Yes, it snows in Africa, and in 2011 it snowed a lot! It is also a little-known fact that people have been skiing in various Southern African mountain ranges since 1929. One of the most ideally suited locations are the Maluti mountains in the Kingdom of Lesotho. Not far from Clarens lies the Mahlasela Pass and the location of the Afriski – Ski & Mountain Resort.
A lot has changed since 1929 and the introduction of modern snowmaking facilities and lifts to Afriski in 2002 have allowed skiing and snowboarding to flourish in this little known corner of the Lesotho Mountain Kingdom.
Just over the border from Fouriesburg, the road from Butha-Buthe to Oxbow is the original “Roof of Africa” rally route. It is a quite spectacular journey, going over a number of mountain passes. The resort offers a quiet, scenic environment, excellent for corporate getaways and conferences and the conference facilities on site presents a comfortable atmosphere originating from the mountainous area and views that belies the adventure waiting to be explored…
The resort is located in the unspoilt natural environment of the Maluti Mountain range, its striking views extending as far as the eye can see. At an altitude of 3222m, the Afro-alpine vegetation is low, turning from lush greens in summer to browns and yellows in winter. Water filters through the rocky surface, soaking into the rich soil, while sheep and horses roam in pursuit of pasture. If you are lucky, you may also come across a snow-covered winter wonderland that has been transformed by a natural snowfall that can occur several times a year. Although at this altitude, it can snow 9 out of 12 months a year, snow falls, however, peak during the winter months, which extends from June until approximately the end of August every year.
By international standards, Afriski has a very modest one-kilometre run which is serviced by at-bar lift. However, if you know what its like to have been bitten by the ski bug, you will relish this unique opportunity to ski the something as rare as African snow. In addition, the resort has various beginner slopes to teach even the most sceptical African snow virgin how to ski or snowboard.
For the more adventurous and skilled riders amongst us, the resort has also invested in a newly revamped Snowboard Park which is in keeping with the latest international trends. The resorts Austrian snowmaking partners have ensured that skiing is possible, even during the most natural snow-starved local winters. The snowmaking system is manned by a dedicated and passionate team of snowmaker whose sole function is to make African Snow. The resorts snowmaking team spend their summer months maintaining and improving the slopes and the resorts world-class snowmaking system in order to ensure a great skiing experience during the winter months. In addition, it is possible to hire skis and snowboards directly at the resort, compliments of another Austrian partner, this time supplying great quality skis and snowboards to anyone curious enough to try out the wonders offered by winter snow sports.
One common notion is that machine-made snow is artificial. This is not the case – it’s actually the same stuff that falls out of the sky, it’s just created by a machine rather than by weather conditions. Although a snow cannon works very differently to a weather system, it accomplishes exactly the same result, snow. These days, snow-making machines are standard and vital equipment in the vast majority of ski resorts around the world.
The slopes are prepared daily with our Pisten Bully (Snow groomer) which compacts the snow into a smooth surface, perfect for your skiing pleasure. Our slopes are serviced by a 1km long T-bar lift as well as 2 beginner lifts and a travelator for kids and complete beginners. In general, approximately 12,000 people travel to Afriski to enjoy the resort during the winter months. Visitors travel from all corners of South Africa but the majority come from Johannesburg and Pretoria, approximately a 5-hour drive away.
A new edition to the resort is the Gondola Café and Apre Ski Bar which is situated at the foot of the ski slope, with a deck facing the slope and able to seat approximately 150 people. The interior is clad in timber and sets the tone during the day when the café is used for light meals and refreshments but transforms into a genuine Apres ski experience as the sun sets over the top of the slope. At an altitude of 3030m, the Gondola café now also holds the unusual honour of being Southern Africa’s highest bar but is multi-layered enough to cater for the needs of children, teenagers and adults during the day and into the night when it transforms once again into a nightclub. The aim was to bring some of Europe’s après ski traditions to the roof of Africa which has extended the resorts appeal further than just the slopes.