M I R T E W A S H E R E
Why was Mirte here?
Georgia has always been on the top of my list, but as I didn’t quite know how and when to visit a special place like this it already started to became more of a dream than a real travel destination. That’s where most things get forgotten. My dear friend Martine van der Hoorn (certified snowboard guide) woke me up and invited me to join her first organised freeride get away with a group of snowboarders. Clearing my schedule for this wake up call was all of a sudden no problem at all. Publishing this story was one of the most satisfying ones so far.
DISCOVERING THE LINE OF FREEDOM
Crossing borders seems a natural thing. Especially when it comes to snowboarding. But these two things combined, are quite a mission when you intend to discover the unknown peaks of beautiful Georgia.
The amount of interesting places reachable within a few hours of travel is one of the greatest things about Europe. You grab your board, get on a plane on one side and step out on the other in what seems to be a whole different world. I travelled a few hours forward and landed in a place where time stood still.
Behind the wall of Russia, within the peaceful peaks of the Caucasus and next to the silent Black Sea lies Georgia – a small country with a big history that forms the line between Europe and Asia. A country where nobody talks about, but where everybody will return from with much to tell.
Fully equipped with snowboard gear I felt a bit misplaced…Did they see me as a rich tourist parading with my freedom in front of them who live in houses marked horribly by the war they had to fight to earn theirs?
No. They don’t.
Even when Tbilisi – the capital – might be a paradox between modern independent society and historical Russian influences, Georgia has a very pure character. One that welcomes you bravely in their beautiful mountains, proud to be shared with curious adventurers.
From city to skiresort, from field to peak – the three hour drive from Tbilisi to Gudauri in the middle of the night keeps me awake. Not that I had a choice on a curvy, bumpy road like this. My eyes discover the sharpe edges of the mountains in the upcoming sun light. There is not much snow, but still enough to reflect her beauty. Once we arrive, early birds are building up their little market tents to be the first one to sell fruit, vegetables and Churchkhela – a home made energy bar looking like a sausage but filled with nuts and fruit instead.
I’m not sure what to expect from this popular skiresort, but it’s obvious that they have some really good stuff around here. The dark, sharp edges from this morning made place for big, steep faces that are rising up around us as soon as the day light has kicked in. Gudauri is small. Just a few houses and a handful hotels owned by farmers and wintersport fanatics. And one of these fanatics goes by the name Armaz, a local mountain guide. THE local mountain guide. I don’t think there is a part of Gudauri, or whole Georgia for that matter, that he still need to discover.
His English is understandable, his personality admirable. And we need him. Not only because we need to be safe on the mountain to lower the risk of getting in an avalanche, but also because he guides us around the closed border of the in 2008 annexed South Ossetia. Split boarding can get you in serious danger if you can’t resist the temptation of some hidden faces that are begging to be tracked down. Even when these mountains seem so peaceful, not all of them offer lines to freedom. But the lines that do, have never felt so unbound.
It might be the closest thing to what snowboarding is: feeling free, independent and arise. In Gudauri, only ten kilometers away from closed borders, you will find people, marked for life, but who have grown a beautiful, honest smile. They know freedom. And they definitely know the exact meaning of freeriding.
Camera button pressed by @mirtewashere or marked otherwise.
Most hotels have a different standard than in western Europe. Paying the same price means a high class suite, which they don’t really have in Gudauri center. You can move a bit outside, which are mostly beautiful locations with mountain views, to sleep with comfort. But really, most hotels are just fine.
Georgia is a very open country, unfortunately marked by war. The people will welcome you, but don’t expect them to speak English. Here they talk mostly smileys. Use the taxi services to move along all the little villages, they are fast, good and cheap. You pay with GEL, Georgian Lari, which comes in a lot of coins and paper money. The roads might not be taken care of, the skiing area definitely is.