Gudauri is Georgia’s biggest and most developed ski resort. Traditionally most frequented by Russians, the resort is now growing in popularity among a more international crowd thanks to cheap flight connections with Europe, Israel, and Dubai. With 60 km of slopes and an incredible range of off-piste options, Gudauri is diverse enough for a week of skiing.
The lifts are slow, the service is terrible, and the ski pistes aren’t always maintained, but that all comes at a small fraction of the price of a ski trip to the Alps. Gudauri is changing rapidly though: new high-speed ski lifts are being added each summer, restaurants are slowly starting to understand the service their audience expects, and prices are on the rise.
Who should come?
The resort is well suited for skiers of all ability levels. The few beginner runs are perfect for learning, numerous intermediate and advanced runs are great for tuning the skills, and off-piste skiing is allowed everywhere for the experts.
Due to the range of not-so-steep off-piste options, Gudauri is a wonderful place to try freeriding for your first time. Expert runs can only be accessed by the 2 highest lifts, but this is more than enough on a good powder day. Advanced and expert skiers will also be impressed with the easy access to great sidecountry runs, though the avalanche danger is often quite high so only those with proper training should attempt skiing out of bounds.
Gudauri is divided into 3 neighborhoods and 1 neighboring village: Lower Gudauri, Upper Gudauri, New Gudauri, and Kumlistsikhe.
Lower Gudauri is the biggest of the three, with several hotels and restaurants, a supermarket, and the ski lift Pirveli which begins from just behind Marco Polo Hotel. Several ski rental shops and ski schools are located around the base of Pirveli lift. Kumlistsikhe is connected to Pirveli Lift via a 600 meter walking path, or slightly longer by road.
Upper Gudauri contains a few hotels and restaurants, but no ski rental shops or any other services yet. Shino lift is located in Upper Gudauri and is accessible by walking or skiing from all hotels in the area. Due to this lift’s recent construction, more services are likely to follow.
New Gudauri is quickly becoming Gudauri’s hub of activity, located at the base of Gudaura Gondola. A supermarket, several hotels and rental apartments, numerous restaurants, a few bars, a spa, a snow tubing hill, and plenty of ski rental shops are located in this compact and easily walkable neighborhood.
To better find your bearings while reading through this guide, check out this interactive map of Gudauri.
From Tbilisi to Gudauri
Getting from Tbilisi to Gudauri can be done either by taxi, renting a car, marshrutka (a minibus), or hitchhiking.
Hitchhiking: Hitchhiking is extremely fast and easy in Georgia, but if you’re coming from the airport with luggage and a group of people, it may not be the most practical option.
Marshrutka: The marshrutka is the only public transport option, costing 7 lari one way. They leave from Didube station in Tbilisi every hour or so, with the last one around 5:00pm.
Taxi: Taxis from Tbilisi to Gudauri are typically around $50 one way and can usually be paid in USD or GEL. Euro Taxi is a local company with English-speaking drivers and competitive prices, started by a traveler who saw the need for English-speaking taxi service in Georgia.
Car rental: Renting a car is also an option at the airport, with rates starting around $30-40/day. The road is open all winter except during heavy snowfall, but it isn’t well maintained, so a car with high clearance is best after a big snowstorm. Snow chains are rarely necessary and never required.
Getting around Gudauri
Getting around Gudauri is very easy by taxi. From Lower Gudauri to Upper or New Gudauri, a taxi should cost 10 lari. Taxi drivers will often ask foreigners for 15 lari, so it’s up to you whether to argue the price down or give the guy something extra (keep in mind they have very little work during the rest of the year and many support families on taxi driver wages). Drivers rarely speak any English.
During the opening times, it’s also possible to get almost everywhere in Gudauri by the ski lifts.
Weather & when to visit
General weather overview
Gudauri doesn’t receive nearly as much snowfall as the ski areas in the Western Caucasus such as Tetnuldi or Hatsvali, but the flipside is that clear, sunny weather is very common. Snowfall varies from year to year, but typically the slopes are fully covered from the end of December until mid-April. By mid-March, the lower slopes often begin to melt, but this is the best time of year for high-elevation skiing due to the springtime increase in precipitation.
Temperatures are unpredictable, ranging from -20C to +5C throughout the season. January is typically very cold, and February varies greatly from season to season. March is often warm sunny weather intermixed with days of heavy snow and sometimes rain in Lower Gudauri. There are always unseasonably hot days in January and cold spring days, though, so check the forecast before coming.
Powder days happen sporadically and unpredictably throughout the season; sometimes dumping for weeks at a time, at other times no fresh snow falls for a month. Since all of Gudauri’s slopes are south-facing, most powder quickly becomes heavy in sunny weather and the lower slopes begin the springtime slush-ice cycle early in the year. For those who seek it, there are almost always good powder stashes hidden away between rocks or on north-facing sidecountry runs, even when it hasn’t snowed in weeks.
When to visit
Gudauri sees relatively few freeriders compared to the Alps or North America, so the powder takes a lot longer to get skied out. Gudauri is busiest for the first week and a half of January and is also fairly busy from early February until early March, so in order to avoid the crowds altogether it’s best to come at the end of January or mid to end of March. By April it’s often only possible to ski on the upper slopes, but powder days are common and the slopes are almost completely empty.
The ski pass
Ski passes are sold at the bottom of each road-accessible lift (Pirveli, Soliko, Gudaura Gondola, and Shino). For purchasing multi-day passes, every person in the group must be present because you will have a photo taken. You will be given a card to put in any left-side pocket, and the card will automatically open the gates before the ski lifts as you approach them.
Ski pass prices
Prices in Gudauri are rising each year, but for the winter of 2016-17, a one-day ski pass was 40 lari during the high season, with discounts for children 6-16 and multi day passes. Children under 6 ski for free.
One-ride and three-ride passes are also available for 5 lari and 15 lari, respectively, for those who simply want to ride up to see the absolutely mind blowing view from the top of Sadzele lift.
Rental equipment is typically 30 lari per day for skis/boots/poles or snowboard/boots, with a small extra charge for a helmet and goggles (recommended!). Ski jackets, pants, and mittens are also available for rent at many shops. Most rental shops are located at the base of the lifts Pirveli and Gudaura Gondola, though a few others are scattered throughout the town and new shops open every year.
Some of the luxury hotels supply their own rentals for a higher price, but their equipment is also typically better maintained. The cheapest ski rent in town is at Hostel Ski Niki, where 20 lari/day gets you a full set, though it’s located a 10 minute walk from the slopes. Most rental shops take little to no care of their equipment, but for beginner and intermediate skiers this makes minimal difference. Freeride skis and ski touring equipment can be rented from Wild Guru or Snow Lab, who also offer a wide range of backcountry guiding services.
Ski/snowboard instructors can be hired from numerous ski shops located around the town. Ski Gudauri, Snow Lab, Anton Ski School, Buru Sport, and Peak Spirit ski schools all have English-speaking instructors, and 2016-17 rates were 50-65 lari per hour for one-on-one lessons. Some hotels also have their own instructors and many more freelance instructors can be found at Gudauri.info. During the 2016-17 season, there was only one native English speaker in town, working freelance.
It’s best to arrange ski lessons with a ski school or instructor at least a day in advance, but walk-ins are also welcome. Be wary of the guys who approach you offering ski lessons at the base of the slopes, as many of them do not know how to ski themselves, claim to speak English but actually only know “stop” and “go”, and are known to charge exorbitant sums of money and then disappear 15 minutes into the lesson. If your ski instructor isn’t wearing ski boots, that should be a giant red flag (yes, this actually happens quite often).
Backcountry guiding services
Backcountry guiding services are offered by Wild Guru, Snow Lab, and Gudauri Freeride Tours. All 3 companies have well-trained and avalanche-aware guides who know the ins and outs of Gudauri’s terrain. Prices vary from $35/person/day to join a group ski tour to $65+ for a private guide. For those who have not had comprehensive avalanche safety training, it is recommended to always hire a guide even for sidecountry runs due to the intense sun exposure and often unstable snow surrounding Gudauri resort.
Sergii Potapenko is another guide available for hire in Gudauri, though he is often leading ski/splitboard tours out of his hostel in Racha, a less-explored region of Georgia. Wild Guru also organizes a week-long backcountry camp in April in a high-elevation area not far from Gudauri.
Heli-skiing is available as well through the company Heliksir, with all-inclusive multi day programs beginning at 3950 EUR.
All accommodation advice, including reviews of hostels, hotels and apartment rentals, has moved to: Where to stay in Gudauri?
Gudauri has 6 chair lifts, 1 gondola, 2 J-bars which mainly function as a link between lift base stations, and a rope tow and magic carpet on the bunny hills. The gondola, Shino, and Soliko are the only high-speed lifts on the mountain, and the others are older fixed-line lifts.
Camping is tolerated everywhere, even at the top of the ski resort. One bunny hill is located in New Gudauri at the base of the gondola and the other is at the top of Gudaura gondola/top of Shino lift. Two of the chair lifts – Snow Park and Pirveli – access only green slopes, perfect for learning, or simply for riding up to higher and steeper lifts.
Snow Park is the better run for absolute beginners who have just graduated from the bunny hill, as Pirveli has a slightly steeper section. The gondola, Shino, and Soliko access similar terrain, all blue runs, which are great for intermediate skiers and aspiring freeriders.
For advanced riders
Kudebi and Sadzele lifts access the highest elevation and steepest slopes, and are by far the best place for advanced skiers to ride on powder days. There are some rocky chutes, drops, and steep deep powder acessible from these two lifts. The majority of sidecountry runs are accessed from Sadzele, though some from Kudebi as well.
Freeriding is one of the biggest attractions of Gudauri. Several freeride options are located within the resort and even more accessible with less than an hour of hiking. From the top of the lifts Sadzele and Kudebi, it is possible to ski off-piste in almost every direction. From Sadzele, it is also possible to access Kobe Canyon, which begins on the back side of the Gudauri ridge and requires no hiking. It ends near the village Kobe, about 30 minutes down the road from Gudauri. From there it is necessary to hitchhike or take a taxi back to Gudauri. Boot trails usually appear within a few days of a snowstorm on neighboring Chrdili Mountain, accessible by a 20 minute hike from the resort (even less if you ski tour). From there, it’s possible to ski back to the gondola.
Around Bidara mountain
Bidara Mountain can also be reached in 30-45 minutes of hiking from Sadzele lift, and from there it is possible to ski down the front side to the lifts or down the back side to the road where you’ll have to get a ride back to Gudauri. Outside of the resort, the most common ski tour is to Lomisi Monastery, where lucky skiers are occasionally able to ski back down with the resident monks. Snowmobiles are available for rent from the base of the gondola, so it’s also possible for freeriders to ascend by snowmobile. Snowmobile rentals are unofficial, and are typically just handshake deals between the rider and a random local guy who owns a snowmobile. Be aware that avalanches are very common everywhere around Gudauri, and avalanche beacons are recommended even for in-bounds skiing on Sadzele Mountain after a snowstorm.
We published a trip report of a ski tour on Bidara Mountain.
Advanced freeriders may be interested in making a grand tour of Georgia’s 5 ski resorts: Gudauri, Bakuriani, Goderdzi, Tetnuldi, and Hatsvali. Bakuriani is about 4 hours by car and is a more family-oriented resort with pretty flat slopes, but it’s possible to ski tour to some more interesting forested terrain. Goderdzi, Tetnuldi, and Hatsvali are all new and still in development but receive significantly more snowfall than Gudauri. Goderdzi is located in Adjara Province, about 8 hours from Gudauri on a good day. Tetnuldi and Hatsvali are both located near Mestia, about 10 hours driving from Gudauri but also accessible by airplane in good weather. With the development of Tetnuldi and Hatsvali, Mestia is quickly taking over the title as Georgia’s freeriding mecca.
Watch out for rocks! They are hidden all over the mountain under thin layers of snow, especially in the early season and when the snow melts in the spring.
Lack of slope etiquette
Helmets are important especially on crowded days, as slope etiquette has not quite evolved yet. Especially during the New Year’s break and Georgian holiday weekends, it’s common to see 120kg guys putting on skis for the first time in their life and riding up to the steepest slopes in an alcohol-fueled attempt to impress their friends. It rarely ends well.
The resort recently hired a whole new squad of ski police to take care of this problem, but it’s still far from being solved. Ski police are commonly seen taking selfies on their goPro’s and struggling to snowplow-stop on intermediate slopes. Outside of the holidays and Sunday afternoons, the slopes are rarely crowded enough for any problems with other skiers.
Food & drink on the slopes
As most of the town is centered around the ski lifts, many restaurants and hotels are located right on the slopes. Every lift except for Sadzele has at least one restaurant located near the base or top station. Small market stands also sell snacks and drinks to those in a hurry to get back on the lifts. A favorite quick snack is the freshly baked khachapuri from the supermarket in New Gudauri, a 5 minute round trip from the slopes and a meal for 3 lari.
Several outdoor bars are open next to the slopes during the day, but most close at sunset.
The toilet situation on the mountain is in utter need of improvement. Most, but not all, restaurants at the base stations of Gudaura Gondola and Soliko lift have regular western flush toilets and don’t seem to notice if you come in just to use the toilet and not to eat. This is your best bet for a comfortable bathroom experience.
The only decent public toilets are located at the base of the gondola, but they are quite often locked. Other toilets are located at the top of the gondola, top of Soliko, and top of Kudebi, but these are all squat toilets without running water and almost always without toilet paper. A genius designer decided to tile the floor around the squat toilet at the top of the gondola, and forgot to put handles inside, so you can imagine trying to use it in icy ski boots.
In the unfortunate case of an injury, an emergency medical unit is located in Gudauri with doctors on call 24/7. While the lifts are open, ambulances are always parked nearby and ski patrol is trained for medical rescues. Most doctors speak English but ski patrol usually does not. Quality of care in Gudauri is sufficient for typical ski/snowboard injuries, but more serious injuries will be transported to Tbilisi where more specialized doctors and a wider range of equipment are available. A helicopter can be called if a life flight is necessary.
Food and drinks are more expensive in Gudauri than anywhere else in Georgia, but still far cheaper than nearly any other ski town in the world.
Types of food
Food is overwhelmingly Georgian and Russian. All restaurants have vegetarian options, though sometimes this is restricted to a small range of salads. For a bigger variety of vegetarian food, stick to the nicer restaurants like the Pizzeria, Soncho Hotel, Marco Polo, Glintwein, or Truso.
Halal and kosher food is not yet available in Gudauri. Good luck trying to explain to a Georgian what gluten is.
2 supermarkets and several smaller markets sell groceries for reasonable prices. The supermarket in New Gudauri sells bread and pastries freshly baked in a traditional Georgian oven. Fresh fruits and vegetables are expensive and hard to come by, so it’s best to stock up on produce from the bazaar in Tbilisi if you’re planning to cook your own meals.
Restaurants are located all over Gudauri and most serve traditional Georgian food. The two Georgian staples, khinkali (meat dumplings) and khachapuri (Georgia’s take on cheese pizza), are served everywhere.
Take your time
Most restaurants have some English-speaking staff, but it’s just luck whether you arrive when they’re working. In all restaurants in Gudauri, service is very slow, so give yourself a lot of time for lunch or dinner. Most restaurants have not yet figured out that foreigners like to be served all at once, and rather will slowly bring out one dish at a time. Therefore, it’s best to order several dishes for the table and share everything family style. Don’t be alarmed if it takes an hour for your salad to be brought out, this is normal in Gudauri.
Don’t forget to order lots of wine. Many restaurants serve homemade wine, which can range from the absolute worst thing you’ve ever tried to the best wine in the universe. Ask to try it before you buy a few liters, but quite often it will be surprisingly delicious for such a low price.
Restaurant prices are typically around 20-40 lari for a 2-course meal with a drink. For shoestring travelers, it’s possible to survive on less than 10 lari a day for food, but you’ll be able to have a more varied diet for less money if you take some food with you.
Prices in slopeside restaurants are essentially the same as those off the slopes.
Some of the best khinkali can be found at Sadzele Restaurant and We Ski Restaurant in lower Gudauri, both very inexpensive and casual restaurants. A wider variety of khinkali, including vegetarian options, is available from the slightly more fancy Truso Restaurant.
Khachapuri is best at Time Out, where they cook it with pizza dough. Drunk Cherry’s khachapuri on a spit is also something not to miss. Both of these are mid-range for prices. For all-around great Georgian food with menu options difficult to find anywhere else, go to Soncho Hotel’s restaurant. For only very slightly higher prices, it’s a much more pleasant atmosphere without smoking inside and is absolutely worth the extra money (don’t worry, it’s still cheaper than every other ski town!).
Marco Polo and Carpe Diem hotels have the most expensive restaurants in town, serving a range of Georgian and Western foods. The very reasonably priced pizzeria in New Gudauri serves amazing Italian food. It’s owned by the former Georgian olympic coach, a native Italian. Definitely the best place to go when you want a break from Georgian food.
Après-ski: bars, nightlife & parties
In many restaurants, beers run about 3 lari, though in the nicer restaurants or in one of Gudauri’s very few bars, it’s a bit more expensive: 6 lari. The cheaper way to have a night out is to buy homemade wine or chacha (liquor) and pre-game in your hostel/accommodation. Many people sell homemade alcohol from stands along the street, but their prices are high and quality is terrible, so best to buy it from the supermarket or in Tbilisi (yes, supermarkets sell moonshine). When somebody insists over and over that their wine is all natural, you can be pretty confident that it’s not.
Après-ski is a concept that is just beginning to catch on. Several outdoor bars are open next to the slopes during the day, but most close at sunset. After dark, the only options for drinks are at a restaurant or one of Gudauri’s very few bars. Voodoo Bar, Time Out, and Drunk Cherry all have regular parties throughout the ski season, and sporadic parties also happen at Club 2100 and Magi Style.
Voodoo Bar, in New Gudauri, often doesn’t begin to get crowded until around midnight and continues for several hours into the morning, so it’s the best option for those who want a break from skiing the next day. Time Out attracts a slightly older and more touristy crowd, while Drunk Cherry (Mtvrali Alubali) attracts a lot of local ski instructors as well as younger travelers. Both are located at the top of Pirveli lift. In lower Gudauri, the only party option is Happy Yeti Hostel, but due to constant overcrowding issues and a legendary reputation, you’ll have to be staying there to join the party. If you do want a great party and ski travel experience, staying at Happy Yeti is absolutely recommended.
Few activities exist in Gudauri apart from skiing, eating, and drinking. If you are intent on dragging someone along who does not like to ski, leave them in Tbilisi, or take them to a place like Austria, where there are more options for non-skiers.
During the day, paragliding, snow mobiling, or snow tubing are all options, and during the evening a visit to the banya (bath house) can be a nice experience. Marco Polo Hotel also has a small bowling alley, billiards room, and video game room open to anybody.
Paragliding: Paragliding can be arranged with one of the many companies who employ licensed tandem pilots. Representatives are always walking around at the top of Pirveli lift soliciting paragliding flights.
Snow mobiles & snow tubing: Snow mobiles can be rented from local guys who often park near the base of the gondola and prices must be negotiated. A snow tubing hill is located in New Gudauri about 200 meters from the gondola on the other side of the neighborhood.
Banya: Several hotels have saunas that are open to anybody, but only Tsar Bani specializes in this. Groups of up to six can rent a sauna for two hours, including the Russian traditional whipping with tree branches. If you have never done it, it’s a must.
In summer, Gudauri is a beautiful destination for hiking, especially as a starting or ending point for multi-day hikes. Mountain biking is also possible on the ski runs, but rental equipment is not always easy to find and the trails are not yet well developed. The lifts are open sporadically during the summer, with the only regular opening times in August. As the mountain biking industry develops, the lifts are likely to be open more during the summer. Whitewater rafting and paragliding are possible in the summer as well.
Check the exchange rate before your trip: the Georgian lari is volatile. The more expensive services like hotels and airport transfers often accept either lari or US dollars and occasionally euros, but restaurants and the ski pass offices will only accept lari.
ATM: Gudauri has few ATMs (bankomat in Russian). Smart supermarket, Marco Polo hotel, and Carpe Diem hotel all have their own ATMs, but there are thus far no ATMs in New Gudauri neighborhood. It’s possible to withdraw both lari and dollars from almost all ATMs in Georgia.
Currency exchange: exchange rates in Gudauri typically incur about a 10% loss, so it’s better to exchange cash in Tbilisi if you have the chance. Exchange offices are located along the main road in lower Gudauri, as well as in some hotels. Most markets and restaurants, ski rental shops, and all ski pass offices accept visa cards, but it’s best to be prepared with some backup cash.
Communication is possible in English but easier in Russian or Georgian. The ski pass offices will at least understand the necessary words in English (e.g., one day pass, child pass, etc.) but likely won’t be able to answer any further questions. Many restaurants have one English menu to be shared between all of the tables, and wait staff should understand enough to take your order. Hotels that cater to Europeans will all have English-speaking staff. Ski patrol, ski lift operators, taxi drivers, and other people around the town very rarely speak English.
Mobile service & internet
Georgian mobile phone service is very cheap and buying a local SIM card will make it much easier to communicate with others in your group, ski instructors, etc. The company Magti has the best service in Gudauri, but the other big companies BeeLine and GeoCell also work fine. 3G is available on most of the mountain, 4G sometimes works, and only on the highest lifts will internet be slower. Free wifi is also available at the base of the gondola but it is very slow and often doesn’t work at all. 10 Lari should be more than enough credit for a week-long ski trip if you don’t use your phone for long conversations.