Skiing in Gudauri

The gang, from left: Sian, Elizabeth, Ben, Aaron, Dion

The gang, from left: Sian, Elizabeth, Ben, Aaron, Dion

Finally got around to skiing this weekend, after having talked about it for most of the season.  Sian, as usual, arranged everything, and so at 8:30 Saturday morning we met at Didube and got the marshrutka to Gudauri.  The hour and a half trip was pleasant despite the usual marshrutka inconveniences: speeding through the curving mountain roads throwing everyone from side to side; the swerving to avoid potholes and livestock, the occasional stop for cigarettes or kababi.  Actually one of the stops was great–the marshrutka was going to Kazbegi another two hours to the north, so at about half-way, 20 minutes or so from the ski resort, he stopped for the de rigeur kababi.

Ben with his papakhi

Ben with his papakhi

By the road were a number of stalls with stout old women selling various things: snacks, churchkhela, drinks, hats, trinkets.  I hadn’t brought a hat along, and among the different kinds of hats they had were the big furry sheep-skin hats called papakhi the mountain-dwelling shepherds used to wear.  Both Ben and I got one, his a shaggy brown, mine a longer-haired white one with patches of brown (don’t ask, don’t tell).  They looked a bit dirty, and still had a vague smell of mutton–no squeamish sterilization or fumigation or disinfection here.  Comfortable and warm, though.  And very cool.

The marshrutka dropped us off near the ski rental hut, where we got ourselves kitted out.  We then marched up the 300 meters or so to the lift where we bought day passes.  The equipment cost us 30 GEL, the lift pass 25.  It was Ben’s first time skiing, as well as little Aaron’s, and Dion hadn’t been in years, so we spend the first half an hour or so climbing up the bunny slope and snow-plowing down.

Dion & Ben

Dion & Ben

There were three lifts that brought skiers progressively higher up the mountain, each slope steeper and more adventurous than the last.  The first time up we went down after the first lift, skiing for short bursts and then stopping to pick people up and untangle their limbs and skis and poles.

Sian

Sian

Me n' my papakhi

Me n' my papakhi

It was pretty warm on the slopes, no need really for my heavy coat.  And while there was ample snow, it was heavy and difficult to maneuver in.  But the slopes were nice: relatively broad and with various degrees of inclination, with the steeper parts towards the top of the mountain.  It was also relatively empty; Sian was saying that it gets considerably more crowded on Sundays, with groups of men lubricating their runs with plenty of booze.  But Saturday it was pretty calm, with short lines to the lifts and the plenty of space on the runs. In fact, a good number of the people we did see were expats–brits, americans, french.

Ben in action

Ben in action

Around 2 we stopped for lunch at one of the cabins in the middle of the mountain.  Kababi and burgers.  The last marshrutka was at 5, so at around 3:45 we split up and each went at our own pace.  It took a good half an hour to get to the top of the third lift, so I really only had time to do one full run to the bottom before we were to meet at 4:30.

Going up to the top.  Alone.

Going up to the top. Alone.

The lift up to the top of the mountain was completely empty, no one in front of me or behind me as far as I could see through the clouds.  So I plugged in my earphones and listened to Flush, a Georgian pop band; songs about going to Batumi (the summer Black Sea coast resort) as well as my new favourite song: their version of an old traditional Georgian song called Darujan.  Perhaps I’ll try to post it some time soon.

Self-portrait on the way to the summit.

Self-portrait on the way to the summit.

So it was a great time.  Depending on the weather, we might try to go again next weekend and bring a few more people.

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