2020 February-March Analysis Featured

What’s new in the 2019-2020 Georgian ski-season

Georgia’s four main ski resorts are making steady improvements to both municipal and ski infrastructure and are experiencing rapid growth. While traditional resorts like Gudauri and Bakuriani seek to become ski-Meccas, smaller resorts are bidding on retaining their authenticity and uniqueness to attract tourists.

Bakuriani

Winter visitors in 2018-19: 136k
Ski lifts: 7
Trails: 24
Total length of ski trails: 29 km

Bakuriani is busy with preparations for the upcoming Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Championships which will be held at the resort in 2023. The resort will also be hosting the 2022 FIS Ski Flying World Championships. These events, Mountain Resorts of Georgia Communications Head Ani Geradze says, “will help popularize winter sports and add to the ever-increasing influx of international tourists into the country. The eyes of the world will be on Georgia, and Bakuriani is determined to impress.”

Bakuriani has also been nominated as a candidate host city for the European Youth Olympic Winter Festival in 2025.

In preparation for the upcoming championships, Bakuriani has been expanding both its ski and municipal infrastructure.

A new ski lift has been added on the Didveli slope with a capacity of 1800-2400 passengers per hour. It was constructed by the Swiss company Doppelmayr Garaventa Group. 10 gondolas were also added to one of the main lifts to the already existing 34, increasing the capacity by 350-400 tourists per hour.

The Municipal Development Fund of Georgia has implemented a 5 million euro project, funded by the EBRD, to expand the fleet of specialized vehicles in Bakuriani, adding 10 new modern diesel buses, a front loader, snow compactor, evacuator, wheeled excavator-loader, wheeled loader (mini loader), universal multifunctional truck and waste collection vehicle.

Some of these vehicles will be driving along the new Bakuriani Bypass Road, which runs from the main resort complex to the Didveli ski zone. The 6.3 million GEL project was financed by the European Investment Bank and is expected to drastically reduce congestion in and around Bakuriani.

The Municipal Development Fund, in cooperation with the Egis Group and with help from the World Bank, has also invested 55 million GEL ($18.8 million) in its strategic plan to develop “multi-modal transportation and mobility” in Bakuriani. This includes building new sidewalks, crosswalks, streetlights, bicycle paths, and bus stations, as well as improving public spaces, such as parks, squares, and pedestrian walkways. The project will also focus on improving the facades of centrally-located buildings and beautifying tourist areas.

The Adjara Group’s internationally-renowned hotel chain Rooms has officially opened in Bakuriani in time for the 2019-2020 ski-season. This ski-in, ski-out hotel is located in Kokhta-Mitarbi, in the heart of the mountain wilderness.

“Rooms Hotel Kokhta’s sleek, contemporary design is inspired by the local landscape, using traditional Georgian building materials, such as wood, stone, and clay to evoke an atmosphere that is modern, while still paying tribute to its cultural heritage. $40 million was invested in the hotel, which has 95 guest rooms and a stunning view of the Caucasus mountains, conference halls, and a farm-to-table restaurant reflecting modern culinary preferences with a strong connection to locally-sourced products. Soon, Rooms Hotel Kokhta will also have a spa and a swimming pool”, Adjara Group Managing Director Levan Berulava told Investor.ge.

The construction of this new hotel is one part in a two-stage plan to reinvigorate and further develop the Kokhta-Mitarbi area. The next stage will include building a car-free resort, oriented towards tourists who want an authentic wilderness experience away from busy roads. Construction on this stage is expected to continue in 2023, after Bakuriani hosts the Freestyle championship.

Gudauri

Winter visitors in 2018-19: 410k
Ski lifts: 18
Trails: 26
Total length of ski trails: 52 km

Georgia’s largest ski resort, Gudauri already has well-developed ski and entertainment infrastructure and offers a wide array of adventure sports opportunities such as back country and heli-skiing.

Though Gudauri and Bakuriani experienced a difficult start to the year after experiencing water shortages in early January caused by unseasonably dry weather, both resorts have made a comeback.

Gudauri is expanding its safety and monitoring systems, including the installation of an avalanche warning system to prolong the number of days that the resort is open.

Another example of how the Gudauri resort is developing is the Gudauri-Kobi cable car, which opened in January 2019 and connects Gudauri to Stepantsminda. The cable car stretches over 7.5 kilometers, and only takes around 15 minutes and is considerably more convenient than using the Jvari Pass, which can be dangerous and is often forced to close due to snowfall, avalanches and landslides. The 81 million GEL cable car will now also ensure that the Stepantsminda region does not remain for long periods of time in the winter season.

Yet another infrastructural improvement is the construction of the 22.7 kilometer Kvesheti-Kobi road, which is comprised of five tunnels and six bridges, and runs under the Jvari Pass, further reducing avalanche risk. The $558 million investment project backed by the ADB, EBRD and Government of Georgia is due to be completed in 2023.

This road is a crucial addition to the North-South corridor connecting Georgia, Russia, and Armenia. One of the five tunnels is an impressive 9 km long. The project will reduce the distance between Kvesheti and Kobi, reducing travel time from 1 hour to just 20 minutes.

Aside from the new infrastructure, a brand new 4-star Best Western hotel opened its doors in late December 2019. The 63-room hotel cost 10 million lari to construct. The Amber Group also opened the Gudauri Lodge, which is located on one of the slopes and has ski-in and ski-out facilities available for tourists.

Goderdzi

# winter visitors in 2018-19: 14.7k
# of ski lifts: 4
# of trails: 4
Total length of ski trails: 8 km

One of Georgia’s newer resorts, Goderdzi is a great destination choice for ski enthusiasts seeking undisturbed powder and to get away from the crowds.

The Goderdzi resort has snow cover from November-April, giving it the longest ski season of any resort in Georgia, and experiences up to three times more snowfall than either Bakuriani or Gudauri.

The resort has set itself apart by the availability of catskiing and heliskiing opportunities.

But the resort is growing: it currently has 19 new investment projects worth 150 million GEL ($51.57 USD) in the works.

One of the biggest obstacles to development in the area is the lack of updated road infrastructure connecting Goderdzi to Batumi and Tbilisi. One project to address this problem is the reconstruction of the Khulo-Zarzma section of the highway that leads from Akhaltsikhe in the east to Batumi in the west, passing by Goderdzi in between.

Funded by the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, the $110 million project began back in October 2018 but has had several hiccups along the way, however Georgian Roads Department Deputy Chairman Levan Kupatashvili says that progress is expected to pick up after the 2019-2020 winter season.

The project includes laying 47 kilometers of a two-lane road which will drastically reduce travel time between the Javakheti and Adjara regions by up to 1.5 hours, and open up a second transit artery in addition to the traditional East-West highway that runs to the north.

Back in late 2018, then-PM Mamuka Bakhtadze announced that 30 million GEL had been allocated to provide a steady supply of gas to the Goderdzi Gorge in 2020.

Mestia (Tetnuldi and Hatsvali)

# winter visitors in 2018-19: 41k
# of ski lifts: 7
# of trails: 14
Total length of ski trails: 37 km

Mestia is often hailed as one of Georgia’s most unique resorts, given its remoteness, altitude and pristine beauty.

In a bid to prevent over-construction in Mestia and the surrounding area, a development plan for the municipality has been drawn up and is awaiting confirmation.

Local hotel owner Levan Dadvani says the area has been slow to develop, but somewhat purposefully: locals are wary of large developers that want to construct residential complexes.

“It’s not that locals don’t want hotels – it’s the apartments that are then rented out remotely via AirBnB that are a problem for the sustainable development of a local economy”, Dadvani says.

Hatsvali is easily reachable from Mestia itself by lift. However, Dadvani notes that the resort itself is in need of a larger lift that can accommodate more people as demand has risen surprisingly quickly in recent years. Dadvani recalls skepticism amongst locals in the area, who at first joked that the lift would go unused.

Tetnuldi, the other mountain resort in the area, is just 18 kilometers from Mestia, however the journey could be shortened to just eight if a project proposing a lift from the village of Mulakahi goes through. The lift is important not only to reduce travel time and distance – the road to the base of Tetnuldi also presents difficulties, with large snowfall sometimes blocking the road or making it more difficult to traverse.

Special thanks to SkiGeorgia.ge

Managing Editor Daniel Doinitsin, Mountain Resorts of Georgia Head of Int’l Communications Ani Geradze and the Georgian National Tourism Administration for assistance in preparing this article.