In the first of our new strange skiing series, William Everett drinks brandy, eats khachapuri and gets fondled on the slopes of Gudauri, Georgia.
An old man washed my balls in Tbilisi.
The Georgian capital is famous for its sulphur baths, so here I was, lying naked on a stone slab, submitting to this ancient tradition. My poker-faced assailant had a scratchy mitt on one hand and a bar of soap in the other, and set about scrubbing my every nook and cranny. Then he chucked a bucket of hot water on me and walked out. Welcome to Georgia.
An evening of local wine helped me forget the ordeal, and I woke the next day in high spirits. Today, we, a friend and I, are bound for the ski slopes of Gudauri, a small resort high in the mighty Caucasus.
“Drink chacha,” says the bearded man at the ski rental shop, producing a bottle of his home-brewed brandy.
“Gaumarjos!” we cheer and knock back our shots. My throat burns and my head glows. Our new friend pours again and down they go. Snowboards in hand, we step outside and squint in the morning sun.
“Don’t drink chacha,” says the woman at the ski pass office. “It will kill you.”
“Ah,” I say, the sweet taste of death still on my lips.
Kitted out and ready to go, it was time to strap on our boards and see about this snow.
At 2,196m (7,200ft), Gudauri sits in a wide, barren bowl of snowfields, linked by five chairlifts, a gondola and an aging draglift. Most runs are classed blue, with a sprinkling of greens, reds and three good blacks.
The lift queues are minimal, and we’re granted plenty of room on the wide and meandering pistes as we contentedly carve lines in the soft powder, pacified by the panoramic views and chacha-induced haze.
We stop for lunch at a run-down mountain restaurant and settle on a sun-strewn terrace before ordering what the waiter recommends, khachapuri, a dish dear to the hearts of Georgians.
When the waiter returns with laden plates, we feel much as Jason must have when he first beheld the Golden Fleece. Before us are canoe-shaped loaves of hot bread, each cradling a pool of melted cheese, topped with a glistening fried egg. One mouthful and we are hooked.
Next up is mtsvadi (barbecued meat on a skewer) and khinkali (hearty mince dumplings).
“Do you have any fruit?” I ask when the waiter reappears with yet another bowl of assorted meats.
“Tomorrow we get fruit. Potatoes, egg, all,” he says proudly.
Standing up after this feast is out of the question, so we lay back and enjoy the view to the soundtrack of Balearic chill-out tunes.
We lazily snake our way back to town as the sun begins to set. Intent on sampling a taste of the Georgian après-ski scene, we skulk around the town centre desperately listening for a baseline, like bloodhounds sniffing for illicit substances at an airport.
“Find the old post office,” a local man tells us cryptically.
Our hearts sink when we find the old post office, a derelict building with as much party appeal as the phrase suggests. Only then do we hear a beat from over the road. Climbing to the top floor of a block of flats, we cautiously open a door. Inside, a small but lively crowd sway rhythmically to house music emanating from the speakers of a DJ at a table. A bar in the corner offers ample refreshments.
As we drink and dance and laugh about the day’s events, I notice an elderly gentleman quietly making his way through the communal hallway to an adjacent flat.
I absentmindedly catch his gaze, and, despite the humidity of the crowded room, an unwelcomed cold sensation suddenly spreads across my genitals.
NEED TO KNOW
Flights from London to Tbilisi start at £300 return, with a stop in Munich, Kiev or Istanbul.
Six-day ski pass: £44.
Six-day ski rental: £60.
Where to stay
Budget accommodation is available from the vibrant Happy Yeti Hostel & Bar (tel: +995 57 126 8800; www.happyyetihostel.com), where dormitory accommodation is available from £13 per person per night (including breakfast and dinner). Those wishing to splurge can do so at the 4-star Marco Polo Hotel (tel: +995 32 220 2900; www.marcopolo.ge/en) with rooms from £120 per night.
Off-piste in… North Korea
Off-piste in… Afghanistan
Off-piste in… Pakistan
Off-piste in… Kyrgyzstan