Georgia a place to ski

Well-known Georgian ski town of Bakuriani, where the slopes were once the training ground for the Soviet Olympic Alpine ski teams...

THE ROOMS HOTEL in Kokhta  – the contemporary ski-in, ski-out resort in Georgia has opened its doors for this winter’s fun. (photo credit: ARIEH O’SULLIVAN)
THE ROOMS HOTEL in Kokhta – the contemporary ski-in, ski-out resort in Georgia has opened its doors for this winter’s fun.
(photo credit: ARIEH O’SULLIVAN)
KOKHTA, Georgia – The old train chugged along through a narrow path in the snow-smothered forest high up in the Caucasus, tooting its whistle as if we were entering another era and then we stopped at a semi-abandoned station. The stationmaster, complete with peaked cap and walking stick, shuffled along and sent the old electric engine on its way, leaving us to trek through the pathless snow. Our energetic guide, Alex, soon led us through the mountain wilderness to a mammoth Romanesque palace, sans windows, clearly an abandoned sanatorium whose rich history lay hidden behind its stone walls.
Immediately everyone in our party of travel writers began imagining what this place could be. It takes a special team to implement dreams. The Adjara Group is just that out here in Georgia.
It has taken old publishing houses, factories and other edifices from the bygone Soviet era, and transformed them into luxury theme hotels.
We were out here to look at their latest endeavor: the Rooms Hotel in Kokhta, from where we started off our morning adventure.
The contemporary ski-in, ski-out resort has opened its doors for this winter’s fun. It’s located smack next to the main ski lift in Kokhta, a small village next to the well-known Georgianarie of Bakuriani, where the slopes were once the training ground for the Soviet Olympic Alpine ski teams.
We arrived from Tbilisi, the history-filled capital of this very Eastern European proud nation. The two-hour trip was mostly on a major double-lane highway, but we broke off and traveled along the notorious back roads as we climbed up to the caldera bowl of an ancient volcano where the resort sits under the 2,200-meter-high Mount Kokhta.
The 95 guest rooms feature huge king- or twin-size beds and are filled with sleek modern furniture, all designed by the in-house Rooms Design Studio. In fact, all the uniforms are also designed and made in-house.
Our room had a wall-to-floor window that faced the snow-covered alpine forest, completely private.
Shortly after arrival, my companion and I gobbled down a traditional Georgian lunch in the dining room flanked by a roaring fire. And then we rushed to get to the slopes. (We’d all gather ‘round the fire later to swap stories and enjoy the drinks.)
Conditions were perfect. Fresh snow fell the night before and the sky was clear blue. I felt like saying sheheyanu, the Hebrew prayer for gratefulness, at every juncture: a new ski lift, a new whole mountain (Mt. Mitarbi) filled with new runs and no crowds. Nino, one of our Georgian hosts and an amazing skier, led my companion and myself and another travel writer from the US zooming down black runs, racing down reds and moseying down blue runs across the pistes and through the vast spruce and pine forests.
“The Rooms Kokhta is our latest hotel and is ski-in, ski-out. It is very popular area of Georgia because of the air and mountains, and is very family friendly resort. We created this beautiful Rooms Hotel to give travelers an understanding of the region and a great experience with the Georgian cuisine, culture and design,” said Adjara Group CEO Valeri Chekheria.
Riding the brand-new ski lift, as we approached the peak, two things appeared before me: The wind whipped up mini-tornadoes of snow in a magical performance, and the huge range of the mighty “lesser” Caucasus came into view. Stunning.
A group of Israelis we ran into who were picking up their skis said they came because they were “sick of Bankso,” that rural Bulgarian ski town that draws hordes of Israelis looking for inexpensive ski trips.
WE WERE told the long winters (three to four months) make this resort a paradise for skiers and snowboarders. The price of a one-day ski pass is NIS 50 for adults and NIS 30 for a child. A five-day ski pass is NIS 233 for adults and NIS 150 for a child.
“We decided to come here because it was cheaper, closer, and there’s a lot more to offer,” said one Israeli skier as he buckled up his boots.
Being able to ski (or toboggan) right to the door of the hotel was a great plus. One of the added benefits of staying with Rooms Hotel chain is that they offer loads of activities besides skiing, snowboarding, sledding and night-skiing. Part of our group went on a snow-buggy ride through the hills. We all participated in a special Georgian calligraphy workshop, learning the history of the unique language and drawing their letters. There are loads of sights to see, including medieval churches and hot springs.
The village of Kokhta is low key, but the nearby Bakuriani offers loads of après ski and dining options.
Chekheria said the area is a four-season destination and offers a better deal than other European destinations.
“We have direct flights from Israel, and it is very easy to get in Georgia without any visa procedures and without any transfer of flights. I am sure we are going to see more and more Israeli travelers, especially to our new place in Kokhta,” said Chekheria. “We have a very close friendship with the Israeli people. Our traditions are very close to each other.”
Indeed, we have many similarities as a new/old fiercely proud nation with a unique ancient language. The Georgians I met seem to wear their hearts on their sleeves, quick to laugh but also cry. They are still traumatized by the short, bloody war with Russia in 2008. They are, in general, a driven people, and everyone I met spoke excellent English. In Tbilisi, most of the signs were in Georgian and English, not Russian.
Every tourist entering Georgia gets their passport stamped and then handed a bottle of wine, a tasty reminder that Georgia is considered the birthplace of fermenting grapes to wine and is making tons of efforts to portray itself as a wine destination.
We naturally took every opportunity to taste their multitudes of wines (I recommend the funky amber wines made in clay pots called kvevris) and other spirits, like local brandy and their ubiquitous Chacha, a highly potent Georgian version of schnappes, with a slight kerosene flavor!
Following our train ride and forest trek, we made our way to Borjomi, famous for its slightly salty, bubbly spring water. We then on to a local winery for a supra, or festive banquet, in the basement of a 150-year-old house. The jolly host, Nika, would lift his glass of Chacha for a total of seven toasts during the meal, which included, of course, khachapuri and khinkali (dumplings), chicken and walnuts and steaks and snails, yes snails. The meal was interrupted by Nika’s father playing mournful Georgian tunes that sent tears streaming down the cheeks of our Georgian hosts.
We toasted to family and friendship and parents and freedom and travel and the ladies and good people.
“My mission is to create experiences; to find very nice individuals and families outside the hotel who are really showing authentic Georgian hospitality and culture. We like to share it with our guests, because in Georgia we have a saying, “A guest is sent by God,” said Alexander Iskandarov, chief guide of the Adjara Group.
“Our core idea for these experiences is to show the friendship and love of the Georgian people,” he said, “We say that if you have contact with them for only half an hour, you’ll get the idea that they have been your friends for many years.”
The writer was a guest of the Rooms Hotel and the Georgia Tourism Agency.