Let me tell you about cat-ski in Georgia – the country, not the state.
Nestled between Southern Russia and Northern Turkey, the weather off the Black Sea brings Georgia’s Caucasus Mountains about 35 feet of snowfall every winter. The ski resort scene in Georgia probably isn’t worth the trip, but what if you could go skiing without being in a ski resort?
Having heard Georgia’s snowfall stats and finding the perfect spot on topographic maps and Google Earth, a Swiss ski instructor named Ingo Schlutius crowdfunded enough money in 2016 to get a couple of retired Swiss snowcats shipped to Georgia and kicked off his cat-skiing operation, Powder Project.
The trip to Powder Project’s basecamp proves it’s anything but a typical ski holiday. You wait outside the small airport in Kutaisi for a driver to take you to the remote village of Bahkmaro. A 20-year-old 4×4 minivan arrives, the driver’s hands and clothes covered in dirt, he shrugs and simply says “Sorry. Rocks”.
An hour into the drive, the beginnings of a landslide across the road are evident, our driver moves man-sized boulders by himself. Another two-hours of dark, winding mountain roads our driver stopped and motioned for us to disembark. On the side of the road in freezing temperatures, the lights of the snowcat slowly come around a hairpin bend, the final few miles to Bahkmaro aren’t accessible to a regular vehicle. Arriving at the Powder Project lodge, a few hours sleep is welcome before our next day’s cat ski adventure.
In summer, Bahkmaro is a popular vacation spot for Georgians and Russians, many of whom have hand built their own datchas – small cabins constructed from whatever material is at hand. In the winter however, it is deserted, except for the 20 ski guests staying in the lodge – and the surrounding mountains!
Cat-skiing (using modified snowcats with cabs for people bolted to the back to go up remote mountains) has been called poor-man’s heliskiing but snowcats have the advantage of never being grounded due to bad weather. Our first ski day, without fresh snow, we scored fresh tracks all day long – no one to bag out tracks. While the snow was good, it wasn’t epic and we all secretly started to wonder if we’d made this long trip for nothing. That night, however, things changed quickly with over 3 feet of fresh snow coming down in just 12 hours.
That next day and for the rest of our time with Ingo and his team we did whooping ski lap after lap of bottomless champagne powder until our legs were weary. There was terrain for everyone, from mellow open zones, to tight tree-runs, to super-fun pillow-fields.
The relaxed attitude in Georgia means there’s no in-bounds or out-of-bounds, when you wanted to explore further afield from the cats -simply put on our touring skis, joined by the lodge dogs, and set off on your own.
Each evening, ski down through the trees and local datchas back to the lodge for a feast of local delicacies prepared by an amazingly friendly Georgian family, washed down with cha-cha, a popular homebrewed Georgian moonshine.
Between the incredible snow, the culture, the food, and the sense of adventure it’s safe to say that Georgia isn’t your average ski trip ..its extraordinary.
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