Gudauri is Georgia’s biggest and most developed ski resort. Previously most frequented by Russians, the resort is quickly growing in popularity among a more international crowd thanks to cheap flight connections with Europe, Israel, and Dubai. With a quickly expanding 75 km of slopes and an incredible range of off-piste options, Gudauri is diverse enough for a week of skiing.
Slow lifts are now a thing of the past, as the entire resort is being rebuilt and several new pistes and high-speed lifts will open for the 2018-2019 season, with more planned in the upcoming years. The level of service which was once terrible is now mediocre and even decent at times, and the ski pistes are semi-regularly maintained. Gudauri is quickly developing in the direction of the larger ski resorts in the Alps, and prices, though on the rise, still remain comparatively very cheap.
Who should come?
The resort is well suited for skiers of all ability levels. A range of 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 mid-mountain selection of not-so-steep off-piste options, Gudauri is a wonderful place for aspiring freeriders. Steeper expert runs can be accessed by the 3 highest lifts, which is more than enough for experienced skiers on a good powder day. Advanced skiers with proper avalanche training or a guide will also be impressed with the easy access to great backcountry runs.
Gudauri is divided into 4 neighborhoods. Two of the names were changed after the 2017-18 season, so some websites may still use the old names. New Gudauri, Gudauri Center (formerly Lower Gudauri), Upper Gudauri, and Lower Gudauri (formerly Kumlistsikhe).
New Gudauri is quickly becoming Gudauri’s hub of activity, located at the base of Gudaura Gondola. A supermarket, several large apartment buildings, 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. Lots of construction is currently underway on everything except for the access road, which is in dire need of resurfacing, but this is the place to be for those who want the easiest access to everything Gudauri has to offer.
Gudauri Center surrounds the lowest elevation ski lift, Pirveli, which begins just behind Marco Polo Hotel. A few ski-in/ski-out hotels line the slopes and and more are located along the main road. Several rental shops and ski schools are located around the base of Pirveli lift, and an overcrowded supermarket, some of Gudauri’s best restaurants, and one of the only proper apres ski bars are scattered around the area. Previously infamous for its hour-long lift lines, the brand new high-speed 6-seater lift should take care of that problem.
Upper Gudauri contains several hotels, a few restaurants, and a new ski rental shop plans to open for the 2018-19 season. Shino lift is accessible by walking or skiing from most hotels in the area. Due to this lift’s recent construction, more services are likely to follow. Thanks to the slower development, lift lines are typically shorter on weekends and holidays, and the rest of the resort is still very easily accessible. Upper Gudauri offers the best combination of cheaper accommodation and good lift access.
Lower Gudauri (Kumlistsikhe) is connected to Pirveli Lift via a 600 meter uphill walking path, or slightly longer by road. Due to the distance, some hotels offer free transfers to the lifts. This neighborhood currently resembles a typical Georgian village more than a ski town, but development is sure to ensue with the planned construction of a new lift in 2020. A few hotels offer relatively cheap prices and some apartment rentals are available. When snow cover is sufficient, it’s possible to ski to Lower Gudauri from the resort, though you are likely to have to dodge cows on the road.
To better find your bearings while reading through this guide, check out this interactive map of Gudauri, but note that the new lifts do not appear on the map yet. These maps give a rough idea of the layout of the new lifts (opening Dec 2018).
From Tbilisi to Gudauri
Getting from Tbilisi to Gudauri can be done by marshrutka, taxi, renting a car, or hitchhiking.
Marshrutka: The marshrutka is the only public transport option, costing 7 GEL one way. They leave from Didube station in Tbilisi every hour or so, with the last one around 5:00pm. It’s possible to stop marshrutkas anywhere along the road provided they have space.
Taxi: Private taxis from Tbilisi to Gudauri are typically $50-60 one way and often prefer to be paid in USD than 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. This is the easiest option when coming from the airport with luggage. Shared taxis leave from Didube station when full and usually ask for 50 GEL per person but can sometimes be bargained as low as 20 GEL.
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 if snow is in the forecast. Snow chains are rarely necessary and never required.
Hitchhiking: Hitchhiking is easy and widely accepted in Georgia, so for solo or small groups of backpackers, this may be less stressful than dealing with taxi drivers or bus schedules.
Getting around Gudauri
Getting around Gudauri is very easy by taxi. From Lower Gudauri to Upper or New Gudauri, a taxi should cost 15 GEL. Taxi drivers will often ask foreigners for 20 GEL, and more if you are staying in Marco Polo Hotel, so it is up to you whether to argue the price down or give the guy something extra. Drivers rarely speak English.
During opening times, it is possible to get almost everywhere in Gudauri by the ski lifts, and new lifts will enable access from Gudauri to the village Kobi on the north side of Jvari (Cross) Pass from December 2018.
Weather & when to visit
General weather overview
Gudauri does not receive as much snowfall as the Western Caucasus’ ski areas of Tetnuldi, Hatsvali, and Goderdze, but the flip side 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 late 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 quite cold, and February varies greatly from season to season. March brings 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 be prepared for anything.
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. Most in-bounds powder is skied out within a few hours, but backcountry options are plentiful. A new lift accesses north-facing terrain in Kobi Canyon where powder can be found by those who seek it throughout most of the season.
When to visit
Gudauri is busiest during the first 10 days of January and from mid-February to mid-March. In order to avoid the crowds it’s best to come on week days when there are no holidays in Russia or in Dubai’s international schools; late January and early February is great for this. By April it is often only possible to ski on the upper slopes, but powder days are common and the slopes are almost completely empty. If your vacation falls during the peak season, don’t fret, Gudauri almost never gets as crowded as the larger resorts of the Alps or North America.
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 to have a photo taken. You will be given a card to put in any left-side pocket, and the card will automatically open the ski lift gates as you approach them.
Ski pass prices
Prices in Gudauri are rising each year, but in winter 2017-18, a one-day ski pass was 40 GEL 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 and 15 GEL, respectively, for those who simply want to ride up and gaze at the far reaches of the Caucasus from the top of the lifts.
Rental equipment is typically 40 GEL per day for skis+boots+poles or snowboard+boots, with an extra charge for a helmet and goggles (recommended!). Ski jackets, pants, and mittens are also available for rent in 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 luxury hotels supply their own rentals for a higher price, but their equipment is typically well maintained. The cheapest ski rent in town is at Hostel Ski Niki, where 20 GEL/day gets you a full set, though it is 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. Each year, more shops are renting freeride skis and ski touring equipment.
Instructors and guides
Ski/snowboard instructors can be hired from numerous ski shops located around the town. Vagabond Ski and Snowboard School specializes in lessons in English, and is undoubtedly the best place to find an experienced instructor who you can comfortably communicate with. Prices start at $30 USD per hour for one-on-one lessons with discounted courses and all-inclusive vacation packages available. For those on a tight budget, several other ski schools offer slightly cheaper lessons but without guarantee on the level of English spoken.
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”, “go”, and “why you fall?”, and are known to charge exorbitant sums of money and then disappear 15 minutes into the lesson. If your instructor isn’t wearing ski boots, that should be a giant red flag (yes, this actually happens).
Backcountry guiding services
Backcountry guiding services are offered by several companies including Caucasus Nomad and Wild Guru. Prices range from $35/person/day to join a group ski tour to $100+ for a private guide. For those who have not had comprehensive avalanche safety training, it is recommended to always hire a guide even for lift-accessed backcountry runs due to the intense sun exposure and often unstable snow surrounding Gudauri resort. Wild Guru organizes a week-long backcountry camp in April in a high-elevation area not far from Gudauri.
Heli-skiing is available through the companies Heliksir and Gudauri Freeride Tours. The helicopters rarely fly anywhere that is not accessible in a single day ski tour, so this is more geared toward those who simply want the experience of flying up a mountain in a helicopter and skiing down – those who seek true wilderness and unskiied lines should look into heliskiing in Mestia instead.
All accommodation advice, including reviews of hostels, hotels and apartment rentals, has moved to: Where to stay in Gudauri?
Gudauri has 8 chair lifts, 2 gondolas, 2 J-bars, and a magic carpet, with plans to expand in the near future. Refer to the map for orientation.
One bunny hill is located in New Gudauri at the base of the gondola and another is at the top of Gudaura gondola/Shino lift. Two of the chair lifts – Snow Park and Pirveli – access only green runs, perfect for learning on. Snow Park is the best for absolute beginners who have just graduated from the bunny hill, as Pirveli is often more crowded. These slopes offer a great opportunity to practice technique and train for the intermediate level.
Gudaura gondola, Shino, and Soliko access similar terrain, all blue runs, which are great for intermediate skiers and the ungroomed areas between pistes are perfect for novice freeriders. Altogether, there are at least a dozen combinations of intermediate slopes on the mid-mountain level with a few more wedged between the advanced slopes up high. Spend some time zigzagging around the maze of pistes and you will soon become well acquainted with the mountain and ready for the higher peaks.
For advanced riders
Kudebi, Sadzele, and the new lifts in Kobi Canyon access the highest elevation and steepest slopes. There are rocky chutes, drops, and deep, steep powder accessible from these lifts, as well as a limited selection of more mild terrain. In-bounds avalanches have been triggered on the steeper aspects of Kudebi, Sadzeli, and Kobi, so it is imperative to have the proper equipment and training or to ski with a guide when venturing off-piste in these areas.
Boot trails usually appear within a day of a snowstorm on neighboring Chrdili Mountain, accessible by a 20 minute hike from Soliko or Kudebi. From there, it’s possible to ski back to New Gudauri.
Otherwise, the majority of backcountry is accessed from Sadzele and Kobi lifts. Milioni Canyon, with it’s ski-movie-worthy Alaska peak located just one ridge past Kobi, is a favorite among locals, but this requires hitching a ride along the main road to get back to the lifts at the end.
Bidara Mountain can also be reached in 30-45 minutes of hiking from Sadzele or Kobi lifts, 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 hitch a ride to Gudauri or Kobi.
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 handshake deals between the rider and a random local guy who owns a snowmobile.
We published a trip report of a ski tour on Bidara Mountain.
Also, check out our guide to ski touring (and hiking) in Georgia, for those inclined to skip the lift lines and power themselves up the 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 interesting forested terrain. Goderdzi, Tetnuldi, and Hatsvali are all new and still in development but receive 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 competing with Gudauri for the title as Georgia’s freeriding mecca.
Watch out for rocks when venturing off-piste! They are hidden all over the mountain under thin layers of snow, especially in the early and late seasons. In the spring, small stones often make their way on to the pistes, but these are visible and generally easy to avoid.
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 not uncommon to see 120 kg 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. Such occurrences have been greatly reduced by the presence of ski police, but have not been completely eliminated. Outside of the holidays and weekend afternoons, the slopes are rarely crowded enough for any problems with other skiers.
The toilet situation on the mountain is in dire need of improvement. Most restaurants at the base stations of Gudaura Gondola and Soliko lift have regular western flush toilets and don’t seem to be bothered 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 halfway decent public toilets are located at the base of the gondola, but they are sometimes locked, and sometimes an angry lady demands payment to use them. Other toilets are located at the top of Gudaura gondola, top of Soliko, and top of Kudebi, but these are all squat toilets, almost always without toilet paper, and sometimes require payment. A genius designer decided to tile the floor around some of the squat toilets, and neglected to put handles inside, so you can imagine trying to use it in icy ski boots. It has not yet been announced when or where new toilets will be built.
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 often does not. Quality of care in Gudauri is sufficient for typical ski/snowboard injuries, but more serious injuries will be transported to Tbilisi where 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 the rest of Georgia, but still far cheaper than nearly any other ski town in the world.
Food & drink on the slopes
As most of the town is centered around the ski lifts, many restaurants are located right on the slopes. Most lifts have a few restaurants located near the base or top station. Small market stands also sell snacks, fast food, and drinks to those in a hurry to get back on the slopes. A favorite quick snack is the khachapuri from the supermarket in New Gudauri, a 5 minute round trip from the slopes and a solid meal for 3 GEL – you have to be lucky to show up when it’s fresh, though.
Several outdoor bars are open next to the slopes during the day, some of which stay open into the evening.
Types of food
Food is overwhelmingly Georgian and Russian. All restaurants have vegetarian options, though sometimes this is restricted to salads, beans, and eggplant with walnut paste. For a bigger variety of vegetarian food, stick to the nicer restaurants like Posticino 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 selection is limited, so it is best to stock up on produce from the bazaar in Tbilisi if you are planning to cook your own meals.
Take your time
Most restaurants have some English-speaking staff, but it is just luck whether you arrive when they are working. Service is almost always 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 is 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.
Don’t forget to order lots of wine. Many restaurants serve homemade wine, which can range from the absolute worst thing you have 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 20-30 GEL for a meal and a drink. For shoestring travelers, it is possible to survive on less than 10 GEL a day for food, but you will be able to have a more varied diet for less money if you take some food with you from Tbilisi.
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 Gudauri Center, both very inexpensive and casual. A wider variety of khinkali, including vegetarian options, is available from the slightly more upscale Truso Restaurant.
Khachapuri is great at Time Out, where they cook it in a pizza oven. 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 slightly higher than average prices, it is a very pleasant atmosphere without smoking inside and is absolutely worth it for a meal; the only risk is that you will be tempted to come back every day.
The very reasonably priced Posticino Pizzeria in New Gudauri is the best place to go when you want a break from Georgian food, owned by the only Italian in town. Marco Polo and Carpe Diem hotels have very upscale restaurants, serving a range of Georgian and Western foods.
Après-ski: bars, nightlife & parties
In many restaurants, beers run about 3 GEL, though in the nicer restaurants or in one of Gudauri’s very few bars, it is a bit more expensive: 6-10 GEL. Beer, homemade and factory wine, and chacha (homemade liquor) is available in restaurants and supermarkets. Many people sell homemade alcohol from stands along the street, but their prices are high and quality can be terrible, so try it before you buy it or go to the supermarket (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 after sunset the options are less plentiful.
Nomad bar, at the base of Pirveli lift, pumps music from the early afternoon well into the night and is the only place where you are likely to find chacha being poured out of jerrycans to young Europeans dancing in ski boots.
Powder bar, located in the Club 2100 complex, has occasional parties and serves craft beer from Tbilisi for 8 GEL.
At the top of Pirveli lift, Time Out attracts a slightly older party crowd and Drunk Cherry attracts local ski instructors and young travelers.
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 and don’t mind paying high prices.
A growing number of activities exist in Gudauri apart from skiing, eating, and drinking. Nonetheless, if you are really intent on dragging someone along for more than a day or two who does not like to ski, consider leaving them in Tbilisi or taking them to a place like Austria, where there are more options for non-skiers.
During the day, paragliding, snowmobiling, and 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 bar, and video game room open to the public.
Paragliding: Paragliding can be arranged with one of the many companies who employ tandem pilots. Representatives are always walking around at the top of Pirveli lift soliciting paragliding flights; you can not miss them, and they certainly will not miss you.
Snow mobiles: Snow mobiles can be rented from local guys who often park near the base of the gondola and prices must be negotiated.
Snow Tubing: A snow tubing hill is located in New Gudauri about 200 meters from the gondola on the other side of the apartment blocks.
Banya: Several hotels have saunas that are open to the public, 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 slopes, 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 infrastructure develops, the lifts are likely to be open more during the summer. Whitewater rafting, paragliding, horseback riding, and ATV rides 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 GEL or USD and occasionally EUR, but restaurants and the ski pass offices will only accept GEL.
ATM: Gudauri has few ATMs (bankomat in Russian), located in Smart supermarket, Marco Polo hotel, and Carpe Diem hotel, and one of the apartment buildings in New Gudauri. It is possible to withdraw both GEL and USD from almost all ATMs in Georgia.
Currency exchange: exchange rates in Gudauri incur about a 10% loss, so it is 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 is 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 will not 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 rarely speak English.
Mobile service & internet
Georgian mobile phone service is 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, LTE 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 unreliable. 10 GEL should be more than enough credit for a week-long ski trip if you do not use your phone for international calls.