kit
- Harscheisen (ski crampons) – they come with the skis if you hire your kit
- Metal snow shovel – must be a full metal shovel (plastic blades don’t work in real avalanche debris!)
- Avalanche probe
- Avalanche transceiver – must be a modern digital model (older analogue models are now obsolete)
- Harness, with 120cm sling and locking karabiner
- Crampons – bring them if you have them
- Ice Axe – bring if you have one
Your guide will have all other safety kit, first aid and survival equipment.
Recommendations and Advice
Visit the Knowledge Base section of our website, where we publish an annual review of the years best new skis, boots and touring equipment, plus a range of other interesting tips and recommendations. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, please get in touch!
Backcountry UK in Ilkley offer an excellent ski boot fitting service, one of the best ranges of ski mountaineering equipment in the UK and top notch advice.
Please visit our Equipment Hire page for recommended hire shops in your resort, and Alpine Guides hire equipment price list.
For this trip you must have specialist travel insurance providing medical, emergency search/rescue and repatriation cover for the following activities: off piste skiing and ski touring in glaciated areas requiring the use of ropes, up to 5000m altitude. We also strongly recommend that you purchase cancellation cover, in case you’re unable to attend your trip due to personal circumstances or injury.
Please arrange your insurance as soon as your trip is confirmed to run.
Insurance for UK residents
British Mountaineering Council. The gold standard in insurance for UK residents. Very competitive single trip or annual cover for all ski touring and mountaineering activities. Use this link to book your BMC insurance.
If you use another insurance provider, then please check terms and conditions very carefully to make sure your activity is covered.
Please note this trip is outside European Territorial Limits, so you need to purchase Worldwide (Excl USA/North America) Cover.
Insurance for non UK residents
Austrian Alpine Club. Available to all European residents. AAC insurance is cheap and works ok for minor accidents and rescues, but is not as comprehensive as many other insurance providers. The medical cover included would not be enough for complex treatment or a prolonged stay in hospital. It also doesn’t include cancellation cover. If you choose to use AAC we recommend you take out extra medical cover with another provider, to ‘top up’ the AAC medical limit, as well as a separate cancellation policy.
Travelex. For US citizens – a range of policies with comprehensive cover.
Global Rescue. Cover offered to all nationalities.
Details of your insurance must be sent to us before the course starts, and brought to the course briefing at the start of your trip.
What happens to my deposit if I book a trip, but it isn’t confirmed to run due to insufficient bookings?
You may transfer your booking to different dates, a different course, or choose a full refund.
What happens if the weather or snow conditions are poor, or the avalanche risk is high?
We will make every effort to stick to the itinerary, but sometimes its necessary to change plans and ski in a neighbouring area or even further afield. Many of our itineraries are designed with flexibility in mind, and it’s usually possible to ski in most conditions with some careful alternative planning.
Does Alpine Guides ski with customers from overseas, including the USA and Canada?
Who goes on our trips?
We climb and ski with a broad range of ages and experience levels, and a large number of our customers come back year after year. We’ve guided 10 year old Ollie up the Old Man of Hoy in Scotland – now the youngest person to climb it. And 70 year old David has climbed the Matterhorn with us, as well as out-skiing people half his age!
How do I book a ski trip?
For scheduled ski trips it’s easy to book online, directly from your course page. For hire a guide/bespoke courses please get in touch for a quote.
Is there an age limit on any of our ski trips?
Under 18’s must be accompanied by a parent/legal guardian. There is no upper age limit, but please get in touch to discuss suitability if you are concerned about your age, with regard to fitness and pace.
How do I rent ski equipment?
You can rent certain items of specialist equipment from us, and the rest can usually be hired in resort.
What happens if I need to cancel my course?
If you wish to cancel you must notify us in writing, where upon the following charges will be applied from the date we receive your notice of cancellation:
- More than 8 weeks (56 days) before start date – loss of deposit.
- Between 4 and 8 weeks (28-56 days) before start date – 50% of course fee or loss of deposit, whichever amount is greater.
- Less than 4 weeks (28 days) before start date – full course fee.
Can I book a single room on my ski trip?
Yes – this can be done during the online booking process. Please add the single room option to your order, and we will confirm availability asap.