BUTHA-BUTHE, Lesotho (AP) — While millions across Europe are sweating through a record-breaking hot summer, they’re skiing in Africa.
Do not you worry. This is not another sign of climate change, but the fascinating anomaly of Lesotho, a small mountain kingdom completely surrounded by South Africa. Lesotho has an obscure geographical reputation: 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 uncommon 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 operating ski resort 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 he never thought he’d take. “So this is a great experience.”
Bafana Nadida, who hails from the sprawling urban township of Soweto in Johannesburg, was delighted to put on her ski boots for the first time. He planned a day of ski lessons, taking pictures and playing in the snow.
Skiers and snowboarders lined up to rent the right gear. Some were tipped by Hope Ramokotjo, who is from Lesotho and has worked as a self-taught ski and snowboard instructor for 12 years. His wide smile and deep, soothing voice put beginners at ease.
“Pull your heals out. Don’t hunch your shoulders,” Ramokotjo shouted to his class of keen but inexperienced African skiers as they wobbled across the snow. “There you are! Nice!”
Afriski’s Kapoko Snow Park is the only freestyle snow park on the continent. Competitors lined up last month for the annual Winter Whip Slopestyle ski and snowboard competition. Sekholo Ranotsi, a 13-year-old from the town of Butha-Buthe in Lesotho who practices regularly at Afriski, won the junior snowboard and ski divisions.
“I would really like 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.
“For a competition like this to happen in southern Africa is so moving,” he said.
Afriski may not be at the level of Europe’s great alpine resorts, but the love of winter sports is catching on.
At Afriski’s Sky Restaurant and Gondola Cafe, happy hour starts at 10 a.m. and skiers and boarders don their winter gear and party to house music, beers in hand. Some claim that the bar is the highest in Africa, although Sani Mountain Lodge, 130 kilometers (80 miles) to the east on the border between Lesotho and South Africa, challenges that.
What no one can dispute is that this crowd went skiing in Africa.