The 2022/23 ski season marked a highly anticipated return to the slopes. After Covid-19 and travel restrictions put a surprising dampener on the 2021/22 season, avid skiers and mountain holiday lovers are back in full swing. In the sunny climes of the Middle East, the idea of a ski holiday can seem a million miles away, especially when it comes to the most famous resorts in the US, Switzerland, Italy, France and Japan, but it’s possible to enjoy a last-minute ski holiday in a destination that isn’t too far away. Here are four last-minute ski holidays and destinations within a 5-hour flight from the UAE for a late-season sojourn.
Just a two-hour drive from Tbilisi (a 3.5-hour flight direct from Dubai) is Gudauri, Georgia’s largest, highest and most famous ski resort. Gudauri lies 2,200 metres above sea level on the south-facing plateau of the Greater Caucasus Mountains (a range home to the highest peak in Europe) and offers beautiful sweeping views of snow-carpeted valleys, making it a year-round destination in itself, though the ski season is its most popular. The resort has grown in recent years from being a relatively domestic market to attracting keen alpinists and partygoers alike, thanks to a new wave of modern hotels, restaurants and a growing nightlife scene.
Snow sports-wise, there are 34.8 km of slopes (largely intermediate) available to enjoy and 15 lifts, plus ample spots to hire equipment. Gudauri is one of the most affordable spots to ski in the world, with four-star hotels averaging around €90 a night and ski passes from €24 a day. There are plenty of ski companies and tour operators who also work to organise exceptionally attractive packages from the UAE including flights, transfers from Tbilisi, accommodation and ski rental, such as Ski Georgia. There are lots of restaurants serving international and local Caucasus cuisine and a handful of great nightlife spots (make sure to visit the Drunk Cherry for an Apls-style apres ski experience). This is one of the most fail-safe options for a last-minute ski holiday.
The best hotels in Gudauri
Gudauri’s accommodation is diverse: there are modern Airbnb apartments, chalets and a mix of mid-range hotels, along with some ‘five-star’ offerings (though these might not live up to the Middle East’s five-star expectations. The Monte Hotel is a five-minute drive from the lifts and sits atop a valley and is modern and stylish with rave reviews, while the Gudauri Loft is a solid ski-in-ski-out offering with an indoor spa and indoor pool encased in glass offering views of the slopes and offering a free shuttle to the slopes. For something more premium, stay in the Gudauri Lodge – ski-in-ski-out with an indoor pool and wellness area, outdoor jacuzzi, top-rated restaurant and cosy, alpine furnishings.
Mzaar Ski Resort, Lebanon
Think of Lebanon and think of beaches, beach parties, historic ruins and olive groves, but the Levantine country is also home to the largest ski resort in the Middle East. Mzaar Ski Resort, just an hour’s drive from the capital of Beirut, has been attracting winter sports lovers for decades with its 80km of ski tracks, 18 ski lifts and three peaks that range from 1,850 metres to 2,465 metres. The resort is also working on opening a cross-country ski route for those who like a challenge and more experienced skiers. As one would expect from Lebanon, it’s a real party resort with plenty of entertainment and an insatiable vibe and there are lots of events throughout the season: this season saw Ski De Nuit, Party in the Snow and the upcoming Fire Dragon Show. Most types of foods are available in restaurants and nightclubs including Lebanese, Japanese, Italian and Alpine cuisine. Due to its topography and location, snow isn’t always guaranteed, so it’s important to keep an eye on the season, as with snow this is one of the easiest last-minute ski holidays from the GCC.
The best hotels in Mzaar Ski Resort
The Intercontinental Mzaar Lebanon Mountain Resort and Spa is in the centre of the action and has a great Lebanese restaurant and heated indoor pool and spa with mountain views. For something more boutique and elevated, there’s Terre Brune Hotel Kfardebian which has an outdoor pool, lovely grounds, spacious rooms and a great restaurant.
Gudauri may be Georgia’s largest and most famous ski resort, but it’s certainly not the only one. Around 180 km north of Tbilisi is Bakuriani ski resort, located 1,700 above sea level on the northern slopes of the Trialeti mountain range, at the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains. More chilled out and quiet than Gudauri, it’s a great place for beginners and families with small children who want to enjoy a mountain break and dabble in winter sports. There are 29km of slopes at an elevation between 1,641m and 2,702m and 20 ski lifts available and two distinct ski areas within the region: the modern area of Didveli at 1,861m (where there is artificial snow) and the historic area of Kokhta at 2,155m. Cementing itself as a global ski destination, Bakuriani hosted the slopestyle 2021–22 FIS Snowboard World Cup, a first for Georgia.
The best hotels in Bakuriani
Boutique Georgian hotel brand Rooms has three trendy outposts across the country – industrial chic Rooms Hotel Tbilisi, Rooms Hotel Kazbegi in the Greater Caucasus Mountains and Kokhta, a sleek, brutalist-style ski-in ski-out resort nestled amongst the slopes. The modern and comfortable Rooms Hotel Kokhta has 95 guestrooms and public spaces designed by Tbilisi-based duo – Nata Janberidze and Keti Toloraia and has a cool, yet cosy feeling with a muted colour palette, lots of natural materials like wood, stone, and clay and soft furnishings reflecting Georgia heritage. There’s in-room dining, a bar and a restaurant serving modern Georgian cuisine made with locally sourced products.
The popular Turkish ski resort of Uludağ is located in the Marmara Region of the country, south of the city of Bursa and around a three-hour drive from Istanbul (where direct flights from the GCC are around five hours). Skiers and snowboarders will find 28km of slopes for skiing and snowboarding at a level between 1,767m and 2,322m. Catering largely for a domestic market, the ski resort is incredibly good value, with passes from €10 and plenty of affordable transfers from Istanbul. There are a handful of lively restaurants and bars, though not comparable to other European ski resorts, and guests are able to get Turkish cuisine alongside international dishes and comforting alpine cuisine perfect for refuelling after a day on the slopes.
The best hotels in Uludağ
Uludağ has a great array of accommodations on offer for guests: chalets to hire, ski-in-ski-out hotels and trendy modern apartments. Bof Hotels Uludağ Ski & Luxury Resort is arguably the most luxurious, with a fairytale-like exterior, cosy, not clinical, rooms with faux fireplaces and top-notch facilities like an indoor spa and wellness area (with mountain views), a hairdresser, children’s club and ski school and equipment rental. The hotel is no-alcohol but has a bar serving comforting beverages like rich Turkish hot chocolate. Other top hotels include the modern and minimalist Oksijen Zone Luxury Uludag and the more traditional Le Chalet Yazici with its old-world, alpine interiors.