Georgia revives ancient wooden skate tradition in quirky town race

The locals of the remote picturesque town of Mestia in the Svaneti region, deep in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia, are reviving an ancient local tradition of using handmade wooden ice-skates called Lukhmeds, for a new generation with a fun new race through town.

The fun ice-skating event Red Bull Lukvrame was dreamed up by Svaneti local Leri Niguriani and his friend Andro Burduli and derived from the Svanetian and other mountainous regions’ traditions of covering distances with handmade wooden ice skates during winter. Lukhmeds were used for various purposes such as moving through the snowy and frozen streets of villages, as well as having fun by skating on ski tracks in the high mountains and surrounding hills.

Co-creator, Leri Niguriani, revealed: “A couple of years ago, Andro and I were ski-touring with the group in the village Etseri, where we saw children skiing with Lukhmeds. That was kind of a flashback to our childhood – we both used to ski with these wooden ski-skating devices. We thought that this tradition may turn into a fun event nowadays.”

Participant performs during Red Bull Lukvrame in Mestia, Georgia. Credit: Rezi Kenia / Red Bull Content Pool

Svaneti local Giorgi Tserediani from the village Latali recalls the traditional wooden skates from his childhood: “With the first snowdrop, all the children from my village gathered on the hillock, traced the path and started to ski on Lukhmeds. No one taught us how to ski on these devices, it was all about the skills. Skiing on Lukhmeds is not hard, it’s fun. It’s easy to control Lukhmeds when you speed up skiing. We used to ski from dawn to dusk, competed with each other against the clock and in performing extreme tricks. It’s good that the tradition won’t be forgotten.”

Giorgi Pilpani, who also crafts the handmade Lukhmed, said “It’s necessary to use leafy trees such as beech, hornbeam, maple to produce Lukhmeds. These ones are made from a maple tree. The handles are made from a nut tree because it’s flexible, easily bend and does not break. The bottom of the Lukhmeds is covered by metal plates that remain from different tools.”

Lukhmeds, the ancient ice skates, are made of wood and are prepared individually for the skater to fit their foot size. The height of the hand bars should reach the knee of the skater in order to help in manoeuvring across the snow and ice.

Co-creator, Andro Burduli, said: “The kids and adults have united in the villages. Everyone is skiing together now and inter-village competitions are even held. Every village has formed their own team already and is fully prepared to take part in the event. This means that not only will the valuable tradition be preserved, but the adventure and mountain sports in Georgia will be enriched by a new type of sports”

On Saturday, February 5, participants wearing Svanetian Lukhmeds rode downhill on a special track built in the heart of Mestia, Georgia, surrounded by ancient towers, some with foundations dating back a millennium.

It was a race against the clock, with one ice-skater per run on the course, and the participants also had the opportunity to win the trophy of the most creative outfit.

Overall, 28 participants tried to prove their-skating skills with Lukhmeds on the icy descent, with Lasha Shukvani taking the victory with a time of 21.31 seconds. Giorgi Jajvani finished second on 22.12s, while Davit Pilpani finished just behind in third in a time of 22.32s. Dressed up as a Viking, Davit Parjiani was also handed the prize for the most creative costume.

Winners pose for a portrait during Red Bull Lukvrame 2022 in Mestia, Georgia. Credit: Rezi Kenia / Red Bull Content Pool

Lasha Shukvani, winner of the event, said: “Winning the competition is very important indeed, but most important is that the tradition is revived. Ice-skating with Lukhmeds became very popular among kids in my village. They ask their parents to whittle ice-skates out of the wood, because they’re eager to learn skiing with Lukhmeds. The happiness from the fact that the younger generation started to use these wooden ice-skates surpasses my joy of victory.”

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