We caught up with FLŌA ambassador Ric Pottor following his trip to a remote ski area in Georgia…
Our pursuit for perfect powder can lead us off the beaten track, and so it should. However, Ric Potter is a man who veers further than most. Ric’s an IFMGA mountain guide, that’s the highest qualification in the world for leading people in the mountains.
He’s the kind of guy you want having your back when out in them hills, because as well as keeping you safe, he’s got a nose for sniffing out some of the best powder stashes in the world. Since recently becoming an ambassador for FLŌA, Ric took an epic trip into Georgia to hunt down some early season powder in the Caucasus Mountains.
Georgia was ‘vaguely on the radar’ for me, but it was only when Al Powell, a colleague Guide of mine, asked me if I wanted to help him run a trip for a bigger group for his company ‘Alpine Guides’, that I really looked into it. Once I knew I was going, friends sent me the YouTube clips of the infamous chairlift accident (running backwards)but also some of pro riders skiing big lines in the Caucasus. It looked incredible.
We weren’t going to be big mountain freeriding but we were looking for powder off the lifts and planning to do some touring. In general we were going to explore the Georgian backcountry a little, all around the town of Mestia in the Svaneti region of the Caucasus.
We flew direct to Kutaisi from Luton, and the next day we were crammed into 4wd minibuses for the 240km ride up to the Mestia, in the Caucasus Mountains, which rise up to 5000m altitude. The 240km might not sound very far, but the fact that it took seven hours gives you some idea of the state of the road, and the fact that the last 3 hours were on snow.
Mestia itself sits at about 1500m and is surrounded by wooded hills with high mountains behind. Locally there are two ski stations,the highest of which, reaches 3100m and has access to more than 1000m vertical terrain.
Snow wise, there were lots of possibilities, but our trip worked around lift-accessed sidecountry, which we extended by skinning relatively short distances back to the lift system, and with some full touring days as well.
Due to its continental climate, the area seems to be a good bet for early season powder, with cold dry conditions and a good chance of snowfall without too much wind to accompany it. We had great powder but were also mindful of some deeper snowpack instability that was obvious from some of the avalanche tracks we could see above.
The low number of skiers and boarders meant that fresh lines were easy to find, so we enjoyed some fun skiing off the lifts, and some tours with some hefty shifts of trail breaking into terrain that no one had been into that winter. We had cold mornings and then warmer afternoons similar to an alpine climate.
The small town of Mestia was our base for the week. Relative to the villages around it, Mestia is lively and buzzing and clearly gaining some income from tourists, with some cosy cafes, music spots, souvenir shops and a number of hotels.
Outside of Mestia the small rural villages were noticeably poorer and the remnants of the Soviet era apparent in the abandoned buildings and crumbling old infrastructure. Everywhere we went we seemed to be accompanied by random animals – dogs, cows, goats, pigs.
The switch from going up to going down is always about the change from being hot to preparing for cold, so versatility is important. Quick drying garments that are comfortable to wear as you’re climbing need to transfer into toasty comfort layers for the descent, especially if you’ve been working hard breaking trail on the way up!
If you’re comfortable then you’ll make better decisions – unhurried and considered rather than rushed and panicky – especially important when you’re in a new place with big terrain around you. For the skiing, if you feel comfortable then you ski well – you can focus on the terrain, the snow and not worry about anything else – just focus on the now stuff.
I was using the FLŌA backcountry base layer for this trip and it worked perfectly.
You can find Ric and his mountain guiding services at rpmguiding.com
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