Little African kingdom has skiing while Europe sweats the summer heat

BUTHA-BUTHE, Lesotho (AP) — As millions of people across Europe sweat during a summer of record heat, they ski in Africa.

Do not worry. This is not another sign of climate change, but rather the fascinating anomaly of Lesotho, a small mountain kingdom completely surrounded by South Africa. Lesotho has an obscure geographical claim to fame: 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.

That gives Lesotho snow in the southern hemisphere winters. And while cold winters aren’t rare in southern Africa, snow is and ski areas are even rarer. At an elevation of 3,000 meters (9,842 feet), Afriski in the Maluti Mountains in Lesotho is the only active ski resort in Africa south of the equator.

“I’ve never seen snow in my life,” says Kafi Mojapelo, who traveled the short distance from South Africa for a skiing holiday she never thought she would take. “So this is a great experience.”

Hailing from the sprawling urban Johannesburg township of Soweto, Bafana Nadida was delighted to put on ski boots for the first time. He planned a day of skiing lessons, taking pictures and playing in the snow.

Skiers and snowboarders lined up to rent the right equipment. Some got tips from Hope Ramokotjo, who is from Lesotho and has been a self-taught ski and snowboard instructor for 12 years. His broad smile and deep, reassuring voice put beginners at ease.

“Push out your heal. Don’t pull your shoulders,” Ramokotjo shouted to his class of eager but inexperienced African skiers as they waddled through the snow. “Please! Nice!”

Afriski’s Kapoko Snow Park is the only freestyle snow park on the continent. Last month, participants lined up for the annual Winter Whip Slopestyle snowboard and ski competition. Sekholo Ramonotsi, a 13-year-old from the Lesotho town of Butha-Buthe who practices regularly in 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 been teaching ski and snowboard lessons in Austria for over a decade and that this is his first season in the southern hemisphere. He has family roots in Lesotho.

“It’s so heartwarming that a match like this is taking place in southern Africa,” he said.

Afriski may not be at the level of Europe’s sprawling Alpine resorts, but the love for winter sports is catching on.

Happy hour starts at 10am at Afriski’s Sky Restaurant and Gondola Cafe and skiers and boarders show off their winter fashions and party to house music, beer in hand. Some argue that the bar is the highest in Africa, although that is challenged by the Sani Mountain Lodge, 130 kilometers (80 miles) to the east on the border between Lesotho and South Africa.

What no one can dispute is that this crowd went skiing in Africa.

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