Josef Milfait, whom nobody calls anything but Pepek, is a mountaineer, certified mountain guide, ski instructor, and holder of the Snow Leopard award. And this winter season 2022/23 he was also our main guide. This Trutnov native spent several months with us full of adventure, skiing, and the nature Georgia has to offer. With the winter season behind us, it was time to ask Pepek about his impressions.
Pepek, let's start in general. You have traveled to many places around the world in your lifetime. Does anything else surprise you?
I'm sure it does. I think that every mountain has something interesting and Bakhmaro was no different. Whether it's the remoteness of the place or the proximity to the sea. The whole environment was actually wow.
What convinced you to go to Georgia for a whole season as a guide with Georgia-Trip?
It starts with some personal reasons and connections, of course, but mainly I wanted to try something new. I had good references for Bakhmaro and wanted to experience it for myself.
It's not only Georgia that you've experienced first-hand. If you had to compare freeride here to some of the other states you've visited, what would it be?
If I had to compare Georgia, specifically the Caucasus, to any state in this regard, it would be Alaska. It's mostly the remoteness and the small population. It's basically bare and high mountains that remind one of Alaska. The fact that there are no big ski resorts in the area, nor is the infrastructure developed, makes Bakhmaro a very interesting remote place. But this will not last forever, because it is a place that definitely invites tourism to develop its charm.
Did you have to deal with any difficult situations during the season? For example, a threatened avalanche, a scare for the participants, or a lost skier?
Fortunately, no one got lost and in general, I have to knock that situations of this type were avoided. We did have an avalanche event once, but in that, no one was hit, fortunately, nothing happened. It can happen, of course, but the risk is minimal. Bakhmaro is specific precisely because the profile of the local mountains is friendly to us in this respect and the danger is much less than in the Alps, for example. This is mainly due to the structure of the snow, which is largely influenced by the proximity of the sea.
How do you evaluate this year's season in Georgia in terms of weather? Was the snowfall sufficient?
The beginning of the season was worse. The season was supposed to start right after Christmas, but there was less snow than standard. But right after New Year's Eve there was enough snow and when there was a problem, we discovered new areas to go freeriding. While there wasn't as much snow in general, on the other hand, visibility was great for most of the season. This allowed us to ski even the plains that are not usually skied when it snows. In general, though, I was surprised to find that the freezing weather in Georgia means that there is still good quality powder on the slopes two weeks after a snowfall. That's what makes this area really special and interesting to me.
How experienced do you think a skier who wants to go to Georgia with Georgia-Trip should be?
I think the person coming should be able to ski black runs. He shouldn't be surprised by a slope with a gradient of around 30 degrees, because that's what you usually ski in Bakhmaro. Moreover, when more snow falls, we have to purposely look for steeper slopes, because on the gentle ones, it's simply not possible. Of course, some freeride experience is also useful. But I've also had a group of skiers who experienced freeriding for the first time and they could do it too. But you have to take into account that the dynamics of the whole group is of course slower. If the group splits into stronger and weaker halves, everything can be worked with.
If you had to choose, would it be CATSKI or HELISKI?
I confess I can't answer that. Both have their pros and cons. I love freeride and both ways of getting to the top allow me to do that. With HELISKI, a certain amount of stress plays a role. It's a game of time, because every minute the propeller is spinning, there's a price to pay. So one has to load faster and generally rush, so one is more tired in the process. On the other hand, the helicopter gets you to places you can't usually get to by snowmobile, and that's the advantage.
And now a question a little bit on the body. Skiing or climbing?
Definitely both. I climb more in the summer and ski more in the winter. But in general, it's alpinism, which has a broad spectrum and is actually a combination of mountains and rocks and then ski mountaineering in winter. I like variety, so I always like to combine everything I enjoy.
Are you ever going back to Georgia with Georgia-Trip?
That's a topic that we're currently going to address and I'm definitely open to it. Plus, I have a large number of people around me who have followed my time in Georgia through social media and have reached out to me about wanting to go. And I would like to make that possible for them. I enjoyed my time in Bakhmaro with Georgia-Trip, now we just have to figure out the time options for next season. But the advantage is that the season there is relatively short, and it allows me to go to other mountains for the next 40 days when I get home.
Anything else you'd like to add at the end?
I can't think of anything other than Bakhmaro is truly magical. It's not just about skiing, it's a complete experience to be there. The remoteness of the place, the local food, living together in one house with basically nowhere to go - all of this makes the experience unique.
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