At the top of Mount Kokhta, there is silence. The quiet is broken by a sharp, frigid breeze, but otherwise, the stillness is absolute. I stare across a valley ringed by snow-topped mountains. Spruce forests rise partway up, leaving the peaks frosted like cakes. Then, in a sudden rush, I’m off. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. Scrape. I ski to a halt and this time hear a loud crack and thud as a mound of snow falls from a branch some distance down the slope.
The only other person on the piste is my German friend, who has been on skis since birth and puts my rusty, Rocky Mountain snow legs to shame as she effortlessly weaves down the mountain. The slopes here remind me of Colorado: wide, with packed powder groomed into a perfectly ridged crust. It’s -7C but the sun is out and the sky is a cloudless azure blue that meets the mountains like an upside-down ocean.
Georgia is not a country necessarily known for its skiing, though I can’t make out why. With the Caucasus cutting clean across its interior from the Black Sea to the Caspian in neighbouring Azerbaijan, a mountainous way of life defines this region. It’s easy to forget how high the Caucasus are. The tallest peak in the mountain range (and Europe) is massive Mount Elbrus at 5,642m, while Georgia’s highest, Mount Shkhara in the far north, stands at a towering 5,193m – 386m taller than the highest peak in the Alps, the mighty Mont Blanc (4,807m).
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