When, more than 20 years ago, I began my involvement in Georgia’s fledgling snow sport tourism, it was only a distant dream that we could host a Ski World Cup. In February, that dream became more of a reality, as world class skiers and snowboarders arrived for Ski and Snowboard Cross World Cup events at Bakuriani. In 2023, that dream that generations of Georgians held will be further realised as the world’s best skiers congregate for the FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships, writes George Ramishvili.
Dominated by the South Caucus Mountains with stunning natural beauty, good snow cover and regular sunshine, Georgia could be soon discovered by millions of snow sports fans as a perfect winter sports destination. Georgian mountains dwarf the peaks of their Western European counterparts, with many reaching over 5000m, providing some of the best Heliskiing and freeride skiing available.
During my time as President of the Georgia Ski Federation, I prioritised establishing competitive skiing in Georgia. By introducing the National Georgian Ski Championships, we enabled talented young skiers at locations across the country to gain greater experience in competitive skiing. This also helped lay the groundwork to bring bigger and better international competitions to Georgia.
Bakuriani was one of the country’s first ever ski resorts in 1932, acting as a training hub for top athletes back in the days of the USSR. It will play host to 2023’s FIS Freestyle Ski, Snowboard and Freeski World Championships and can now become the vivid centre of the continuing vision of turning Georgia into a major winter sports hub. This progress made has not happened overnight and required the commitment of the Georgian Ski Federation and the strong support of the Georgian Government, who are doing an excellent job of building infrastructure, driven by a fantastic team of enthusiastic supporters. It is also with thanks to the FIS Council members and their President, Gianfranco Kasper, for recognising Georgia’s potential as an elite competition venue and trusting us as hosts.
This is welcome recognition for those of us who have supported and developed the industry over decades. World class skiers can only compete on world class slopes, which Georgia is patiently spending time, money, and effort developing. Silknet and Silk Road Group between them have been proud sponsors of the Georgian Ski Federation and Georgian National Ski Team for nearly 20 years, providing logistical and financial support to back up our faith in the winter sport industry’s potential.
Despite this, even in Val d’Isère back in December 2015 when my advisor and long-time friend Patrick Lang and I first envisioned and discussed the idea of Georgia applying for future FIS Freestyle Skiing and Snowboard World Championships, the reality still felt a long way off. By starting with smaller scale, such as basic FIS-class tournaments, soon followed by Europa Cup level Freestyle and Snowboard events, we quickly built up the infrastructure and experience required to soon host world class events.
With Georgia stepping firmly forward as an elite winter sports destination, it is important as a next step to establish ski schools in mountain locations such as Gudauri, Bakuriani, Mestia and Ajara. This will enable children to live, study and train there before going on to succeed in European tournaments. This is a crucial step in making Georgia a world class winter sports destinations.
Now, with high-profile World Cup competitions successfully held last winter, our ski resorts are firmly on the map, placing the Caucuses increasingly alongside major winter sport destinations like the Alps and the Rockies. Resort development for competition skiing has triggered development for tourism, which, in turn, will form a greater part of Georgia’s wider economic progress. It will also help to promote a healthier lifestyle further adding to the social and economic benefits, especially in light of the pandemic.
As fantastic as it is to see the world’s leading winter sports competitions heading to Georgia, getting amateur skiers from across the world to our slopes should be the next goal. Tourism has a key role to play in Georgia’s economic recovery from Covid. In 2019, a record-breaking over 9 million foreigners visited, with projections suggesting this growth was only going to increase further, however most of these were not winter sport tourists, meaning there is lots of potential left to realise.
Skiing has always been a sport close to my heart. Growing up, I was a regular at the soon to be World Cup slopes of Bakuriani. In the 1990s, during the aftermath of the Soviet Union collapse, it was heart-breaking to see the urban development mistakes at the resort. With extensive, modern winter sports infrastructure such as new chair lifts and artificial snow lakes, necessary for holding large-scale world class events, Bakuriani will revert to its former glory. The hope is that a more methodical, smarter approach to developing relatively untouched slopes of Kazbegi, Mestia, Tusheti, Racha, Bakhmaro and Goderzi will be adopted. This will also help further the prospects of those young skiers taking part in competitive skiing and efforts to improve the health of Georgians as a whole.
I am confident that as vaccines increase and international travel slowly resurges – as is already starting with direct flights from Europe, Dubai and Israel – Georgia will recover its tourism momentum. In the meanwhile, despite the ongoing difficult times, we can be grateful to have world class ski competitions in the Caucasus, a positive signal that should encourage us all.
Oped was originally published on eureporter.Leave a comment