Remote adventure ski touring in the High Caucasus, skiing in the shadow of Shkhara, the highest mountain in Georgia. Our principal objective for the trip is to visit the ‘lost world’ village of Ushguli, exploring the surrounding mountains on ski. This remote and uniquely preserved Unesco World Heritage site is only accessible via a long 4WD journey. The village is surrounded by fantastic ski terrain and a backdrop of the huge 5000m peaks of the Bezingi Wall.
This is a remote trip, with 8 days of skiing for fit and experienced ski tourers, who already have previous hut to hut touring experience and are up for the challenge of some bigger (up to 1500m) skinning days. The terrain is extensive, with both north facing powder slopes and south facing spring snow slopes in the region. The trip also involves some difficult off road driving and we need to be more self-sufficient than on a typical ski touring trip to the Alps (see suitability notes below). Accommodation in Ushguli is at a local farm guesthouse: the food is great and the rooms have basic electric heating, but Ushguli is the highest permanently occupied village in Europe and therefore temperatures can sometimes be very low, so you will need to bring a 2-3 season sleeping bag to supplement the bedding and a good down jacket for this part of the trip. In terms of comfort/hardship, it’s best think of Ushguli as a hut touring trip, rather than a valley based day touring week.
NB This is an ‘off the beaten track’ ski trip to a less developed nation, so a flexible mindset and sufficient fitness and experience to deal with unexpected challenges are a pre requisite for safety and enjoyment on this type of holiday. Expect the unexpected and you’ll have a great time – but if you like everything to go like clockwork, then it’s best to ski in Verbier and Zermatt! There is also some serious off road driving involved, which may leave you out of your comfort zone (we mean this seriously) – you need to be aware of these factors before considering joining the tour.
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Skiing in Ushguli, Georgia
The remote village of Ushguli lies in the Svaneti region of the western Caucasus mountains of Georgia – the mountain range that runs between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, forming the boundary between Europe and Asia. Bigger than the Alps and with numerous 4000 and 5000m peaks, the range is currently far less developed, especially in winter.
Ushguli is now becoming a classic touring destination, despite the fact that it can only be accessed via a long and difficult 4WD journey, passing through deep gorges on narrow mountain tracks, so it’s a major adventure just getting there in winter. As a result of it’s location, the village has been uniquely preserved for over 1000 years, with iconic Svan Towers dotting the landscape and unpaved streets too narrow for vehicles. We stay at a local farm guesthouse in the heart of the village, enjoying authentic Svan meals, made from locally grown produce. It’s best to treat this part of the trip a bit like a hut tour, as showers may or may not be available, depending on temperatures and the current water supply (ie things can freeze!)
The trip starts and ends with a days’ skiing near the town of Mestia, with main body of the trip being spent in Ushguli, using the village as a base to explore the surrounding mountains in a series of day tours. There is great skiing available in all directions – with excellent north facing powder bowls on one side, a lovely panorama summit right above the village and long spring snow tours up onto the flanks of Shkhara (at 5193m, the highest mountain in Georgia) and the other 5000ers that make up the famous Bezingi Wall, which dominates the skyline at the head of the valley. Although the village now sees regular visits by ski tourers, there is so much terrain that there are still plenty of fresh tracks for all.
Georgia itself is also 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 trip starts at Luton Airport, where we meet up and fly to Kutaisi in Georgia. From Kutaisi the journey up to Mestia takes 5-6 hours where we break the journey and enjoy a days skiing, then it’s a further 2–4+hrs driving on narrow and difficult 4WD tracks to reach Ushguli.
For the two days skiing in Mestia, we are picked up at the hotel by a 4WD vehicle in order to access the different ski venues. There are two small ski resorts in this area which offer good off piste skiing and lift assisted day touring, plus there are numerous good quality mid altitude day tours around Mestia.
NB This trip travels on Thursday out/Sunday return, in order to make use of direct flights from London Luton to Kutaisi, the nearest international airport to the region. Please read the travel notes carefully, as we have contingency planning regarding the flights.
This is an advanced level trip. To take part you should be at Fitness Level 3-4 and Tech Level 3-4 (see our Fitness/Experience guidelines below). You need at least 3 weeks touring experience, including multi day hut tours and advanced level tours in order to join this trip. If you haven’t skied with us before, then a reference from a ski tour leader or guide will be required. You must be able to handle all off piste conditions whilst carrying a day sac, plus experience with ice axe and crampons is also needed. The trip includes 5-7 hour days with some steeper terrain, involving kick turns and the odd short boot track to reach summits. Typically we’ll be doing 1000-1500m of ascent a day, at up to 400m per hour ascent rate (skinning at altitude) – so you can expect to be skinning for 4-5 hours a day. Type of ascent: 90-100% skinning on this tour – approx. 9000m of skinning up, 10000m of skiing down.
NB This is an adventurous tour, with some difficult off road driving that may leave you out of your comfort zone and we need to be more self sufficient than on a typical ski touring trip to the Alps. The local mountain rescue team are well equipped and trained, but in the event of poor flying conditions, access could take longer than in western Europe, so we will be carrying a rescue sled for emergencies and we need to know that you are fit and experienced enough to deal with any unforseen difficulties, such as poor weather or snow conditions. Temperatures can get very low in Ushguli, so a good down jacket is essential for chilly evenings and things like showers may or may not be available, depending on temperatures and the current water supply (ie things can freeze!) – so in terms of comfort/hardship, it’s best think of this as a hut touring trip, rather than a valley based day touring week.
One UIAGM guide skiing with 6 clients, or 2 guides with 8 clients.
Included in price
- 8 days of guiding
- All guides expenses
- 2 nights hotel accommodation in Kutaisi including breakfast
- 3 nights hotel accommodation in Mestia including breakfast and evening meal
- 5 nights guesthouse accommodation in Ushguli including breakfast and evening meal
- Vehicle transport in Georgia
Excluded from price (see factsheet for extra cost estimates)
- Lift Passes
- Lunches and drinks
- Evening Meals in Kutaisi
- Flights to Kutaisi
- Equipment hire
In Kutaisi and Mestia we stay in good western standard local hotels, both of which are close to the centre of town and conveniently placed for cafes, bars and sightseeing. Reception staff are super helpful and speak good English. In Ushguli, we stay at a local farm guesthouse – this a great place to stay, right in the heart of Ushguli, with amazing views of the surrounding Svan towers and mountains. The rooms here have basic electric heating, but due to the altitude and location, communal areas can get cold in the evenings here in winter – so you need to bring along a 2-3 season sleeping bag to supplement the bedding and a good down jacket for this part of the trip. It’s best to treat the Ushguli part of the trip a bit like a hut tour, as showers may or may not be available, depending on temperatures and the current water supply (ie things can freeze!)
All 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 (usually Ok in Kutaisi and Mestia, but there are a limited number of rooms in Ushguli). Please let us know if you have any special dietary requirements.
Fly from Luton to Kutaisi in western Georgia, overnight at Hotel in Kutaisi. NB The flight arrives very late (ie early Friday morning local time), so our first day in Georgia is planned for traveling and some sightseeing.
Travel to Mestia. 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 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.
Warm up day tour/off piste skiing near Mestia. There are two small ski resorts in the area, both of which offer great off piste skiing, plus lift assisted day tours and there are numerous excellent day tours in the mountains surrounding Mestia – we’ll choose a good objective for current conditions. Overnight in Mestia.
Travel to Ushguli. PM Ski tour above the village
Monday – Friday
Ski touring in Ushguli – outings selected to cater for group interest and the current snow and weather conditions. There is great skiing available in all directions – with excellent north facing powder bowls on one side, a lovely panorama summit right above the village and long spring snow tours up onto the flanks of Shkhara (at 5193m, the highest mountain in Georgia). Our accommodation in Ushguli lies at an altitude of 2100m and tours will typically involve 1000-1500m of skinning per day.
On Friday we do our final days’ touring in Ushguli, before setting off back to Mestia, where we spend the night.
Final ski day and travel back to Kutaisi. On Saturday, we finish skiing mid afternoon and set off back to Kutaisi, spending our final night at our hotel in Kutaisi.
In the morning, we have time to do some final sightseeing in Kutaisi – eg visiting the famous markets, the Old City or Bagrati Cathederal – before heading to the airport in the late morning for flights home.
Your meeting point for this trip is London Luton Airport, at 14.00 on Thursday afternoon 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.
Ushguli is not an easy place to get to! – please read the following travel information carefully.
You need to book the following flights for the trip:
Please Note: For this trip we advise you to book the outward and return legs of your flight separately, rather than as a combined return booking – please see *Important Note below as to why we recommend this!
Travel out: You need to book on the Thursday 27th February 2020 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 8th March 2020 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.
*Important Note: In the winter time, there is a small risk of the mid week Wizz Air Thursday Luton-Kutaisi outward flight being cancelled due to insufficient booking numbers – so we have taken this into account in our planning! Please book your outward and return flights as separate bookings, rather than as a single return booking. If there is a cancellation of the Thursday direct flight to Kutaisi, then it’s easier to get a refund on just the outward leg of your journey (you can still do it if you buy a return, but it requires phone time with customer services, rather than just an online refund).
If there is a flight cancellation, then we have three other ways to reach Kutaisi flying from Luton on Thursday afternoon, so that your other travel plans are not disrupted – we can fly to either Copenhagen, Berlin or Dortmund (choice to be decided if required!) where we will overnight, then take a flight to Kutaisi early on Friday morning and then travel direct from Kutaisi airport on Friday to up Mestia. This travel plan worked well for us last year, as it mean’t no ski days were lost during the trip. All other travel options – eg flying to Tbilisi etc – create much longer travel times in Georgia and/or result in lost ski days, so we don’t recommended them.
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 3/4, and Ski Tech Level 3/4:
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)
Fitness Level 4
You do 4+ hours CV training/sport per week. A 70+ mile cycle ride, or 20+ mile hillwalk on a weekend would hold no fears. If so inclined, you might be the kind of person who has done longer road sportives/challenge rides, a ~3.30hr marathon or other similar endurance events. Keen hillwalkers who happily knock off 3-4+ munros in a day also have this kind of fitness and endurance. On skis: you can skin at 400m/hr or could handle 4-6hrs skinning a day. (ie 1000-1400m+ 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.
Tech Level 4
Advanced Off Piste Skier. You can put turns in through heavier snow and on icy 40dg slopes, but difficult breakable crusts and skiing a fresh track off piste in zero visibility are still somewhat challenging! *Equivalent to Ski Club of GB Off Piste Level: Gold – Expert*
Likely to say: I’ve been skiing ten/twenty years – I’d like to do your ‘……’ tour.
Our Advice: You will enjoy our advanced level trips. If you are new to touring – then you could do a Haute Route with two or three days of skills training beforehand (but don’t overlook the physical fitness needed as well). Mileage is the best way to improve your ability level.
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.
Hut to Hut Touring 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
- 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
- Spare fleece/lightweight duvet jacket
- Water container – at least 1 litre
- Personal medications and blister kit – regular meds, zinc oxide tape, compeed and painkillers etc
- Lightweight head torch
- Ski goggles
- Sun glasses – CE rated 3 or 4 with side protection
- Sun and lip cream – factor 30+
- Wallet, passport, Alpine Club/BMC card (hut discount) and insurance docs
Hut Overnight Items
- Small wash kit
- Spare lightweight t-shirt/socks/pants
- Silk sheet liner
- Ear plugs
- (Hut slippers for indoor use, blankets/duvets and pillows are provided by the huts)
- Rucsac 35/45l – try and avoid ones covered in too many features, just ski and ice axe attachments required
- Ski mountaineering boots
- Skis with touring bindings – some ‘freeride’ bindings are also suitable
- 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 – lightweight model
- Ice Axe – lightweight model
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 (safety equipment is provided free of charge on certain courses – please consult price inclusions).
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.
What happens about accommodation, if the weather is very poor and we end up spending extra nights in the valley instead of in huts?
We will make any necessary last minute bookings for the team. On trips taking place outside the Chamonix valley, any extra valley hotel nights will be on a BnB basis rather than half board.
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.