This weekend, I joined some Fulbright ETA friends in beautiful Bakuriani, a ski resort near Borjomi. It’s about a three hour ride by marshutka from Tbilisi (two hours if your driver was as crazy as ours was)–marshutkas leave regularly from Didube station; the last marshutka back to Tbilisi from Bakuriani leaves at approximately 5 pm from the bus depot downtown.
Bakuriani has apparently been a popular place to ski since the 1930s, when the PTES (Proletarian Tourist Excursions Society) opened a “Ski School of Physical Culture” in 1935, primarily hosting university students. It was considered the premier ski resort in the region, with the first towline to be built in the Soviet Union. Its longer history as a resort means that Bakuriani has had more time to develop a greater variety of winter activities (sleigh rides, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, ice skating, tubing, four-wheeling, and horseback riding) than the more prestigious Gudauri, which was not popularized until the 1980s, and even then only developed over the last few years.
We stayed at Hotel Apolloni, which was a bit expensive (70 lari a night) but well worth it for 3 meals a day (plus anytime snacks and drinks if you happen to come back and find you’ve missed a meal), very nice double bedrooms, proximity to the slopes, and helpful English-speaking staff. One of the owners helped me to arrange an afternoon of horseback riding (25 lari/hour) through beautiful mountain passes to the neighboring village of Andeziti.
The next day we went to Didveli, an intermediate slope with a gondola paid for by our man Bidzina. Unfortunately it was too windy to run the gondola, so we ended up going to “25 Meter Field,” a much easier (but crowded) slope with several towlines.
Two side notes: if you snowboard, most Georgians seem to learn “goofy” (leading with the right foot), while Americans and Europeans usually board leading with the left foot. You may have to ask the rental people to reconfigure a board for you if you learned to lead on the left. Also, there really aren’t any “lines” to use the towlines at 25 Meter Field. Children in particular will flounder right on top of your skis to cut you in line, or will literally dry-hump you all the way to the gate. You can either resign yourself to this, or start using your ski poles as weapons.