Gon­do­las are out, he­li­copters are in

Emirates Man - - CONTENTS -

As we crouch on the moun­tain­side, the he­li­copter comes in to land inches from our hud­dle, the force of the ro­tor blades coat­ing us in snow. Our moun­tain guide has dug a snow trench the size of a bath, just big enough for the he­li­copter skid tips to rest in. With the blades still churn­ing, we load our skis, jump aboard and lift off across the peaks of Ge­or­gia. The next pow­der eld awaits.

This is the Greater Cau­ca­sus, a moun­tain range ex­tend­ing from the Black Sea to the Caspian, with the Repub­lic of Ge­or­gia spread along its length. Sand­wiched be­tween Rus­sia and Turkey, Ge­or­gia has a lan­guage, cul­ture and cui­sine en­tirely dis­tinct from its neigh­bours, and a trump card few have dis­cov­ered: un­re­stricted heli-ski­ing – he­li­copter ac­cess to a realm way be­yond the reach of a ski lift.

From the Emi­rates, a three-hour ight takes you to the Ge­or­gian cap­i­tal Tbil­isi, an an­cient city en­closed by hills and well worth a one-day walk­a­bout. The Nariqala Fortress and Mother Of Ge­or­gia statue loom above the old town on a cliff top, a maze of quaint houses cling­ing to the hill be­low. Me­dieval churches jut from the ter­ra­cotta rooftops, still draw­ing Ortho­dox crowds even as bold, mod­ern build­ings spring up along­side. If you’re not averse to the whiff of egg, have a soak in the sul­phur baths – heal­ing or not, Ge­or­gians have sworn by these wa­ters for nearly 2,000 years.

Next stop is Gu­dauri, a small ski re­sort two hours by car from Tbil­isi, and the launch pad to bound­less pow­der snow. At an el­e­va­tion of 2,196 me­tres, Gu­dauri sits above the tree line with acres of open off-piste – ideal for nd­ing your feet be­fore you heli-ski. A day or two ski­ing at re­sort level will ac­cli­ma­tise you to the al­ti­tude. Groomed pistes to­tal 30 miles, with a net­work of blue runs, three red runs and two

With fresh snow and blue skies, you may have the best ski­ing of your life

black runs at the high­est re­sort al­ti­tude (3,100 me­tres).

Once you’re feel­ing at­tuned, you’ll be ready for the real fun. Lo­cal heli-ski op­er­a­tor He­lik­sir runs one- to six-day heli-ski pack­ages, with state-of-theart he­li­copters and safety kit, highly quali ed Swiss pi­lots and ski guides certi ed by UIAGM (Union In­ter­na­tionale des As­so­ci­a­tions de Guides de Mon­tagnes). Your play­ground is 800 square miles of ski-able ter­rain, with high peaks, alpine bowls and deep val­leys all blessed with reg­u­lar snow­fall. With fresh snow and blue skies, you may have the best ski­ing of your life.

At 8am you meet at the hangar. Pro­ceed­ings be­gin with a safety brie ng, from he­li­copter dos and don’ts, to avalanche pro­ce­dure. The He­lik­sir team mon­i­tors avalanche con­di­tions daily, eval­u­at­ing sta­bil­ity through snow­pack anal­y­sis and mak­ing guid­ing de­ci­sions ac­cord­ingly. The walls of the He­lik­sir of ce are plas­tered with enough charts to make a physi­cist dizzy, each

one de ning the avalanche risk at a speci c point on the moun­tain. Noth­ing is left to chance.

In the un­likely event of an avalanche, each skier is armed to the teeth with trans­ceiver, probe, shovel and airbag back­pack, a smart de­vice that in ates around you when a cord is pulled. Your guide will ex­plain the ap­pa­ra­tus in depth. The lives of the group – in­clud­ing his – may de­pend on it. Once buried in snow, an avalanche vic­tim has 20 min­utes to es­cape, a sober­ing thought as you buckle up for the rst as­cent.

Any nerves will van­ish once you’re air­borne. There is some­thing eu­phoric about tak­ing off in a he­li­copter, this nim­ble pod that bobs in the air. Your ride is a Euro­copter A-Star B3, a light, pow­er­ful ma­chine ideal for high al­ti­tude, with seat­ing for ve pas­sen­gers, plus a pi­lot. Buzzing over the moun­tain­tops, you’ll leave roads, homes and hu­man­ity far be­hind.

The des­ti­na­tion is a ridge at around 4,000 me­tres, fall­ing away on each side to sweep­ing white val­leys. Here you dis­em­bark, re­trieve your skis from a cage on the fuse­lage, and watch the chop­per purr off to a dot. Be­fore you is the view ev­ery pow­der hound dreams of – a blank can­vas wait­ing for those thin ski squig­gles. Fol­low­ing the guide, you drop into the val­ley and link silent turns in the snow. This is what you came for.

De­spite the in­trepid rep­u­ta­tion, any­one con dent ski­ing or snow­board­ing off-piste can take the next step to he­liski­ing. The guides at He­lik­sir will tai­lor the pace and routes to the group’s skill level, and off-piste new­bies can take a one­day pow­der ski­ing course in the re­sort be­fore tak­ing to the skies. You’ll never ski a groomed run again.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.