BUTHA-BUTHE, Lesotho (AP) — While millions across Europe sweat through a summer of record-breaking heat, they’re skiing in Africa.
Do not worry. This is not another sign of climate change, but rather the fascinating anomaly of Lesotho, a tiny mountain kingdom completely surrounded by South Africa. Lesotho has a vague geographic claim to fame: It is the only country on Earth where every inch of its territory is more than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) above sea level.
This gives Lesotho snow in southern hemisphere winters. And while cold winters are not rare in southern Africa, snow is and ski resorts are even rarer. At an altitude of 3,000 meters (9,842 feet), Afriski in Lesotho’s Maluti Mountains is Africa’s only ski resort operating south of the equator.
“I’ve never seen snow in my life,” said Kafi Mojapelo, who traveled the short distance from South Africa for a skiing holiday she never thought she would take. “Well, this is a great experience.”
Bafana Nadida, who hails from the vast urban township of Soweto in Johannesburg, was excited to put on her ski boots for the first time. Plan a day of skiing lessons, taking pictures and just playing in the snow.
Skiers and snowboarders lined up to rent the right gear. Some were instructed by Hope Ramokotjo, who is from Lesotho and has worked as a self-taught ski and snowboard instructor for 12 years. His big smile and deep, reassuring voice put beginners at ease.
“Push your heals out. Don’t pull your shoulders,” Ramokotjo shouted to the class of poor but inexperienced African skiers as they wobbled through the snow. “Here! Beautiful!”
Afriski’s Kapoko Snow Park is the only free snow park on the continent. Competitors lined up last month for the annual Winter Whip Slopestyle snowboard and ski competition. Sekholo Ramonotsi, a 13-year-old from Butha-Buthe, Lesotho who trains regularly at Afriski, won the junior snowboard and ski divisions.
“I would love to ski in Europe,” he said.
London-born Meka Lebohang Ejindu said he has taught skiing and snowboarding in Austria for more than a decade and this is his first season in the southern hemisphere. He has family roots in Lesotho.
“To have a competition like this happening in South Africa is so exciting,” he said.
Afriski may not be on the level of Europe’s huge alpine resorts, but the love of winter sports is catching on.
At Afriski’s Sky Restaurant and Gondola Cafe, happy hour starts at 10am. and skiers and boarders show off their winter fashions and party with music, beers in hand. Some claim the bar is the highest in Africa, although this is disputed by Sani Mountain Lodge, 130 kilometers (80 miles) east on the Lesotho-South Africa border.
What no one can dispute is that this crowd went skiing in Africa.