For years I have promised to take the family skiing and the opportunity just never came up, partly because I am terrified of being responsible for little people hurtling off the edge of a cliff at high speed and partly because of the huge cost of heading to Europe meaning a week of precious leave taken and the resulting dent in my bank account for a holiday I wasn’t even sure they would enjoy. My husband can’t ski and was less than keen so we have kept putting the off the inevitable.
This ski trip was sort of imposed and totally unplanned. My daughter (the youngest) came back from a school ski trip in the middle of March and her two older brothers were giving me huge grief that they have never been skiing and you know the score I am sure – how unfair their whole lives suddenly were!
As there was still a week of school holidays left, I looked for a “cheap and close by holiday” that I could use to restore harmony in my home once again, and I wasn’t even searching for skiing holidays as I thought the season was probably over and by chance stumbled across a place called Guduari, a resort in Georgia. It seemed to tick all boxes, the flights were cheap (and only 3 hours away), the accommodation in a self-catering apartment was also affordable for four people for four nights but best of all there had been fresh snowfall that day even though it was already April.
I spent Sunday night checking every possible site to answer my questions; was there adequate medical care if the worst happened? How easy was it to get there? Was it safe? Can we hire equipment? Would anyone speak English?Eventually all of my fears were covered and I booked the accommodation, flights and transfers to fly in three days time, (luckily visas are available on arrival for British passport holders).
Skiing gear was garnered second hand through British Mums Dubai Facebook group (what would we do without them?) along with a quick Tuesday evening trip to “Winners” in Karama (and the result was 3 of the family fully kitted out in “branded” ski wear for less than 600 AED!)
The Wednesday night we flew out, there was literally no time to get cold feet (excuse the pun). Unfortunately my husband couldn’t come at the last minute so I had to put on my “big girl pants”, step up to the mark, negotiate airports, transfers and skiing with 3 kids on my own, ensuring this holiday was everything they had dreamed of – even though it was going to be short!
I booked everything direct and chose to maximize the skiing days without impacting my leave, so we chose flights with Fly Dubai as they have a late night flight out of DWC (Dubai World Central) that arrives back early on the Sunday morning. This meant 3 full days skiing with only 1 day of leave from work.
The flight was fairly full and it is worth remembering that if you end up taking a night flight on Fly Dubai, that it’s a good idea to bring your own pillow and travel blanket. Also it is essential to pre-book for extra luggage as once you arrive at the airport it’s much more expensive. (The allowance with your ticket is only 7kg, which however good you are at packing light, 7kg is unlikely to cut it for a skiing holiday). Also we were flying out of DWC so I had planned to feed the kids there, hoping they would sleep on full tummies, but as a point to note, the choice of child options there are just McDonalds or Costa Coffee.
The flight is only 3 hours long but keep in mind that if you choose to fly with Fly Dubai the entertainment is at an extra cost and fairly basic. There are no free snacks or drinks either so come prepared.
Arriving there and the transfer
Tbilisi airport is small and easy to manage so we cleared arrivals in around 30 minutes. Finding the driver was easy as he had posted our name, clearly written on the exit barrier and the car was a 2-minute walk across the car park. The driver kept the heating at a lovely level, adjusting it thoughtfully as we headed higher into the mountains. He didn’t speak much English and I have to mention here that driving in Georgia is not for the faint hearted, so if you are a nervous passenger don’t even consider it!
The roads are in very bad condition with lots of potholes, the climbs and bends are steep, and the choice of the roadside that the driver selects to drive on appears to be completely random! After a 2 hour trip to the resort, I was still unsure if they drive on the left or the right and my thoughts of cat-napping in the car were not an option as I prayed for our safety and dug my finger nails into my palms to try and stop uttering unnecessary expletives at each near miss! However we were “safely” delivered to the resort and I think the driver was probably an expert driver (in a local sort of way)!
We arrived at the ski resort at 4am, the keys were given to us by the driver and so by 4.30am we were all fast asleep in the ski apartment. There are a number of large apartment blocks built around a plaza with a Gondola ski lift to one side and a variety of coffee shops and restaurants around the edge.
Keep in mind that we arrived right at the end of the season and the main plaza area was muddy due to the snow melting which was disappointing but it was obvious that in the winter it would be stunningly beautiful during the peak of season. The best thing about this place was that it was a ski in – ski out resort meaning that within a few minutes of waking up you are on the slopes and there are no transfer buses to negotiate, you’re straight onto the Gondola lift and 10 minutes later you are all on the mountain. I have to mention the air was clear and fresh and this was a real relief from the Dubai rising temperatures we had left behind.
The ski hire shop was on site, just beneath our apartmentand they had snowboards, skis, poles and helmets, for hire, all in reasonable condition and all at excellent prices. I think it’s a fabulous resort for families of mixed abilities that is safe and easy to navigate, but I suspect it would not thrill you if you were an excellent skier looking for fast and technical black runs. However the slopes were well maintained and clearly marked out and we had great fun each day.
Our first day of skiing was on Thursday and the slopes were virtually empty, which was great as it gave us a chance to work out turning and stopping without having to consider any other equally inept new skiers. The slopes got busier on Friday and again on Saturday, but not at any point could you describe the resort as crowded. There were never any queues for the lifts and plenty of seats in the mountain café (not forgetting we arrived at the end of the season). As their weekend is Saturday and Sunday I would certainly recommend if you are only doing a short break that you chose the Thursday as your extra day as I think Sunday would probably have been busier again.
Our apartment was comfortable and very basic; we had booked for 5 people. I think we fitted 4 perfectly and 5 would have been more challenging. There was a mezzanine floor with 3 beds and downstairs a large double sofa bed as well as an additional camp bed. The kitchen had 2 hot plates, a fridge and a kettle so not really worth trying to cook there. It was comfortable and warm with stunning mountain views from the window. The shower had lots of hot water – if a little interesting to share one bathroom between all of us (spoilt from living in Dubai I know). There was free Wi-Fi in the apartment and the cafes and restaurants all offered Wi-Fi connection so we didn’t bother with local data cards and just turned off the data roaming on our phones.
If there were any down sides to our holiday I would definitely flag up the food. Whilst I realise I have very fussy children, the resort was also coming to the end of the season and the choice was limited with large gaps of availability on the menu. The local wine is nice and the bars are generally well stocked, and the kids mainly ate pizza so they were happy! I guess if I had done some research before we could have identified more “Georgian” food that the kids would have liked, but it was all cooked fresh and there was never any doubt about the safety of eating there.
When we were in the ski hire shop fitting out our ski equipment I asked if they had a guide to show us around. He ended up being my personal full time instructor for all 3 days and therefore for anyone like me who has not skied for 20 plus years, it’s definitely not like getting on a bike – you do forget!
The kids were good skiers and my eldest son decided to take the opportunity to learn to snowboard. I was so grateful to have our instructor; even if his English was poor he was excellent at returning me to my feet and pointing me back down the mountain and chasing the kids down steep hills to ensure they didn’t do themselves any unnecessary harm. He showed us the ski routes suited to our ability that I doubt that we would have found on our own without him.
Although this was a luxury just for me (considering the kids are all accomplished skiers) it gave me piece of mind and allowed them freedom to race down the mountains and for me to relax knowing there was someone who could keep up with them. I was, however very proud that by the third day I could parallel ski to the bottom with a certain degree of style and on occasion beat them to the bottom of the slopes as well.
The resort offered many ski school options and we heard some very fluent English instructors on the slopes, so I think if you are beginners this would be a very good option and the cost is very affordable. It is a resort suited to families and hiring an instructor for the family worked out really well for us.
Other activities offered at the resort are paragliding, heli-skiing, snowmobiles and toboggans. We didn’t investigate them as we were there for such a short break, but we watched the paragliders take off from the top of the mountain – and it did look very tempting. The views were spectacular and the resort has a reputation for heli-skiing although we didn’t see any helicopters during our stay.
The little café on the slope near the Gondala lift with outside seating was rough and ready, but they were very friendly and extremely keen to get us to try the local special drink of Cha Cha, (it is not as the name would suggest some kind of “tea” as I had hoped, but a very rough whisky that I would not highly recommend it, but suggest you do try it if offered to avoid offence!)
The temperature on the first day was really warm and we found ourselves striping down to t-shirts over lunch (some people were in bikini tops, somehow this didn’t feel quite right). Although we put on sunscreen I should have brought sunblock as everyone burned. The very hot weather on day one meant that on the second day the slopes were icy and more difficult to navigate, but on the last day a large supply of fresh snow arrived overnight and it snowed on and off for most of the day which made a delightful end to our ski trip. The temperature was around -3 degrees, which was very comfortable, and I believe early in the season it can be as low as -15 degrees so do check before you book or ensure you have suitable clothing to cope.
What to bring
Goggles or sunglasses are essential, sun block, and ski wear including gloves or mittens. I am a fan of mittens for the kids as it makes life easier for them and me. None of your clothing has to be particularly smart as this is definitely not a smart European resort and quite a lot of the locals on the slope were just wearing jeans and sweatshirts. The apartment provided ample laundry and towels so no need to bring your own. Snow boots were not essential, as there are paved paths around the resort, which appear to be kept clear for walking on. The Ski lockers are in the basement of the apartment blocks so the kids just wore flip-flops down to change each day (spot the kids from Dubai). Casual wear for the evenings is fine.
Don’t forget to take winter travel insurance out, the travel insurance from Fly Dubai does not cover you for off-piste but most other things were on there but I would be unsure if you really need to make a lclaim quite how extensive this cover would prove to be. Resort reviews appear to suggest that surprisingly the medical services there are good and we saw one person being transported on a ski stretcher with a good level of care.
We only went on holiday to Ski and the kids have come home extremely happy and wanting to go again soon and I have to agree I can’t wait to return either. I only took one days leave from work and with the flight arriving at 5am was able to be at my desk by 7.30am on Sunday morning which although this was a hard day, means 3 days of full skiing from Dubai is fully achievable without really hitting your pocket or your holiday leave allowance.
Having said that I wish we had planned a day to explore Tbilisi, as it looked beautiful as we drove through. Maybe that will be another long weekend break to look forward to.
Holiday Summary & Costs
Fly Dubai (booked direct)
Departed Dubai, Wed 21.50 (DWC) Arriving Tbilisi Thurs 01.20
Departed Tbilisi, Sun 02.20 Arriving Dubai Sun 5.40 (DWC)
Tickets for 4 people (3 adults, 1 child) 3,600 AED
Additional 40kg of luggage, (purchased online with tickets) 120 AED
Note: Just check-in together to maximize this (total 40kg purchased + 28kg given)
Hotel transfer (booking.com) Tbilisi to Gudauri 100 USD return (per car max 6 people)
Apartments – “New Gudauri 2” 1,020 AED (booking.com for 4 nights),
Note: We could have left earlier on the last day and checked out in the morning, but it just seemed sensible to take the extra night to make it all easier particularly as it was so inexpensive.
Full ski hire for 3 x sets of skis plus 1 snowboard: 469 AED (3 days x 4 people)
Ski pass for 2 Adults and 2 Children (3 days) 320 AED
Ski Instructor per day: 350 AED
Breakfast: approx. 70 AED per day in the café.
Lunch : Kebabs and drinks 150 AED at the mountain café
Evening Meals: (mainly pizza and a few drinks) 300 AED
Groceries including milk, chocolate, tea bags, water and juices 150 AED
Total holiday cost for 4 people: 7,500 AED
To book your holiday, see:Link
By British mum, Heather Harries