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Skiing in Europe often rhythms with crowded resorts, overpriced restaurants and up-to-the-minute après-skis.  However, this winter I discovered Svaneti, a majestic mountain region in Georgia that changed my skiing experience.

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Svaneti is a historic province located in northwestern part of Georgia, hangs on the southern slopes of the central Caucasus Mountains and is surrounded by 3, 0000-5,000 meter peaks. It is home to the Svans, an ethnic sub-group to Georgians, and is prominent not only for its unparalleled nature but also for its picturesque mediaeval architecture.  The upper Svaneti, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, is distinctive by its marvelous landscape, grand castles and beautiful churches. The unique stone towers exude authenticity and rareness which highly contributed to preservation of local intangible heritage – fascinating traditions, customs and remarkable folklore.

Together with my friends we took a plane from Tbilisi (Natakhtari) to the village of Mestia which roughly is an hour journey and quite possibly the most impressive one I have ever been on.  As I flew over the peaks of Caucasus Mountains I witnessed an incomparable grandness from the window even though I must admit the Let L-410 Turbolet we got on did not inspire me much trust at first glance. Straight from the airport we went to ski and after about thirty minutes of drive we discovered the slopes of Hatsvali. The highest point of which is at 2347m with the longest run of 2600m. Also, it is a must to take a break at Zuruldi restaurant on top of the mountain – the highest restaurant in Svaneti with a majestic view.  But what I loved the most was night skiing with well-lit slopes and functioning ski lifts until 10pm. In addition, a few chacha shots along with a delicious dinner at café Laila in the heart of Mestia prior the skiing have brought further bravery to the adventure.  However pistes in Hatsvali are usually open from 10am-4pm and night skiing could only be arranged on certain occasions.

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The next day we went skiing in Tetnuldi ski resort 15km away from Mestia which offers 3 ski lifts and over 25km of skiing tracks.  It was the end of March and the weather was beautiful – sun was shining, no clouds in the sky and the perfect quality of snow both for on and off-piste skiing.  Tetnuldi is proudly carrying the title of the ‘Freeride Mecca in the Caucasus’ and the entire region is now attracting heli-skiing enthusiasts from all over the world. What makes skiing in Svaneti even more exceptional is the lack of crowds. Indeed, no queues at the lifts, no overcrowded slopes and no fear of collision with fellow skiers. It cultivates a sense of belonging and you feel that not only the mountain you are practicing the downhill, but the whole world belongs to you.

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Now the ski season is over but I‘ve got hiking to look forward to and can’t wait for warmer days to come so I could go back to Svaneti and enjoy new escapades in what has now become my new favorite place.