Walter Jackson

Long weekend ski trip in Lesotho

You don’t need to head to Europe to hit the slopes this Winter.

Walter Jackson

Most of the limited experience I’ve had on skis have been in places most people wouldn’t normally think of when you mention the word skiing. They were all one-off, spur of the moment “lessons”, where the purpose of the trip was something else and I just happened upon skiing accidentally. These included a few hours at the top of a mountain in Oslo, Norway; Ski Dubai in the deserts of the UAE and a ski slope near Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan.

In 2016 I decided to change this and take my family on a skiing holiday to Lesotho. We only had a long weekend, so Europe was out. Besides, it was for my 40th birthday in June, so there was very little snow in the Alps anyway. Skiing is sort of a new thing in South Africa. It’s only those fortunate enough to have spent some time in Europe or the US that even think about this type of activity. Most of us just go to Mauritius, the Kruger park or Margate for our family holidays.

The trip takes only 5 hours by car from Johannesburg, which includes crossing the border into Lesotho at Caledonspoort. From the border, you basically climb all the way into the mountains for about 80km. Its only the last few kilometers that are covered by snow and you will need a 4×4 during parts of the year. If you have never seen snow before this will be a truly breathtaking experience for you.

We borrowed a 4×4 from a friend, but got into trouble at the border when the police noticed the vehicle licence had expired. They pulled me over and proceeded to write me a ticket. He was half way through when he realised it was my birthday, and after apologising profusely, he let me go without a ticket. The same happened on the way back, but this time it was father’s day, so again the officers took pity on me. How lucky can you get! Anyway, onwards to Afriski we climbed.

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The site is compact with only one major slope (red) and two smaller slopes for beginners and intermediates to practice on. Don’t get me wrong; there is enough to do to keep the whole family entertained for the whole weekend. You can rent all the equipment on site and they cater for a weekend package that includes all accommodation, gear and lessons, as well as the ski passes.

We opted for the full package for the whole family so that we could all come to grips with the strange sensation of falling down a hill on planks. The facilities include a dedicated area and team that helped our two young boys with the basics, while my wife and I opted for the larger slope with beginner lessons. Almost the entire team of instructors came from European ski resorts so they had more than enough experience to help us find our feet, so to speak.

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In no time we were learning to snowplow, J-turn and traverse across the slopes. We even advanced to the intermediate slope by the second day. On this slope you practice your technique and learn to control your speed. They also showed us how to stop suddenly using a fast turn and the edges of both skis. My wife and I felt that the weekend certainly gave us enough confidence to go to other ski resorts without needing to start from scratch.

As for the much-vaunted aprés ski, there isn’t much to report from this site. They have a cafe next to the slope for light lunches as well as a restaurant on site that serves wholesome country food. The staff managed to host a few exciting events and our kids loved the show put on by the instructors, but you have to realise that they are working with limited resources. It’s not the Alps and never will be, but it’s uniquely African and its skiing down a mountain – no doubt about that.

Ultimately this remains Lesotho and Afriski has been set up to cater for the novice and weekend getaway skier. The facilities will improve over time and so will the atmosphere as more people visit. Yes, the accommodation is basic, along with the restaurant and even the slopes, but we loved it and so did many of our friends who have visited. I highly recommend Afriski and think it’s the number one place to visit in Lesotho during the winter.