Riders in this news
LOST IN GEORGIA
Story telling from Sebastien VARLET:
Tuesday 12th of April 2022,
I meet up with Yann Rausis at the Geneva airport to board a night flight toward Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.
At 5 a.m. we arrive, and pick up our ski bags, really happy to have all our luggage show up—this part is always stressful. Now we know we’re ready to start this trip. In Tbilisi, we connect with Corentin Croisonnier, our cameraman who took another flight.
Once the car is picked up and fully loaded, we start rolling towards Mestia. The roads are really tricky; it takes a lot of focus to avoid all the potholes, animals, and other cars… There are no real traffic laws, people pass whenever they want. The more committed you are, the better your chances are at making it. It took a bit of time, but after a couple hours we were driving just like Georgians—getting right into the flow of traffic.
In the evening we catch up with Nick Phaliani, a local guide, and Fabian Lentsch, an Austrian freerider, to plan our expedition. Nick fills us in on a tricky logistic for our trip: Apparently, there is no more helicopter around town, all the companies have left.
The fastest rescue in case of emergency would be a helicopter from Tbilisi, one hour away with good flying conditions, and that’s not counting the time to load paramedics. It becomes clear we will have to take care of each other—one injury and the expedition is over.
We get as much information as possible about snow conditions, and Nick shows us a few recent pictures of mountain faces around Mestia. The whole team looks at each other, and we decide we want to explore other mountains. We want to get lost in the middle of the giants from the Caucasus mountain range!
Fabi shows us a picture that a guide took a month ago from a nice zone that has never been skied. We can only see the beginning of the valley, most of the mountain’s face is shadowed. Using a satellite-imagery app, we can see the potential of the zone, and imagine the runs.
Thursday 14th of April,
The weather is pretty bad and we haven’t seen the mountaintops around us since we arrived. But we can see it’s snowing on top, while rain showers are falling in the village.
We go ski touring to check out the snow, which is not that good—it’s heavy and wet. At low elevations, spring is already here, so we hope the freezing level isn’t too high.
In the afternoon we finish packing our gear for the expedition.
Nick lends us a tent and a few backpacks to carry the food to basecamp.
Friday 15th of April,
We meet in the center of Mestia and leave for Ushguli. The road follows right along the edge of a cliff, and parts of it have fallen into the river.
Towards the end of the drive, the sky clears up and we can start to see beautiful mountains around us.
After getting the car stuck on ice a couple times, we arrive at our starting point. Ushguli is a really beautiful village where you can feel civilization edge into wilderness and nature.
Some dogs come say hi while we get ready.
Around noon we arrive in the middle of the valley where we’ll set up our basecamp for the next three days, and drop our camp gear. Next, we set out towards the closest lines, which are west facing. Temperatures are warmer than expected, so the plan is to ski west aspects today and focus on the north aspects in the coming days.
At the end of the day, we return to basecamp with big smiles on our faces! We had a lot of fun. The snow was still good and looks promising on the north faces. The worry about getting skunked is over, and we get excited to ski some epic lines in the next few days. The trip is finally lining up nicely!
Saturday 16th of April,
We wake after a cold and humid night in the tents. We did not sleep well, and begin to understand how difficult winter camping is. Opening the tents, we notice the dogs are still here—they slept right next to us in the snow.
We wait impatiently for the sun to hit, to warm us up and dry some of our gear. After it does, we decide to split the group. The first big objective in our plan, a face we call “Little Alaska,” doesn’t have room for four lines, and Nick and Fabi have found a good-looking face farther away. We’ll keep in touch over the radio throughout the day, to make sure everything is going well.
As we discover the mountains, we give our own names to the faces and lines we’ve found. We get intimately familiar with these mountains, as they’re all our own.
When we get back to camp, another great day is in the bag, and there are more big smiles on our faces, but our bodies are starting to feel tired. The dogs followed us all day long, so we shared our food with them, and we’re all starving.
Sunday 17th of April,
It’s a tough morning. We got better sleep, but our bodies feel really worked; our muscles are getting tired and the soreness is piling on.
On top of that, we left all our wet stuff outside to avoid getting humidity in the tents, and all of it is now frozen…
We question what’s worse, humid nights in the tent, or frozen ski boots to put on.
The temperatures are rising; it’s going to get super warm today. We don’t have time to wait for the sun to hit camp, and we leave early to minimize the on-slope risks.
The snow will heat up and get wet today, then, tomorrow it will be frozen, so this becomes our last day. We enjoy a big breakfast since we won’t need our extra food, and we need some energy for the five-hour hike. We decide to go ski the north faces at the end of the valley. Starting at 2,100 meters, we climb to 3,600 meters to reach the highest peak.
At the end of the day, we come back to camp from another amazing day spent with an amazing team! Everybody got good lines.
We take some time to remember the lines we’ve drawn on these mountains. We are likely the first team to ski those faces, and until the next snow falls they will have our marks.
We finish our last dry food and tear down camp. Back at the car, it’s time to say goodbye to the dogs. Having them around us for the last three days created some bonds, and we’re a bit sad to leave them here.
We return to Mestia and go straight to a restaurant. We missed the delicious Georgian food. We order beers, and cheers a successful expedition.
We have just enough energy left to shower before sleep, we are exhausted. We will unpack our gear tomorrow.
As the sun rises between Ushba and Tetnuldi our eyes are sticky. It’s so peaceful to be in the mountains with only the sound of the birds waking up.
We enjoy the first rays of sunlight and contemplate one last time the beautiful mountains around us. We are already planning our next expeditions to reassure ourselves before leaving this magical place. We had an amazing journey full of discovery and sharing, with beautiful people.