By Sisipho Skweyiya and Shafiek Tassiem
BUTHA-BUTHE, Lesotho – Suggest a holiday in Africa and most people picture baking hot sun, palm-fringed beaches or herds of wildebeest galloping across the savannah. Few think of skiing.
Yet the continent contains five mountain ranges with enough seasonal snow to make potential slopes, of which two host rudimentary ski resorts.
Tucked into South Africa’s stunning Drakensburg range, one such resort in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho attracts tourists seeking a more adventurous skiing destination – despite visitor numbers being drastically slashed by COVID-19.
“Africa is, you know, you wouldn’t even actually think of it. I think that’s what actually amazes most people,” snowboard instructor Hope Ramokotjo told Reuters TV, after sliding through a section of perfect powder snow on his board.
“Yes, it isn’t much,” he said, glancing over his shoulder at bare brown hills beyond a lone white slope. “But people come here and have a whole lot of fun. For me, as a local, I don’t have to fly out: I’ve got a vacation right here.”
As with other tourist spots, the COVID-19 pandemic – and severe travel restrictions enforced worldwide to try to curb it – has drastically slashed visitor numbers.
They fell to virtually nothing last year and are still only half the usual 17,000 this year, owner of the nearly two-decade old Afriski Resort, Pieter Peyper, said. Regional hub South Africa has been badly hit by the pandemic, with 2.64 million recorded coronavirus cases, and is on most country’s red lists.
“It was something very different. My knees and feet are in pain … but it was mad fun,” said Kevin Kava, a Ghanaian first-time skier who lives in Cape Town, shortly after wiping out.