Shortly after Kvesheti the Georgian Military Highway climbs some 500m by a series of hairpins up to the ski resort of Gudauri. At 2,196 meters Gudauri is the highest village on the highway and the last village on the south side of the Greater Caucasus (123 km). Here are alpine meadows of yellow rhododendron, and mountain vistas whose slopes seem to show white outcrops of stone that upon closer inspection reveal themselves to be flocks of sheep grazing in the most inaccessible locales.
The bare hillsides here are among the least spectacular scenery along the highway but make for Georgia's best downhill ski runs. These total 16 km of varied difficulty, with good Doppelmayer chairlifts. Normally the ski season lasts from December to March, with the best snow in January and February.
A one-day lift pass costs 25 GEL per day, and ski-gear rental around 30 GEL to 40 GEL. An added attraction is heliskiing, operated by the Swiss company Alpin Travel (www.alpintravel.ch).
Gudauri has about a dozen hotels, with more being constructed.
The Jvari Pass
The Jvari Pass starts about 4km after Gudauri; Jvari Pass (Krestovy Pereval or Cross Pass) at 127 km is the highest point of the Georgian Military Highway at 2,395 meters. An obelisk marks the altitude but the pass gets its name from a cross of red stone 500 meters to the right installed by General Alexei Yermolov in 1824 to replace one originally placed there by King David the Builder. The views are magnificent, and the air is of a purity that will make city dwellers weep.
This part of the road is notorious for avalanches, but galleries have been built for winter traffic and the pass stays open for all but a few days most years.
After the pass you leave the historical province of Mtiuleti (600 sq. km, with a winter population of 7,600) and enter Khevi (1,081 sq. km, winter population 6,700). On the descent, after passing through two tunnels, you pick up the Tergi (Terek) River which parallels the road. Eerie basalt, granite, and slate formations lend a primordial quality to the landscape.
At the juncture of four valleys, the village of Khobi (148 km) sits at an altitude of 1,932 meters. The road continues toward the village of Sioni along the side of Mt. Kabardzhin (3,155 meters).