Saturday, October 31, 2009

Last Resort No.2 - Snowboarding Lesotho

Illicit Snowboarding's Last Resorts is a guide to the places that are too small, too remote, too warm or too embroiled in warfare to really make them a popular destination. Despite their limitations they are worth knowing about, because if you ever happen to be in the area, then they would definitely be worth a try just for the blag.
This week we look at Lesotho

Lesotho is a tiny landlocked country entirely surrounded by South Africa.

Lesotho is the only country in the world that lies entirely above 1,000 meters. Its lowest point is 1,400 above sea level and more than 80% of the country lies above 1,800. It’s known as 'The Kingdom of the Sky' although a little disappointingly it doesn’t look like this:

Lesotho is lucky enough to have its very own dinosaur; the Lesothosaurus

Although less impressively it was a turkey-sized vegetarian.

This is a picture of a Lesotho herd boy I found on the Internet... 
I'm not sure of the details but I assume that he herds ferocious wild lions and milks the awesomeness out of them.
Lesotho is probably best known globally for hosting the illegitimate heir to the British throne, Prince Harry, during his gap year. 

Handily the country is safe and stable and English is the official language; on the downside it is riddled with the AIDs with the world’s third highest concentration.

So what’s the snowboarding like?
Winters can be cold with the highlands getting down to -18 °C at times. Snow is common between May and September, but getting enough snow for snowboarding is tricky.
God news is that snowboarding in Lesotho might actually become better with the affects of global warming. It could actually increase the frequency of snowfall according to the internationally renowned Lesotho Meteorological Service
“Climate change scenarios that were generated with the assistance of six global circulation models using historical data for the years 1961 to 1994 predict warmer future climatic conditions over Lesotho, lower precipitation, particularly in the spring and summer seasons, a higher precipitation in winter, and a gradually increasing precipitation in autumn. The result could be a shift in precipitation patterns in such a way that good seasonal rains that characterize the summer season could then set in late in autumn. This is likely to have serious implications for agro-ecological conditions in the country as the growing season is pushed forward and perhaps shortened. On the other hand, an increase in precipitation in winter may suggest increased activity in frontal systems which may result in heavier snowfall occurrences”
There are two Last Resorts you can visit; Afri Ski and Oxbow

Oxbow is essentially a hut and a mountain based between 2,700m to 3,200m above sea level. Getting the right snow conditions is a chancy affair as they highlight on their website:
Regrettably snow conditions in the Malutis are somewhat unpredictable and the Club, as a resort, is entirely reliant upon good quality natural snow. Whilst it does typically snow on an annual basis, skiable snow may only occur in seven-year cycles. For example the last good quality seasons occurred in 1996 (6 weeks) and 1997 (11 weeks) and prior to that in 1990.
And as it’s not exactly a super resort so you’ll be in for a lot of hiking:
At Oxbow in Lesotho, the lift is a Nissan car engine rigged up inside a trailer. Each day the owner tows the lift to the slope, rides down as far as the rope will allow, secures a pole with another wheel in the snow, and voila!—a lift

Is the larger resort, based 3222m above sea level and a 4½ hour drive from Johannesburg, which would be the location of your nearest airport. Snow is more regular here and they also have a few snow machines so the season generally starts in June and ends in August/September.
There is one slope which is a kilometer long serviced by a T-Bar drag lift, which is known affectionately by the locals as ‘a line of cocaine down a hooker’s ass’

Initially the official Afri Ski website made me lose hope because the only snowboarders in the gallery were these guys:

Fortunately they compensated for the thong-sized scale by building a terrain park which actually looks pretty good value, and they compensated for the nonsense because the park is built by the Snowboarder Club of South Africa who look like a throughly nice bunch of non-mentals. 
Those guys have made a snowboarding video mostly at Afri Ski and it gives a good taste of the scene out there. The video has surprisingly good production vales and it’s nice to see a video I could feature in. 

Katlego Maponyane, one of the guys in that vid has an interview in fellow snowboard blog A Good Reed, which is worth a read. 
Apparently his favourite snack is ‘Chocolate, ice-cream and grilled cheese sandwiches’ - Maybe he is pregnant.

So all in all it looks like they have a nice little scene going on despite the limitatons, so if you’re ever in South Africa, and you fancy doing something other than poking sharks or jacking cars, why not give it a shot.

Reasons Lesotho is a Last Resort:
  • Most people are unaware the country exists.
  • Most locals are unaware snowboarding exists.
  • Drag lifts!
  • Full of AIDs
  • Global warming may actually make it a last resort in the future.

And if you fancy reading about more Last Resorts why not check out our handy interactive map. (There is only one other Last Resort article at this point, so perhaps this interactive map thing is a bit premature.)

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