Well prepared by their discovery expedition in fall, the splitboard friends of Pogo return to Ushguli in Georgia in February 2014. There's a thin line between fortune and misfortune and unfortunately the wonderdful powder weeks came to a tragic end .
After our autumn preparation trip time went by pretty fast and so it felt like three weeks later when we were back in the georgian capital tbilisi. Only this time with a lot more luggage including quite a quiver of Pogo snowboards and lots of other mountain gear.
Thanks to an unusual cold period the city seems to be pure chaos. As the city usually has a climate like rome, it's just not prepared for this cold temperatures. Houses and apartments have no water, shops are closed and the traffic is a slow mess. After freeing our car from a thick ice armor, we're soon on the rugged road to svanetia again.
First we stop in the small mountain town of mestia, where we immediatelly satisfy our need for riding powder and checkout the current conditions in the mini resort of hatsuali. The resort only runs two lifts, but with a few foot steps you have access to countless northfaced tree runs. As the numbered other guests struggle to get down the slopes somehow, you're all on your own tracking this fun mountain. As the weather is also on our side we make sure to take advantage of a good portion of lift supported powder riding.
Eager to get to the main goal of our trip, the remote mountain village ushguli, we leave mestia behind us knowing that the road to ushguli is currently closed. The rugged road leading there is once more quite adventurous, snow covered it's somehow easier than in muddy autumn conditions but we still struggle a few times to get across some river beds and huge snow congeries. While crossing such a water hole we meet the first and only other car heading the same way. Surprisingly it's a bunch of freeriders from switzerland we already met before through a fellow student. As the road ahead still needs our full attention we continue our drive after a quick hello. After leaving the main part of the distance behind us slowly but surely, we suddenly know for certain why the road is closed. In a narrow valley the road is covered multiple times by meter high remains of avalanches. Going further with our vehicle is out of question, we park our precious russian all terrain vehicle, rearrange our luggage and continue on our splitboards.
weapon of choice: splitboard
As soon as we're on our way the weather gets better and as the incline is rather mellow and our bags light, we fully enjoy this final stretch and reaching the village on our boards. After a welcome drink at our guesthouse, we go for a little sunset tour on the powder face overlooking the village. A great first ushguli powder run that ends right in the village.
In the ensuing days we explore our surroundings and properly checkout the current conditions. There is of course powder, but the overall snowlayer is definitely not multiple meters high. Especially southfacing aspects are only slightly covered by our beloved white element because of the rather warm weather. We adapt fast and don't hesitate to profit from this aspect and have easier access to perfect powder runs. As a matter of fact at this point it's seven freeriders enjoying the advantages of this huge white paradise. The weather couldn't be any better and so we fully devote ourselves to the promising powder faces of the surrounding valleys.
a first look-around
With the first upcoming clouds we receive the news that the road leading to ushguli was finally cleared off the avalanche snow masses. We get our lada and while we're still unloading the rest of our equipment, we suddenly realize that our remaining gas just got stolen right out of the tank, but for the moment we are more amused than bothered. As the first days were quite exhausting with the amount of touring we just had to do, we slow down a bit and explore the village a bit more on these cloudy days. We find some funny jumps and entertain the villagers this way. Especially the kids are eager to watch our actions, while sessioning a small kicker facing the schoolyard all of them are cheering.
jumping ushguli main road
By now most villagers know that we will be around for a little longer. The younger generation is thankful for any distraction as the winter is the downtime for the villagers. Our guesthouse offers a huge veranda where we can dry our stuff and relax after a day out there. From their we have the best view to see what's going on at the place to be of the village, the volleyball field. The going-on reminds us of french boule places, but here no one plays precisely and we would have never thought of this here in the middle of nowhere and in the middle of winter. But honestly as the weather is rather warm, the afternoon sun in the village doen't really feel like winter and it's a relief not to have to hurry inside right after getting back from a tour. Most of our tours end right there by the volleyball field in the middle of uhsguli and we always stop there for little while to watch them play and let the kids try our boards.
They actually mainly play to pass the time and pit their strengthes. If not trying to hit the ball as high as possible they interupt the game any time for a small round of arm wrestling or judo.
another good day
As we're expecting visiting friends, we fill up the lada with some gas remains from our spare can and drive back to mestia. While having a drink with the leaving swiss freeriders and the freshly arrived friends, it's snowing crazy outside. In the morning the weather is perfect and we skip touring to take full advantage of the freshly fallen half meter of driest powder snow once again in the hatsuali resort. The day after our lada is overburdened with six people and the according luggage and so the road to ushguli is quite a torture once more. Quite often half of the crew has to get off the car to overcome the usual obstacles including fresh snow drifts we have to take care of with our shovels. But once more we arrive in ushguli safe and sound and this time we don't forget to empty out our tank ourselves and hide the gas in our guesthouse.
The amount of fresh snow is less than in mestia, but it's the perfect portion to upgrade the current snow layer. We head straight for one of the most attractive faces of the region, a face that is wide, long and offers a perfect decline. We can't resist to go for it twice and arrive back in the village not before sunset time. As we're spending a lot of time covering distances on the way to good faces, we decide to stay out overnight in a snow cave the next day.
We dig our camp close to the zagaro pass. As it takes some time to build such a cave, we do our one and only descent of this day right at sunset time. It is a long and perfect run from a high ridge right to the entry of the cave. It is an unforgettable experience, as we take the Pogo Powdersurfer to such challenging terrain for the first time and surf down this run without the use of bindings.
powdersurf excitement right in the village
The next day we enjoy to begin the day right where it's at. We enjoy a lot of riding and the great views. On one side it's overwhelming big mountains like elbrus and on the other side it is attractive looking snow peaks till the horizon. The time flies once more and it's soon time for a farewell dinner for our departing group of friends. Our host family serves a boiled pighead like it's common on festivities like marriages. We appreciate the gesture, but mainly stick to the side dishes.
natural territory for POGO Powderboards
While one group of visitors departs the next one comes up. Gladly we share our hard-earned local knowledge and enjoy some great snow adventures together. Along the way we take advantage of our board and equipment quiver. For the ascent we choose between splitboard, approach skis and snowshoes according to the planned tour and the choice of board. Of course mostly we took our splitboards, but on some days nothing beats an overlength powdergun and we also did a lot of bindingless powdersurfing. Our splitboard bindings show no real signs of use even after all those tours and the times to switch from mode to mode are equally fast and easy by now even so we use different systems.
mt shkhara overlooking ushguli
As the weather is mostly cloudy, our lada needs some repairs and we desperately need some distraction from the food and behaviours of our host family we do another trip to mestia. A few days later we're back to ushguli, fully motivated and with a refreshed spirit for the remaining stay. After an amusing afternoon around the village we receive an unexpected visit from the host family of our friends in the evening. They are troubled by the fact that the group is still out there. After explainning to them that it is quite reasonable to come back so late as they wanted to go pretty far today we still start to have a look for their whereabouts. A few kilometers on their route we meet only one group member and it's evident right away that a disaster happened.
The tragic avalanche catastrophe that happend in ushguli on the 6th of march in 2014 killed four experienced and passionate mountain enthusiasts. It is a miracle that the fifth group member was able to escape the snow masses after two hours.
Together with the survivor and the support of the local military we rescue the victims and end our trip to bestead the affiliates.
In memory of the victims. Our thoughts are with their families and friends.