Today I joined a group of expats who go up to Gudauri, the Caucasus’ premier ski resort, every other Saturday throughout the season. You can get there by renting a private marshutka if you have a large enough group, or take a regular public marshutka from Didube station. Either way, the trip up the old military highway takes about 1.5 to 2 hours.
After the dormant post-Soviet period in the ’90s, Gudauri received significant investment towards the creation of a year-round mountain resort–controversially, a fair amount of funding and support came out of the Tbilisi City Hall budget “savings.” Based on what I saw, however, the investments have been successful in attracting plenty of domestic as well as international tourists (the place is crawling with новый русский 20-somethings, as well as dedicated skiers from across central and western Europe).
The slopes at Gudauri are very open and well-groomed, and there are a lot more trails of varying difficulties (there are currently seven lifts, mostly chairlifts and towlines along with a new gondola line) than at Bakuriani. Basically, it’s great skiing for a fraction of what you would pay in the US or EU (30 lari for all-day ski rental and another 30 for an all day lift pass–so, under $50). I am a total beginner, and recommend the first slope (essentially an extended bunny hill), and the fourth slope–which, although steeper and narrower in parts, is more open, straight, and free of tantrumming children than is the first.
While close enough for a day trip, Gudauri is worth spending the weekend or a few days. As far as lodgings go there is the “Austrian House” (at the top of the second chairlift, off to the right), which has an amazing panoramic view, in addition to a good restaurant/bar that even serves mulled wine. It’s hostel-style, but if you have a group of 6 or 8, you could rent out a whole room for about $30 a head. A friend of mine also recommended Hostel Ski-Niki for beginners, as both lessons and meals are included in the cost.