Hope Ramokotjo is having a good day. The skiing and snowboarding instructor from Lesotho is slicing and gliding his way down a snow-covered slope.
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. 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,â€ Ramokotjo told Reuters TV, after sliding through a section of perfect powder snow on his board.
When Ramokotjo isnâ€™t enjoying himself on the slopes, heâ€™s teaching visitors to take up the unlikely pastime.
“It is my first time here, it was something very different, my knees and feet are paining, I broke a sweat unexpectedly, but it was mad fun, yeah,” said Kevin Kava, a Ghanaian first-time skier who lives in Cape Town, shortly after wiping out.
Mbeziwe Seoko, another beginner, who also spent most of the lesson with Ramokotjo falling over, said she had no regrets.
“It was my first time, actually my partner suggested I try it out. I wasn’t open to it because I’m afraid of heights and all that but here I am and I’m enjoying it. I feel like a 10-year-old,” she said.
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.
Pieper Peyper, the owner of the nearly two-decade-old Afriski Resort, said they fell to virtually nothing last year and are still only half the usual 17,000 this year despite the areaâ€™s particular appeal.
“Talking about skiing and snow, people don’t relate to Africa. I mean, as like you say, people think of the Alps, the Rockies in Canada and bigger mountains. But this area of Lesotho has a unique climate because of the altitude because we’re sitting at 3000 metres where we’re standing now and top of the mountain is just 3,222,” said Peyper.
But for those who are still able to make their way to Afriski, Ramokotjo will be waiting to teach them.
“I think transferring of knowledge is all that actually keeps me going, I love giving new knowledge to people and I also love progression – seeing it happen actually makes me very happy,” he 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.