Africa, Unexpected

Travel
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Is That Snow?

Lesotho is not a country typically known for its skiing. In fact, Lesotho (le-SOO-too), a landlocked nation about the size of Maryland carved into the middle of South Africa, is not a country that's typically known, period. But the Mahlasela Valley in the upper reaches of the Maloti Mountains is high enough and cold enough to get consistent snows in winter, which — bolstered by 25 Austrian snowguns — adequately keep Afri-Ski's single, half-mile-long run open from June through August.

Five hundred feet wide and served by a single T-bar, Afri-Ski is no Aspen—it won't even give your community hill a run for its money — but for its size it packs a surprising amount of variety. Facing south on the mountain's second-highest point, the slope's top section is steep and fast, flowing through a bumpier middle section and down to a smooth, easy runout. It's the kind of slope you'd expect to find in front of any base lodge anywhere in the ski world — but here, it's all there is. The T-bar, snowguns, ski rentals — even the instructors — are all imported from Austria. "I always ask them 'Isn't it boring?'" says Afri-Ski director Nathanaàl Grobbelaar of his seven instructors. "They say, 'No, it's actually quite a fun slope.'"

But even at 10,600 feet, and even in winter, Afri-Ski is often a white stripe on a brown canvas. Trees don't grow here, so from the summit, miles of low, scraggly brush stretch in every direction, along with rounded peaks and valleys broken now and then by rivers, gorges and a few lakes. Locals run Afri-Ski's restaurant and bar, where you'll find standard ski fare such as burgers and fries alongside Lesotho favorites like the trout with spinach, or bab nen wors, a corn porridge served with sausage. Enjoy it with a Maluti Beer, the local lager, or Old Brown Sherry, a winter favorite among South Africans who, not surprisingly, make up the majority of Afri-Ski's clientele.

"It's just a total blast — you're out in the middle of the mountains, far away from civilization," says Knut Otto, one such South African regular. "It's just you and the clean, fresh air."

Does that sound familiar? Perhaps skiing's not so terribly different on the other side of the globe, after all.

DETAILS
Afri-Ski is a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Johannesburg, South Africa. Lift tickets are 250 rand, or $37.
Info:www.afriski.net

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