Australians caught up in rising tensions at Gudauri ski field in Georgia

Dozens of foreigners, including some Australians, have been left unable to work at an eastern European ski field amid rising concerns around their safety.

International ski instructors at the Gudauri resort in Georgia say they have been continually intimated, verbally abused and threatened by a group of locals who claim they do not have the right to work in the country.

The ABC spoke to three Australians — who asked not to be named — at the ski field, which is north of Georgia’s capital Tbilisi.

Each had been given official approval to work but said the abuse some instructors had received was “pretty horrific”.

“They will surround you, intimidate you, verbally abuse you and stop you from getting on the chairlifts,” one Australian said.

“There’s a real sense of not knowing who you can trust and a sense of uneasiness.”

The tension has led to ski schools with foreign staff suspending classes.

“They don’t want to put us at risk at the moment until there is a solution,” one Australian said.

“It has been quite disheartening and disappointing.”

Chairlift at a ski field in Georgia.
Australians at Gudauri say they have not been able to work a single shift.(Supplied)

The Australians had intended to stay for the whole season, which runs from December to April, but said the fact they were unable to work and earn money was making them consider their options.

“A lot of us are in the situation where we will have to make the decision soon whether we stay or go,” one said.

“We have rent that is due and we just can’t afford to pay it.

“We don’t want to leave, we want to be able to stay and work and enjoy being in Georgia.”

Calls for help grow

The international ski instructors at Gudauri approached local police, but said it had not helped the situation.

They also sent a letter to the Georgian embassies in their home countries, as well as their embassies in Georgia.

“All of us here are concerned that despite possessing a legal right to work, and having internationally recognised qualifications, we will be unable to guarantee our safety if we continue to work in this country,” the letter read.

A sign that says 'I Love Gudauri' sits in front of mountains with snow on them.
The foreign ski instructors who travelled to Georgia say they feel “disheartened”.(Supplied)

Australia does not have an embassy in Georgia, but a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) spokesperson said it was “in contact with a small number of Australians in Georgia”.

“The Australian Embassy in Ankara [Turkey] is providing assistance in accordance with the Consular Services Charter,” the spokesperson said.

DFAT’s travel advice to Australians in Georgia overall was “exercise normal safety precautions”.

The department did advise Australians working overseas there was “limited assistance the Australian government can offer if your working conditions aren’t as advised or expected”.

A spokesperson for the United Kingdom’s Foreign Office said it was also providing assistance to two British nationals and was in contact with local authorities.

‘It is absolutely ludicrous’

One of the ski school’s chief instructors, Tristram Todd, said he had previously worked a season at Gudauri, as well as seasons elsewhere, and had never seen a situation like it.

“Every time one of the international community of instructors has tried to take a lesson, they have been harassed, to the extent that they can’t teach their lesson,” Mr Todd said.

“They’re physically intimidating us, threatening us, trying to take away our lift passes, trying to remove our ski equipment and stopping us from being able to teach our clients.

“In the last few days, the situation has continued to get worse.”

Four skiers on a snowy mountain.
TristRaM Todd (right) has worked more than 20 ski seasons around the world.(Supplied: TristRaM Todd)

He said he was not optimistic there would be a positive solution for the around 100 foreign instructors at the ski field.

“It is absolutely ludicrous. This is our job, this is what we are deeply passionate about. We are trying to live our best life possible,” he said.

“I don’t think that people are going to come here in the next few years because of this ridiculous situation.”

The ski field has had a troubled past, with video of a chair-lift at the resort hurtling out-of-control and throwing passengers onto the slopes below going viral in 2018.

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