Georgia: Paradoxes & Parodies
By Neil Williman and Fabian Lentsh, Images by Simon Huber
Neil Williman and Fabian Lentsch have embarked on a snow-bound mission, in their purpose-built Snowmads ‘home’ truck. They started in Austria, and are filming and documenting their travels. Neil caught Chill Manual up with their Georgia heli-mission:
‘Georgia, Eurasia: a place of paradoxes, to the point of parodies. We flew into Kutaisi to meet Fabi and hit the road in his Snowmads truck (‘we’ being myself and the filmers: Simon and Jonas, AKA Yolo). Fabi wasn't picking us up until the next day… In the taxi on the way to the guest house, the taxi driver asked Simon if he wanted to drive, and I don't think he was joking. Simon was drinking a beer at the time.
And though the guest house was super clean and tidy (with tasty food which appeared to be locally sourced and homemade), it was run by an elderly Christian woman who played sexually-explicit music videos on the TV.
Fabi picked us up in the morning - it was a great feeling to be back in the Snowmads truck. The only thing that seemed to have changed since I was with him in Turkey a couple of months earlier, was that one of the large cupboards was entirely filled with Iranian 'fresh' dates.
We noticed that everyone had smartphones, hot water never seemed to get hot, and that the roads were super bad. The drive to the mountain town we would take the heli from, was almost comically potholed. Neither Fabi nor Jonas (the only holders of the necessary truck licence) seemed to notice, or at least didn't bother slowing down. Apparently the further east they had driven, the less they cared about the poor roads, and Georgia is pretty far east of Austria!
The town we arrived in had a familiarly un-familiar feel to it. The last place I expected to eat at the end of the long, bumpy and cattle-covered road, was a small, hipster restaurant with trendy music and fejoa lemonade.
Locals led their horses down the cobbled road outside, while other locals shared shred stories from the hill that day - dressed in trendy ski gear and sipping craft beers. The barman there was to become our best local friend (thanks for the hook-ups and help-outs Nick!).
Even we were living a laughably contrasting lifestyle; the heli was parked on the lawn of the nice hotel across the river from the hipster restaurant, but we were sleeping in the truck, at an abandoned car park around the corner; just out of sight of the hotel, but hanging out there often enough that they thought we were guests.
Fabi had been in touch with German heli-skiing guide Flory, and the Swedish pilot he had teamed up with: 'Mad Matts', who turned out to be the most hilariously badass pilot any of us had ever flown with! They’d been based there for a good chunk of the season, and this particular week, they only had two heli-loads of clients, rather than three. So we were able to tag along - as long as we covered costs and waited for when it suited them to bump us up.
Flory told Fabi he 'knew some nice looking steep lines', but after a few years of people misunderstanding what terrain makes good freeride movies, we were hesitant about trusting that. Turned out that as a former freeride pro, Flory knew exactly what he was talking about. He flew us straight to some zones that absolutely blew my mind! Everything was perfect: the terrain, snow, weather, light… We really couldn't ask for any better.
According to Flory, we did some 'almost certainly first descents'… We named one of the faces 'Dirtier Needle' in homage to the classic Alaskan face. I had always dreamed of this exact situation, but thought it only happened in Alaska. Fabi said that this was very comparable to his filming experiences in AK, which more than satisfied me, though I immediately put heavy pressure on myself to get the most amazing shots ever!
First run, I tried to take on a decent double drop, but went way too big on the first take-off. I crashed super hard off the second; breaking a pole, losing my GoPro and bruising myself up. I got straight back in the heli but then couldn't get it together at the top of my next line, and skied more mellowly for the rest of the day. I accidentally kicked off a cornice too, which left me half standing on rock and feeling like an idiot.
To be honest, I spent a good portion of the trip feeling scared or stressed; desperately trying to get shots in the three days we had before the weather got bad and the heli left. It was still a super-positive experience, don't get me wrong; I don't want to pretend like 'everything was great all the time, I ski like a goddam superhero and you should be jealous'!
If there's anything I've learnt in my time on this snowy planet, it's that you've just gotta make the most of wherever you are, the right attitude can make anywhere fun, and vice versa. Fabi brought the right attitude for sure - he absolutely killed it the whole time.
I'm proud of the footage we got, and as I write this, I'm ready for the week of bad weather that we're facing, as well as the next heli only being able to drop us off at the bottom of a touring zone to winter camp for a week. Dreams coming true for sure, but it feels like it's in return for putting your heart and soul into something that isn't guaranteed to give anything back. Fabi has done that to the max by organising this trip.
Thanks for reading and following, people… Now go enjoy the slushy closing day, early season hiking mission or whatever you're doing, wherever you are. Peace out!’
(Editors Note: Neil and Fabi are current/former Chill Pass holders. Search 'Snowmads Neil' or 'Snowmads Fabian' to see their webisode, or full details about their movie.)