Wednesday, March 05, 2008

TRAVEL: Skiing in Georgia: Bakuriani and Gudauri - Europe’s best kept secret

By Tamar Khurtsia

Georgian Business Week, March 3: While world’s various ski slopes are already running on snow and ice, local and foreign holidaymakers keep flocking to Georgia’s Gudauri and Bakuriani resorts. It takes about two hours to reach either from the capital, Tbilisi.
In January, when the season was in full swing, 9,000 tourists visited the two resorts combined, meaning that Bakuriani saw 40% more visitors than at that time last year and Gudauri saw 30% more, according to the Department of Statistics. Sopho Mdinaradze, 23, an amateur skier, says Gudauri and Bakuriani “are paradise” for ski-lovers. “Last weekend the weather was excellent and all three chairlifts worked in Gudauri. It was great!”

Gudauri on March 4, 2008 by Dato Rostomashvili

Gudauri in the Greater Caucasus and Bakuriani in the Lesser Caucasus are valuable resorts for Georgia’s tourism industry. During Soviet times Bakuriani was a very popular winter destination, hosting Soviet competitions. Situated 29 km from Borjomi on the northern slope of the Trialeti Range, Bakuriani is 1,700-2,000 metres above sea level. Here a blanket of snow covers the slopes for 4-5 months. However, the resort remains attractive in summer as well, due to its wonderful nature and curative climate. Doctors treating tuberculosis and lung disease sufferers frequently advise them to holiday in Bakuriani, as it is covered with coniferous trees, particularly spruce. “Often it [Bakuriani] gives a better effect than costly medicines,” says therapeutist Tamar Badridze.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union Gudauri has also emerged to compete with Bakuriani. It is located in the Stepantsminda District, along the Georgian Military Highway near the Cross Pass, 2,196 metres above sea level. For experienced skiers Gudauri provides slalom, giant slalom, super g, speed skiing and heliskiing - one of its most impressive offerings.
Presently both Bakurani and Gudauri are rapidly developing sites with mushrooming lifts and hotels. In Gudauri the first, lower lift station is 1,990 metres above sea level and the top station, called Kudebi (“Tails”) is at 3,007 metres. At Bakuriani, the highest point used for skiing is Mount Kokhta (“Smart”), around 2,200 metres above sea level. Eleven ski runs are currently in use in Bakuriani, together with ropeways, ski-jumps, ski-tracks, cross-country skiing courses, horse-riding facilities and snowmobiles. An average price for renting skis is 5 GEL per hour.
“Gudauri and Bakuriani are terrific, but foreign people have little or no information about them, compared to European resorts,” Sopho says. Statistics appear to confirm this. This year, the Department of Statistics says, only 3% of visitors to Bakuriani came from outside Georgia. 28% of these were Russian, 24% Latvian, another 24% Armenian, 18% from Great Britain and 6% came from Ukraine. “We try to attract foreign tourists to Bakuriani and Gudauri and are developing a promotional campaign. As a result we had many tourists from Great Britain this year,” commented Beka Jakheli, the head of Tourism Department.
The statistics show another interesting tendency. The overwhelming majority of holidaymakers - 97% - organised their stay at Bakuriani or Gudauri on their own. Only 3% asked for help from travel agencies. This choice, they explain, gains them more affordable prices and more importantly, more assurance of finding a proper place to stay. “Last year my friends and I reserved rooms through a Tbilisi-based travel agency and you know what happened? - When we arrived we found the hotel closed. It was only due to open two days later. It was New Year’s Eve and we were just lucky enough to find a home on our own. No hotel room was available,” Nino, 29, complained. But the mix-up led Nino and her companions to pay less for their cheery time in the resort since prices in Bakuriani start from 90 USD for a hotel room, while at family hotels one can find a bedroom for 30 GEL.
However, Nino then had to undergo the discomfort of “handling the travel agency guys” to claim her money back. “I will never trust travel agencies, at least until I forget this incident,” she says. But concerning conditions in the resort, she notes “things are getting better. Every year things are improving in Bakuriani but still there are no entertainment centres, clubs, bars, cafes, fast food outlets and others.” Most visitors seem to agree with her. A survey conducted by the Tourism Department suggests that 55% of the tourists want to see improved fast food service and quality. 17% want better infrastructure and apartments.
“The survey showed many aspects to which we have to pay particular attention for next season. We believe Georgia’s winter resorts will meet European standards and attract more foreigners,” Jakheli says.

Skiing in the Caucasus / View as slideshow >>>


Flights said...

Wow, skiing in Gudauri resort! it is very exciting. I want to be there before dying. And yes, nice pic.

dining tables said...

When I was learning skiing, I always visit that place. I find it so amazing. It is a good place to practice and learn skiing moves. I love that place.