Written by: Sam Beningfield
Southern Africa is typically associated with sunshine and tanned skin – known for its glittering expanses of water and sunny bushveld areas.
However, contrary to whatever sun-filled scene you may have in mind, the Butha-Buthe district of land-locked Lesotho offers something completely different. Because it is here where you can enjoy a bit of snow and indulge in a spot of skiing, snowboarding and bum boarding!
Skiing in Southern Africa entails a seven-hour drive from Durban through scenic countryside, which I completed in a 1997 Toyota Corolla, but a 4×4 is recommended on icier days.
On arrival in Lesotho we bundled our bedding and bags into a four-bunk dorm in the toasty but sparse backpacker accommodation. Startlingly good service greeted us at the equipment rental counters as we were fitted with boots and appropriate skis before proceeding to hobble up to the slopes.
By the end of the first day I had managed to acquire that unattractive facial tan that I think earns ski-cred, and over the next three days my sister and I morphed into a semi-proficient skier and a moderately challenged snowboarder, proof being the decreasing number of casualties.
We made rosy-cheeked mates on the slopes with strangers and instructors alike, and received many a helping hand and advice on not only how to ski but also how to dismount properly from the ski-lifts instead of using them as a vantage point for filming each other’s wipeouts.
Fresh snow fell every night – albeit not from the heavens – thanks to the snow blowers that were set to work when the humidity and temperature increased. For someone who has only skied once in Switzerland, the artificial snow was just as rewarding as the real stuff. Perhaps our only criticism was the limited option of slopes but that was to be understood given the location. While different zones have been demarcated for kids, beginners, intermediate and advanced skiers, there is essentially only one long slope with varying gradients and obstacles.
Our hard work on the slopes each day was rewarded with plenty of Austrian-style food and drink including gluehwein, spaetzle and goulash at the highest restaurant in Africa, which serves its fare at 3,010m. Amazingly the restaurant is actually built from imported Austrian timber, which keeps it cheerfully warm inside. Drinks followed at the cafe, which served the most delicious mid-ski chicken strips during the day from the slope’s base. The usual shenanigans were accompanied by organised activities every night including a pub quiz, drinking games and a strange but captivating ski-burning ceremony.
However, the thing that challenged my preconceptions the most was the lengths that the team of instructors and employees went to in order to ensure that each guest had a glorious time; they were genuinely friendly, helpful and impressively well-organised.
As two sisters who almost constantly have sea salt in their hair, we’d recommend skiing in Lesotho as an affordable, enjoyable and accessible holiday for South Africans and foreigners alike.