Curiously enough, but this winter journey took its beginning in August, when we (my wife and me) started to think, that it is already necessary to plan out winter holidays. That should have been our first time in the mountains, so we were trying to find something cheap, with good infrastructure and all components of real ski resort: hotels with fireplaces full of riders in bright equipment, hot chocolate, bars, snowy mountains. We looked over lots of options from Western Europe to far-far east of Russia. But Europe was too expensive for us, but Russian resorts usually do not have even chairlifts. Actually, there is an option with Sochi (a Russian city, where winter Olympics 2014 took place) but it is too crowded and I do not agree to pay sooo much for Russian resorts. So, we took a map and started looking for mountains, which could be both not expensive and quite hospitable for not experienced riders. And there we found Georgia (its most popular ski resort – Gudauri). Profit!
Here I would like to tell you how to get really good winter holidays in the mountains and how much it costs.
Why to go to Gudauri (distinctive features)
If you woke up in the morning and realized, that you have got ski or a snowboard somewhere under your bed and a strong desire to use it, there are some very strong reasons to choose Gudauri:
- It is cheap! It is much cheaper than resorts in Austria, Andorra, Sochi etc. The average price is 120$ per night for private hotel room with your own bathroom, including breakfast and dinner. This is the average price for the New Year period. Ususlly it is even cheaper by ∼20$.
- Hospitality. This is a special point. For 25 years of my life I have never met more hospitable people than Georgians. Just imagine: for the first time in my life a hotel owner apologized to me, because he had not come and met me personally (the reason was the fact, that the wash machine had broken down and he had to bring it to repair – more than understandable). Nevertheless as an apology he brought me a present from Tbilisi (the capital of Georgia). For me it was a shock: not me, as a guest, brought him a present, but he did, Fantastic! Another example: someday I asked a hotel manager – Reso – to give me some advice where I could buy wine. You think he named me a couple of restaurants or supermarkets? Ha-ha! He gave me a huge bottle of his best home-made wine (everything home-made in Georgia is better and more expensive, especially wine). I was really surprised and tried to give him money. But Reso truly could not understand, how it is possible to take money before I taste the product (he called a 1 litre bottle as a probe). By the way wine is incredible (see the next point).
- Food and wine. If you go to Georgia you should take the hotel, which suggests hoe-made food (at least breakfast). Why? Just because these dishes and wine is the main thing, that makes me dream about getting back to Georgia. By the way, one interesting fact: Georgians drink a lot, but they do not get drunk. Is not it a dream (or, at least a wish)? The secret is in the following: Georgians drink white home-made wine and very rarely the drink the red. I do not know what the secret of this white wine is, but it works! I spent the whole New Year holidays in Gudauri, I drank a couple of bottles of this magical white wine during the New Year dinner. And what do you think? Nothing! It was a lot of fun, but nothing criminal. And the nextearly morning I was already on the track.
How to get to Gudauri
You can take a plane to:
- Tbilisi (the capital of Georgia);
- Vladikavkaz (the city on the south of Russia).
The way to Gudauri is quite the same – about two hours. Transfer from these airports can be booked in a hotel (see the paragraph “Where to stay”). At least in a hotel they will advise a good experienced driver, who makes such transfers professionally.
But be careful! The way from Tbilisi is quite normal: the road just goes up to the mountains. But the way from Vladikavkaz is much more “exciting”. The road goes through a mountain neck. That means, that in spite of great view you can face a problem: sometimes the road is closed by rangers by the reason of snow avalanche danger. If it happens there is no way to Gudauri from Vladikavkaz. And the period of close can last from 15 minutes to 15 days. Moreover, nobody knows when it will be opened. It is the decision of several responsible persons. On the other hand, the flight tickets to Vladikavkaz are much cheaper (at least from Moscow). And, as you could guess, we decided to risk and bought these cheap tickets to Vladikavkas. I am going to describe, what the effect of that decision was in the next article.
Also pay attention, that there can be a huge line of the cars on Russia-Georgia border (up to 8 hours, but usually it is 1-2 hours).
Gudauri is a village, which is rather available to get there by car. But you should understand, that it is a difficult mountain road, sometimes you will have to wear chairs on the wheels. I will not recommend this type of transport unless you are an experienced driver.
Where to stay
To be honest, there is nothing special types of staying in Gudauri: you can stay in a hotel or in a hostel. And both of them can be cheap or not. Extreme option of staying in a car I will not describe in that article 🙂
Here I would like to introduce a web-site – gudauri.ru. That is the main web-site of the resort and your best helper. Everything that even exists in Gudauri can be found here: hotels, transfer, chart, whether forecast, tracks description, web-cameras etc. The web-site is also available in English, all prices are provided in USD.
We have chosen the hotel Seven, which is located near the track. That is just the average, the golden middle, that was just enough for the first time in the mountains.
- Home-made food;
- Closeness to the track;
- Domestic atmosphere.
- Old furniture;
- The only shop and all bars are rather far;
- Sometimes there is no hot water.
For private room with our own bathroom, breakfast and dinner, view to the mountains cost 100$ per night for hot New Year period. Better option in modern hotel will cost about 140-160$ per night.
Here I want to give some advice about choosing the hotel in Gudauri:
- Take a hotel with home-made cooking. Food, delicious food will make you love being in the hotel near the fireplace;
- For New Year period try to make a reservation at least in September;
- Try to choose a hotel close to the track. It is not comfortable to use taxi every day.
What to do
- To ride. To be honest, the tracks are OK for first-time riders. Experienced riders say, that tracks are not dangerous, and black tracks “are not black”. But they choose Gudauri for riding out of the tracks – that is what Gudauri is famous about. And it is not crowded even during high season. Ski-pass is about 73$ for 7 days for high season (Dec, 12 – March, 10) and 48$ for low season.
- To stay safe. The worst moment about the tracks is their unpredictability. Firstly, the tracks are not marked, so, you do not know if it is still a track or a piece of wild mountain. Secondly, the tracks can suddenly continue with the rocks. It seems rather dangerous.
- To go to Tbilisi. This is an ancient city with friendly atmosphere. Our hotel manager (as evert hotel in Gudauri) found a nephew, who met us in Tbilisi. We gave him 40$ and this guy made us the best excursion, using his own car. That is quite unusual kind of guidance, but I loved it.
- To eat and drink wine – your tongue will say “Thank you and give me more wine”.
- To try sauna in the evening after riding. I will not copy the information from gudauri.ru here. There you will find information about all saunas.
For a couple for 1 week:
- Flight tickets: 242$;
- Transfer: 72$+72$ back;
- Hotel: 700$;
- Ski-pass: 73$ for each person;
- Sauna: 1 time 42$;
- Additional food, drinks, coffee etc.: 70$;
- Excursion to Tbilisi: 40$ + 12$ to get to Tbilisi;
- Visa: 0$ for Russian citizens. For other country about 35$ each.